Amerikaanse hegemonie of louter een bevoorrechte positie?

CAMBRIDGE – In de moderne geschiedenis heeft geen land zoveel militaire macht gehad als de Verenigde Staten. Toch betogen sommige analisten dat de VS in de voetsporen treden van Groot-Brittannië, de vorige mondiale hegemonistische macht die zijn positie zag afkalven. Maar deze historische analogie is, ook al wordt zij steeds populairder, misleidend.

Groot-Brittannië is nooit zo dominant geweest als de VS vandaag de dag zijn. Zeker, het land had een marine die net zo groot was als die van de eerstvolgende twee landen samen, en het Britse imperium, waar de zon nooit onderging, omvatte een kwart van de mensheid. Maar er waren ook grote verschillen in de relatieve machtsbronnen van het imperiale Groot-Brittannië en het hedendaagse Amerika. Tegen de tijd dat de Eerste Wereldoorlog uitbrak was Groot-Brittannië van de grote machten slechts de vierde als het ging om het aantal militairen, de vierde in termen van het bbp, en de derde op het gebied van de militaire uitgaven.

Het Britse Rijk werd grotendeels bestuurd via lokale troepen. Van de 8,6 miljoen Britse militairen die aan de Eerste Wereldoorlog deelnamen, kwam ongeveer een derde uit het overzeese rijk. Dat maakte het voor de regering in Londen steeds moeilijker om de oorlog uit te roepen namens het imperium, naarmate de nationalistische sentimenten sterker werden.

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