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October 22, 2009


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I think it's a mix. The difficulties of playing world policeman and global warming and designing an imperial exit strategy seem like they'd have been just as tricky with Canada's system.

Also as far as the imperial decline, how would you rate how England went about it? Obviously there were external factors hastening its decline (i.e. Hitler) so it wasn't merely a question of managing something slow and inexorable, and our present situation is quite different in a variety of ways, but I'm just kind of curious.

I don't really know a great deal about it, but I've always had the impression that it was not exactly a smooth transition away from a colonial empire, at least during and following WW2. Although perhaps I'm basing this a bit too much on my memory of the scene from Acheson's memoirs when the State Department finds out that England is pulling out of Greece.

That's a good question. First take:


(1) The new hegemon was friendly and willing to defend British interests where it counted;

(2) For all of Keynes's laments, the new institutional order built by the United States was remarkably friendly to British interests and influence;

(3) The Empire's unwinding involved no large-scale wars;

(4) The Empire's unwinding created no bitter anti-British enmity, at least not enough to affect the country's post-imperial security;

(5) For all the above-weight punching, the Empire was pretty comprehensively wrapped up, Sierra Leone aside. (I wouldn't count Afghanistan or either Gulf War.)


(1) The new hegemon didn't really believe in the "special relationship";

(2) The IMF didn't treat Britain much nicer than anyone else when it ran into trouble;

(3) There weren't any large-scale Algeria or Indochina scale wars, but Britain's retreat occurred in the context of a lot of small-scale bloodletting in Guiana and Kenya and Yemen and Malaysia and Egypt and elsewhere that (with the possible exception of Malaysia) seems mostly pointless in retrospect;

(4) The Empire's unwinding has left remarkably little pro-British sentiment, at least not enough to provide any concrete economic or security benefits;

(5) The Empire's super-thorough wrapping-up may have been a lost opportunity. After all, one might argue that the British would have been well-served in the long run to have made the sacrifices needed to put institutional meat on the Commonwealth's bones. There are places like the UAE and the Caribbean that would have been happy to keep stronger links with Britain. (The UAE even offered to sponsor a British presence!) Imagine a world where India was part of a trade and defense alliance with Britain and several other former colonies and dominions, where Britain and Canada and India together defended places like the UAE, where the Commonwealth played a serious role in promoting democracy in Africa, where much of the Caribbean was part of the U.K. Might not Britain have been better off in that world?

I think climate change has a greater issue for national decline than anything. The geological record has a multimeter rise in sea level for each degree C higher. How much is a matter of argument, but its always in excess of 3 meters and some state 10m.

The question about climate also is the shift in precipitation. Will North America end up with a drier climate? Or a wetter one? I need to write about the neo-Oligocene vs Neo-Eocene scenarios. They portend very, very different things for the US.

Worse for China and India in most scenarios, actually.

Actually, I think the US will endure for a long time, but will end up in relative decline as the Chinese and Indians surpass us. America as France while India is the US and China is the Soviet Union? eh. not really, but you get the idea.

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