Anglo/America versus Russia
Originally posted, Jan. 23, 2020.
Quote of the times:
“No matter what reason they give for war, the real reason is always economic.”
A.J.P. Taylor, British historian.
The present state of affairs, in the international arena, needs some historical context to be fully understood. Many of our present day political, economic and military policies are determined by long standing geo-political concerns, played out historically by Britain and Russia, and today by America and Russia.
Geo-politics is the recognition of how geography determines political, economic and military policies that different nations pursue. For example, the Eurasian Continent (Europe and Asia combined) is the largest landmass on our planet. It is this landmass that contains approximately 70% of the world’s proven resources. The largest nation occupying the Eurasian landmass is Russia. Therefore, Russia, simply because of where it is and what it is, comes into sharp focus, for many other nations in the world.
If Russia is the largest nation, on the largest landmass, with the largest resources, why did Russia not become the largest superpower of the world hundreds of years ago? Answer: because, Britain, worked assiduously to prevent it. Why did Britain work so hard to thwart the rise of Russia? Answer: because it was a battle between Sea Power and Land Power. And the Sea Power (Britain) won most of the battles against the Land Power (Russia) – but the war is not over – and it continues today – but now it is between America and Russia.
For centuries and even millennia, trade between peoples and nations were carried out by water (most major cities started out as trading posts on rivers and lakes). Eventually, the British Empire came to dominate the world-wide trade by sea and it was this sea power that was the direct source of its great wealth.
Therefore, there were two main threats to the British trade monopoly. The first threat was the emergence of another sea power. And the worst nightmare for the British was the emergence of Russia as a rival sea power. This is because Russia had a huge hinterland (full of resources) and if it became a sea power it could export those resources all over the world.
The Russians of course, tried to become a sea power, but their problem was, they had no warm water ports. [Except for the Black Sea, but the Black Sea is basically landlocked. The Black Sea was only a good option if Russia controlled the narrow passageways (the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits) into the Mediterranean Sea].
So, Britain, made it their business to make sure Russia never got a warm water port. For example, when Russia lunged to the south to try and capture these strategic straits (Bosporus and Dardanelles), Britain declared war, and with their French and Turkish allies, defeated Russia in the Crimean War (1853-1856).
Another example, of British interference is when the Russians managed to wrestle a warm, deep water port, from the Chinese on the Pacific east coast (Port Arthur). The British countered by encouraging Japanese militarism and training their navy. This resulted in war with Russia, and the Japanese navy blew the Russian navy out of the water at the battle of Tsushima (1905). [The Japanese besieged Port Arthur and captured it earlier the same year]. There are many other instances of British covert and overt action to thwart Russian ambitions (even when Russia was allied with Britain, against mutual threats, such as Germany in WWI and WWII).
The other threat to the British trade monopoly was the creation of land routes of trade, which would circumvent British control. For hundreds and even thousands of years there was in existence the fabled ‘Silk Road’ trade route, across the Eurasian landmass from China to Europe. This route was basically destroyed when Britain secured trading rights from the Chinese by means of war (the Opium Wars, 1839-42 & 1856-60). After subduing the Chinese, Britain was able to transport Chinese goods to Europe (and elsewhere) much cheaper by sea, hence the inevitable demise of the Silk Road.
It was always cheaper to transport people and goods by sea, but then, the steam engine was invented and railways began to be built. With the advent of the railways it was possible to build connecting trading routes over the land. Britain did not oppose the development of railway systems. In general, Britain’s trade monopoly benefited from the construction of railway systems, because goods could now be transported cheaply from hinterlands all over the world, to coastal ports where they could be loaded onto British ships.
However, there was one place where Britain was very sensitive about railways being built, and that was railways that connected Europe to Asia. For example, one of the major causes of WWI was the German proposal to build a railway from Berlin to Baghdad. The British opposed it because, the purpose of the railway, was so that, Germany could establish a port on the Persian Gulf and thereby bypass the Suez Canal, and therefore trade with the East and Africa, and avoid British control.
Britain had many rivals, but it was always Russia that, Britain was most worried about. Britain’s concerns about Russia reached a fever pitch in the 19th Century when most of Europe expected the two nations to come to a final showdown, it was during this century that the term ‘the Great Game’ was coined to describe the rivalry between the two nations:
By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, it was a common assumption in Europe that the next great war-the inevitable war-was going to be the final showdown between Britain and Russia. David Fromkin, art. ‘The Great Game’ Foreign Affairs Magazine, Spring 1980.
Even though Britain emerged from both World Wars on the winning side, the two wars crippled it financially. In the subsequent years it lost most of its empire, it lost its trading monopoly, and it lost its ability to interfere in the development of other nations. That role now passed to the new kid on the block, the United States of America.
To be continued…
God bless, Bruce Telfer.