Tuesday February 21st marks a special anniversary that will most probably be overlooked.
It happens to be the 70th anniversary of the United States replacing Great Britain as the world’s number one power.
After fighting two world wars, Britain was faced with three major international crises all at once.
The new British Labour government had already announced plans to give independence to India, after two centuries of British rule. This led to turmoil on the sub-continent between Hindus and Muslims. British troops tried to keep the peace.
At the same time Palestine exploded. In 1946 Jewish nationalists blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, British military headquarters in the mandated territory, killing 91 people.
The first two problems occurred on British territories; the third was in Greece, where communists were trying to take over the country.
At the same time, Britain was broke, following the two major global conflicts of the first half of the twentieth century. Early in 1947, economic problems at home meant that Britain could no longer allocate funds to the conflict in Greece. They decided to inform Washington to see if America wanted to take over.
“On Friday, February 21st” the Secretary of State General George C. Marshall, left the State Department early to attend the bicentennial celebrations of Princeton University and receive an honorary degree. Then the British Embassy telephoned to say it had two urgent notes.” As these notes were urgent, Dean Acheson, the Under-Secretary of State, asked the Embassy’s first secretary to deliver them rather than wait until the Monday. “Recalling this episode in later years, Acheson wrote, “They were shockers”.”
“It was not being asked to provide aid to Greece that was shocking. The State Department was already preparing a plan for aid. It was the fact that Britain was pulling out and proposing to hand over responsibility. After all, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff had advised the previous year: ‘The defeat or disintegration of the British Empire would eliminate from Eurasia the last bulwark of resistance between the US and Soviet expansion . . . Our present position as a world power is of necessity closely interwoven with that of Britain , , ,
“This was a momentous change. For two centuries Britain had been the dominant power in the eastern Mediterranean. Now it seemed to be surrendering that role in two key countries. It is often said that Americans lack a historical sense that Europeans have, but on this occasion it was the Americans who saw the historical significance of that moment. To British ministers, battling from day to day to keep the country’s head above water, this seemed to be just a temporary retrenchment in one area. None of them appeared to see any larger implications in the decision. The American view was put in grandiloquent terms by Joseph M. Jones, who was in the State Department at the time: ‘Reading the messages, Hickerson realized, as had Henderson before him, that Great Britain had within the hour handed the job of world leadership, with all its burdens and all its glory, to the United States.” (“Picking up the reins,” Norman Moss, 2008, page 64, italics mine).
The whole world did not recognize the change immediately, It was to be another ten years before it became clear to all. At the end of 1956 the Suez Canal crisis showed that London could not do anything without American support. Soon afterward, the US was encouraging Britain to dismantle its empire and then to join the European Union (then the European Economic Community).
US vs EU
It’s ironic then that, over the weekend, at the Munich Security Conference, “leading German foreign policy experts” called “on the EU to reposition itself on the world stage, replacing the United States as the West’s ‘torchbearer.’ Since Washington’s change of government, the United States no longer ‘qualifies as the symbol of the West’s political and moral leadership, according to Wolfgang Ischinger, Chair of the Munich Security Conference. It is therefore up to Europe ‘to make up for this loss.’” (GermanForeignPolicy.com)
That’s easier said than done. But the EU could be the world’s dominant military power for the simple reason that it is the world’s biggest trading power. That’s the main reason why the US took over from Great Britain. Economic power = military power. The US is struggling economically which is one reason why President Trump is demanding the Europeans pay more for NATO. Of course, the Europeans have their own financial problems, but they have an urgent need to protect themselves from both Russia and Islamic terrorism. If they are going to have to pay more for defense, why not go-it-alone? Especially when they no longer have confidence in American leadership.
One of the first superpowers, Babylon, was predicted to last “seventy years” (Jeremiah 25:12 & 29:10), illustrating how seventy is a significant number. In Psalm 90:10, Moses was inspired to write that “our days may come to seventy years,” the lifespan of many human beings. Perhaps more significantly in the rise and fall of nations is the fact that, after seven decades, most people have forgotten everything. Few today remember World War II. Few remember that Baron Ismay, Secretary General of NATO from 1952-55, described the alliance as intended to “keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down.” In the current debate on the future of the alliance, this has been completely forgotten.
Dismantle the alliance and two things will happen: 1) the American president will no longer be “the Leader of the Free World;” and 2) Germany will become the undisputed Leader of Europe (she already is economically). On the 70th anniversary of America’s ascendancy, the Munich conference saw nations actively discussing the end of America’s pre-eminence.
President Trump in Washington and Vice-President Mike Pence, who addressed the conference, may see themselves as being in the lead, calling the shots, insisting on changes within the alliance; but the other member nations have the choice of forming their own military alliance, which will not be led by the United States.
As with the change seventy years ago, it may take a while to fully emerge, but this is the direction we are heading in. On Sunday, Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, announced she is seeking closer ties with Russia to bring about the defeat of ISIS.
It might be good for Washington’s new leaders to take a lesson from the great nineteenth century German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, who once observed that a great power, to survive, must be “one of three” in a world governed by “five.” Note the following:
“Of the five original great powers recognized at the Congress of Vienna, only France and the United Kingdom have maintained that status continuously to the present day, although France was defeated in the Franco-Prussian War and occupied during World War II. After the Congress of Vienna, the British Empire emerged as the pre-eminent power, due to its navy and the extent of its territories, which signaled the beginning of the Pax Britannica and of the Great Game between the UK and Russia. The balance of power between the Great Powers became a major influence in European politics, prompting Otto von Bismarck to say “All politics reduces itself to this formula: try to be one of three, as long as the world is governed by the unstable equilibrium of five great powers.” (“Great Power,” Wikipedia)
In 1914, the German and Austrian empires went to war with the British, French and Russian empires. Germany was one of two in a world governed by five. The Germans lost. They repeated the same mistake in World War II, when Germany and Japan were the two, in a world still governed by five. The three opposing powers were Britain, America and Russia. Again, the Germans lost.
The five major powers right now are the EU, China, the United States, Japan and Russia (a great military power, but not so great economically). The US remains in alliance with the countries of the EU and Japan, making it one of three in a world governed by five. If the EU separates from the US, that will reduce America to being one of two.
This all may seem incredible with almost daily news of set-backs in the EU. France and Holland may leave after elections early this year; Greece and Italy have serious financial problems, which may affect the euro. But the fact remains that Germany dominates the continent and Germany is putting together a European military force to rival America’s. The Munich security conference showed the will is there, boosted considerably by the change of administration in Washington.
Daniel 2:21 says that God is behind the rise and fall of nations. “And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings.” It could be, that after seventy years, the American Era is coming to an end. Munich this weekend showed that many want to see that happen.
Something to think about as the US passes its seventieth anniversary!