October 21, 2005

Trafalgar

A critical day indeed in the history of the Anglosphere, and of the whole world. Trafalgar ended a century of see-saw struggle between Britain and France for naval supremacy. Britain had always had the upper hand at sea, but the French had presented a very serious threat and occasionally won important victories, notably the Battle of the Capes, which secured American independence. After Trafalgar, France was finished as a serious naval challenger. It was not obvious at the time, but it was the nail in the coffin. No power has come close to challenging British, then American, command of the Oceans for two centuries.

Tirpitz dreamed of challenging England, but fell far short. Despite the wilder dreams of some of their colleagues, Raeder and Yamamoto knew that they could never do more than win temporary, tactical victories against Anglo-American sea power. Gorshkov dreamed of a blue water challenge, sweeping the Americans from the seas, but his country disintegrated well before he got anywhere close to his goal.

Not incidentally, these have been two centuries of immense expansion in world trade and the peaceful use of the oceans for commerce, the destruction of the oceanic slave trade, the defeat of Imperial Germany, Imperial Japan and the Nazi and Soviet tyrannies, and other blessings to mankind.

American naval supremacy is secure for the time being, and the next best navies in the world belong to our allies: Britain, Japan, Australia -- and, increasingly, India, the daughter service of the Royal Navy in the East. For now, I like the cards we are holding.

I hope that Nelson, from whatever Valhalla he looks down upon the seas and the ships upon and under them, is not too distressed that the Trident has passed from Brittania to America. We are all his heirs and we have all benefitted from his victory, and I trust that we have made good use of the supremacy he and his sailors and his "band of brothers" fought and died for and have handed on to us.

(This post on the subject is good.)

Posted by Lexington Green at October 21, 2005 03:07 PM
Comments

Lex:
Actually no not everyone really benefitted. Over at Hispalibertas, there's a fascinating interesting about the consequences of Trafalgar on Spain's own politico-economic development. With the destruction of the Spanish navy, the last vestiges of the Spanish Enlightenment were extinguished and encouraged a very dangerous attitude of fracasomania- that no matter what anyone tried in Spain, the reforms would fail and the reformers would be fuck ups. A self perpetuating behaviour not broken until 1975.

Also, I've never been too impressed with British policy for Latin America. In retrospect, it would've been in British interests had the region stayed in Portuguese and Spanish imperial authourity. For all the investments only Argentina, Brazil and Chile really benefitted. The rest were chaotic until the 1870s and even then.
Finally I hold fast to the controversial hypothesis that Britian's divide and keep Europe disorganized, retarded the continent's own democratic development. The Brits squandered an opportunity in the post Napoleonic settlement to encourage the Europeans to develop a common market. Had one existed as early as 1815, the First World war wouldn't've occured. Also the Brits prolonged their anti-French policy too long and overlooked Prussians as a threat until it was too late.

xavier

Posted by: xavier at October 22, 2005 09:10 AM

Xavier, I cannot undertake a defense of all aspects of British policy after 1805. First, it would take too long; second, much of it was mistaken.

I do not dispute that Spain's defeat was a disaster for Spain. But Spain had been in a downward spiral for some time before 1805, and I don't think all of Spain's many problems can be attributed to this defeat. Napoleon's invasion in 1808 was surely a far worse disaster for Spain.

The sole point I was hoping to make is that the free use of the seas for peaceful purposes was a principle of British then American policy. The fact that both powers have and had selfish goals or made policy mistakes does not change that basic policy or the benefits that accrued to many, many people as a result of turning the oceans of the world into (mostly) secure highways for trade.

Posted by: Lex at October 22, 2005 10:36 AM

I am not sure the Britsh had that much say in Continental European politics after 1815 to be able to encourage a common market, by which you, presumably mean another customs union. A large chunk of it, the Habsburg Empire, was just that, of course.

It is also rather questionable whether changing the traditional policy of seeing France as the enemy to an alliance with France and then Russia was all that useful in the long run. Would we have had a First World War with all the horrific aftermath if the Entente Cordiale had not been signed? Of course, it was not over-bright of the Germans to want to challenge Britain at sea.

Finally, I am not sure selfish interests are such a bad idea. The unselfish "ethical" foreign policy seems to have landed many countries in very strange alliances. Britain, for one, would be better off trying to work out what her interests are now, instead of involving herself in the supposedly unselfish European common foreign policy that has no purpose or meaning and will always have to be pro-active just to show that it exists.

Posted by: Helen at October 22, 2005 12:28 PM

Helen:
If Britian didn't have any say in continential European affairs then why did it recognize Belgian independence in 1830 and then sign the 4 power treaty? The one that eventually caused Britian to participate in WW I when the German violated Belgian neutrality.
The problem with the custome union was that it didn't spread throughout Europe. If the Hapsburgian and German customs unions had expanded to include France, it's fair to assume that that the First world war wouldn' have broken out.
The problem with postwar British policy is a schizophrenia. The political elites aredeeply conflicted between continuing the old imperial policy using the Americans as leverage or joining wholeheartedly into Europe. I'm conflicted but I favour closer European integration.
The Anglospherists advocate a reasonable policy; however, if Britian is to stay out of Europe then the political elites must stop complaining about the Community's omnious turn towards authouritarianism. It's no longer in the national interest to worry.

Lex: Fair enough about the Anglophone navies securing the oceans for trade. However, I wonder if the Anglophone navies will still be able to continue securing safe seas. How will they react if China challenges America? Or if the islamojihadists threaten the Molloucan straits?
xavier

Posted by: xavier at October 22, 2005 09:03 PM

Xavier, as to the Mollucan pirates, the Malaysians recently, for the first time, entered an agreement with the USA to allow the US Navy to patrol there and assist with anti-piracy efforts. And the Indonesians are likely to cooperate with us. Also, the Indian Navy is increasingly powerful and will be able to play a significant role in the future in the Indian Ocean area, and India is reasonably likely to want to do so.

As to China, only time will tell. We have been working on a dual-track strategy of engagement and deterrance. I think the current US approach covers the full spectrum much, much better than the Brits did in the years before World War I. If China wants to be aggressive, it is likely to end up strengthening a US-led alliance system in the area. The USA will function as the "offshore balancer" as it did with regard to Europe, and as Britain did in earlier centuries. Hopefully China will decide to continue to develop economically and to buy into the current world order in terms of freedom of the seas, rather than try to impose by force a China-centric order. If not, they can roll the dice like Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler and the Soviet communists did, and I hope any Chinese regime that chooses conflict instead of peace ends up on the same ash heap as they did. I hope that never happens. If it does, I like our cards better than theirs.

Posted by: Lex at October 22, 2005 10:33 PM

Creating Belgium was Palmerstons' biggest mistake probably. And it does not mean Britain had that much influence over the German states (Prussia was not the only one) or the Habsburg empire. It is a mistake to equate Europe with its coastline.

I have a feeling that I should do a posting to reply to your view of post-war British policies or its involvement in Europe. I realize you think that is the right thing for Britain to do, but even you acknowledge that the European project is authoritarian. Incidentally, that is not a recent turn of events. It was never meant to be a free market and the centralizing tendency was written into the Treaty of Rome. Setting aside for the moment matters of foreign policy (please don't get sidetracked on the supposed imperial hang-up - it has not existed for very many decades), why exactly do you think Britain would be better off under a political system that is alien to its history, that is undemocratic and unparliamentary; a legal system that is based on Roman legal structures rather than common law and parliamentary legislation; and an economic system that is centralized, high-regulation and social-democrat in its outlook?

By the way, if you do want to look at a country that has never quite got over its moment of glory some centuries ago, why not examine French policy in Europe and outside it?

Posted by: Helen at October 23, 2005 05:22 AM

Part of China's desire for a deep water navy will be to protect the trade (in products and energy) that fuels its economic engine; a goal which will match many of the goals of the Anglo/Japanese navies. Certainly it would spread China's influence and standing, but the preservation of free and easy trade is paramount for all, I would think.

Posted by: ElamBend at October 23, 2005 03:00 PM

I posted on the posibility of anglosphere cooperation in naval construction back in March.
My post is at Anglosphere Naval Reform 1

Posted by: Steph at October 24, 2005 02:18 PM

Steph, thanks for the link.

You say this: "The Indian Navy is manfully struggling along with INS Viraat, ex MHS Hermes and is building a ship based on the Italian Cavor design, but it is no secret that India wants and needs a more powerful ship." Why no referfence to the purchase of the ex-Soviet Admiral Gorshkov?

The idea of a joint purchase of sister ships by the various national navies seems, alas, not to be consistent with practical reality.

Incidentally, I think your vision of a "Constitutional Anglosphere" may be taken as a "maximalist vision" akin to the various proposed English-Speaking Unions which were discussed about a century ago. Your proposed Constitution is an interesting thought-experiment, but I do not see any "demand pull" from any quarter for such a newly invigorated entity. Jim Bennett's notion of a Network Commonwealth, which is much less a matter of top-down political reorganization, is far more plausible, and builds incrementally on the situation we are in now.

Still, let 100 flowers bloom.

Posted by: Lex at October 24, 2005 02:50 PM

"Why no referfence to the purchase of the ex-Soviet Admiral Gorshkov?"

Because it was on again, off again for so long that I wrongly thought it had fallen through.

"The idea of a joint purchase of sister ships by the various national navies seems, alas, not to be consistent with practical reality."

Well if we could save money it might not be a bad idea.

"Incidentally, I think your vision of a "Constitutional Anglosphere" may be taken as a "maximalist vision" akin to the various proposed English-Speaking Unions which were discussed about a century ago. Your proposed Constitution is an interesting thought-experiment, but I do not see any "demand pull" from any quarter for such a newly invigorated entity."

You are probibly right, but I wanted to explore how that might be done. I write constitutions for fun. A vice I know.

"Jim Bennett's notion of a Network Commonwealth, which is much less a matter of top-down political reorganization, is far more plausible, and builds incrementally on the situation we are in now."

Yes and I rewrote a proposed Network Commonwealth Constituion at Dan's Constitution Revised

Posted by: Steph at October 24, 2005 08:38 PM

Helen:
re. Belgium Britain had very little option. It did not like the idea of the Greater Netherlands being split, but given the failure of the Dutch and Walloons to reach an accomodation, preventing it meant British &/or Prussian military intervention.

Britain had no desire to align with the Holy Alliance states, and enforced Netherland unity would likely have been unstable and likely to lead to future problems.
Guaranteed Belgium was the best option in the circumstances.

Xavier:
You argue that a Germanic customs union integrating France would have avoided WW1.
Perhaps, but also impossible for the relations of Bismarckian/Wilhelmine Germany and republican France to arrive at.
Similarly, the realities of 1815-30 with reactionary Bourbon regimes in France and Spain, made support for Latin American independence effectively the only viable choice for Britain.

The reactionary Europe of that period was to many Britons an improvement upon Napoleonic and revolutionary French ascendancy only (if crucially) insofar as it was less agressive and less a direct threat to the UK.
The Holy Alliance/Congress system was not one amenable to British coercion toward a more liberal condition.

For instance, see the (later) abject failure of Britain to prevent Prussian agression against Denmark. Prussian based unification of Germany was not something Britain could halt or counter; it was largely the result of the success of Napoleon III's anti-Austrian policy. Oops.

And the conditions for war in 1914 resulted from the replacement of the cynical genius of Bismarck by the cack-handed incompetence of his successors breeding an entente of Russia, France and Britain. Oops again.

As for British "political elites ... continuing the old imperial policy using the Americans as leverage": IMHO nobody in Britain has considered an "imperial" policy viable since 1955 at least, excepting perhaps, a handful of irrelevant fringe Tory nostalgic fantasists and socialist commonwealth romantics. Both camps being both anti-American and politically irrelevant.

The British desire post-1945 has generally been for reasonable trading and security arrangements, and regional cooperation.
The problem has been the tendency of some partners to require a price in unnecessary, undemocratic and ineffective political centralisation and regulation (and "symbolic" sacrifices of external relations) that make the British question whether the rewards justify the price.

Posted by: John Farren at October 25, 2005 09:59 AM

John,

I quite agree with your analysis, particularly the last bit, about the British elite (or anyone else in Britain) being interested in furthering out of date imperial ambitions. Though, I would argue that some of the prevalent anti-Americanism, on the right as well as the left, has to do with a feeling that it ought to be us up there not the upstarts over the pond. There seems little understanding of the continuity between British and American thinking.

About Belgium: that was a kind of a joke and I promise not to make any more on this blog. These are serious matters.

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