59 Chapters
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9 Geopolitics Since 1990

Jeremy Black Indiana University Press ePub

THE END OF THE COLD WAR POSED BOTH MAJOR CONCEPTUAL issues focused on a total recasting of geopolitics and also the question as to whether the subject itself had outlived its usefulness and therefore deserved extinction or, rather, relegation to an outdated part of historical literature. In the event, reports of the death of geopolitics proved totally unfounded. Instead, the second surge of writing on geopolitics—that linked to the Cold War—has been followed, from 1990, with a third surge. Moreover, this surge has been of considerable scale. From 1990 until 2014, over four hundred academic books specifically devoted to geopolitical thought have appeared, a number that does not include more narrowly focused national studies. In addition, these books have appeared in a plethora of languages, including Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, English, Finnish, French, Greek, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, and Spanish. To write of a surge does not imply any necessary similarity in approach, content or tone, but does capture the extent to which geopolitical issues and language still play a major role. This can be amplified if attention is devoted to references in periodical and newspaper articles,1 and in popular fiction. For example, geopolitics is a term frequently used in James Ellroy’s 2014 novel Perfidia. Dudley Smith refers to “recent geopolitical events” in explaining why “Jimmy the Jap” would make an appropriate scapegoat.2

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1 Introduction

Jeremy Black Indiana University Press ePub

It was the meteorite that landed in the Western Approaches to the English Channel on the night of June 5–6, 1944, that doomed the long-planned Anglo-American invasion of Normandy. No fleet, especially one with heavily laden landing-craft, could have survived the resulting tidal wave, which was funneled up the Channel to devastating effect. By leaving the Germans in control of France, the total failure of this invasion attempt enabled them to concentrate on resisting the advance of the Red (Soviet) Army and to do so beyond April 1945 when Berlin might otherwise have fallen. As a result, the United States had the opportunity in August 1945 to drop on Berlin one of the two atomic bombs that were ready. The U.S. needed to do so to show that it could play a major role in overthrowing Hitler. However, with no Anglo-American ground forces yet in Germany, the Soviets were able, amidst the ruins of the Nazi regime, to occupy most of it. A Cold War frontier on the Rhine followed, as did a Communist bloc benefiting from the resources and capacity of the Ruhr industrial belt and from the revival of the German economy after World War II.

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6 Revolution, Transformation, and the Present

Jeremy Black Indiana University Press ePub

Modern military power is based upon technology, and technology is based upon computers. . . . We [the Soviet Union] will never be able to catch up with you [the United States] in modern arms until we have an economic revolution. And the question is whether we can have an economic revolution without a political revolution.

Nikolai Ogarkov, Chief of the Soviet General Staff, 1983, cited in the New York Times, August 20, 1992

The literature on recent, current, and future warfare is dominated by the language of change and modernization. As is the general pattern in modern culture, change and modernization are descriptive, prescriptive, and normative, being equated with improvement. Relative performance or promise is defined according to these emphases, as are the conflicts seen as worthy of attention by scholars, and therefore, in a circular sense, as contributing to their analyses. Such an approach to modernization, however, begs the question of what is a modern, let alone a more modern, style of military operations? This question is one of recurring relevance for military history and for understanding present and future situations, and thus links the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) discerned in the 1990s and 2000s to earlier episodes of what have been presented as military revolutions.

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6 Britain and France, 1688–1815

Jeremy Black Indiana University Press ePub

The struggle between Britain and France from 1688 to 1815 enables one to amplify and reconsider the discussion of the rise of the West, by offering a very different perspective from that provided in the last chapter. The rise of the West is one of the metanarratives of world history over the last half millennium, but more attention has been devoted, not least in counterfactual discussion, to the linked questions of “When/How/ Why rise?” rather than to “Which West?” Yet, the latter question can be profitably reexamined. It is important in its own right and also needs to be addressed as a second-order counterfactual. In short, “Would the rise of the West have occurred at all, or possibly followed another path, and with other consequences, had there been a different West?” At the outset, instead of posing the question of whether, once Western dominance had been established, it had to take the forms it did, it is more pertinent to link with the last chapter by asking if a variety of possible courses of Western development existed that might have precluded such a dominance. This issue is a variant of the questions in chapter 5 about Chinese weaknesses and how far they helped lead to a tipping point toward Western success. This chapter focuses on the struggle between Britain and France in 1688–1815, although that is not the sole possible counterfactual in terms of “Which West?”

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10 Expansionism and Its Problems 1823–43

Jeremy Black Indiana University Press ePub

America was the most dynamic society in the Western world, with its population rising rapidly prior to the great territorial expansion of the 1840s, from 9.6 million in 1820 to 17.1 million in 1840, whereas Mexico’s population, which had been similar to that of America in the late eighteenth century, rose from 1820 to 1840 by little to 7 million. Moreover, a sense of national destiny became more pronounced in America during these years and also seemed within grasp. This sense was seen in the engagement with American landscape as sublime and morally uplifting, a view clearly demonstrated by the enthusiastic response to the self-consciously national Hudson River school of painters. Regarded as more vigorous and unspoiled than those of Europe, the American landscape also appealed to British visitors such as Henry Addington, Richard Cobden, and Charles Dickens. Addington found more grandeur and beauty in the Hudson Valley than in those of the Rhine, Elbe, or Oder, sites of awe for European Romantics. Cobden was enthralled by the sight of the Hudson Valley in 1835, and Dickens by the sublimity of Niagara Falls in 1842.1

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