Date of this Version
From 1861-1865 (and less so until 1868, when the Alabama Claims dispute was settled) the nation acknowledged by all as the only true world power — Great Britain — was directly threatened by the fast-rising navy of the United States of America (US). Moreover the very strategic depth of its empire — Canada and its source of Atlantic power — was at risk, and thus the entire calculus of Britain’s world position was for a time in some danger. Yet this window of vulnerability passed without conflict, let alone war.
Although the US was engaged in ‘a great civil war’, this time of intense strategic competition in many ways reminds us of, and speaks to, the current US-China strategic competition, especially in its overriding naval dimensions. In many ways it was a more dangerous tussle, with periods of crisis (especially December 1861-April 1862) when war could have come at any moment.
Yet both the US and Great Britain sought paths of restraint and an implicit strategic demarche that ultimately not only lowered the possibility of war, but also encouraged eventual strategic modus vivendi — without formal elaboration or contentious negotiations. Why was there no conflict at sea? How did both parties come upon a working understanding that reframed a fast-fuse face-off into a stable strategic posture — that met both nations’ larger military needs?
This excursis will compare the US-British relationship along a range of criteria in strategic competition, and contrast it to the China-US relationship today. Its wider objective is to isolate and identify those elements in the mix that helped things turn out as they did positively, for both the US and the United Kingdom. Then, more elusively, it seeks to find similar elements in today’s US-China strategic competition — that we might especially take advantage to defuse a proclivity on both sides toward war as our mutual, on-demand [because we can!] solution.
Journal, Book or Conference Title
East Asia Security Symposium and Conference 东亚安全座谈谈论会
This document has been peer reviewed.