germany surpasses britain -- 7/24/18

Today's selection -- from Destined For War by Graham Allison. With its vast global empire, Great Britain had been the leading power in Europe for a century or more. But by the early 1900s, Germany had surpassed it in both the size of its economy and its population. This led to deep suspicions and insecurities on both sides, and helped set the stage for the Great War that started in 1914:

"Since its (1871) victory over France and unification un­der Bismarck, Germany had become the strongest land power in Eu­rope, with an economic dynamism to match. German exports were now fiercely competitive with British products, making Berlin a for­midable commercial rival. Before 1900, however, the British Empire saw it more as an economic than a strategic threat. Indeed, a number of senior British politicians favored a German alliance, and some tried to broker one.

"By 1914, London's calculations had changed completely. Britain found itself fighting alongside its former rivals Russia and France (and later the US) to prevent Germany from gaining strategic mastery in Europe. The story of how that happened -- how, among a range of competitors, Germany became Britain's main adversary -- is a testa­ment to the fear felt by a ruling power when a rising one appears to endanger its security. In Britain's case, that fear was concentrated by a growing German fleet that could only be intended for use against the Royal Navy.

States of the German Empire (Kingdom of Prussia with its provinces shown in blue).

"The story of Germany's rise, and its decision to build a navy so alarm­ing to the British, is in many ways a simple one. It is the story of a country that experienced rapid, almost dizzying development in a very short time, but saw its path to global greatness blocked by what it con­sidered an unjust and covetous incumbent.

"Ever since Bismarck melded a patchwork of dozens of states into one German Empire following the triumphant wars against Austria (1866) and France (1870-71), Germany had emerged as an economic, mili­tary, and cultural phenomenon dominating the European continent. The Germans were no longer the objects of other people's history but the subject of their own story of national greatness. ...

"The seesaw on which Germany and Britain occupied op­posite ends was shifting relentlessly. By 1914, Germany's population of sixty-five million was 50 percent larger than Britain's. Germany grew to become Europe's leading economy, surpassing Britain by 1910. By 1913, it accounted for 14.8 percent of global manufacturing output, overtaking Britain's 13.6 percent. Prior to unification, it had produced only half the steel Britain did; by 1914, it produced twice as much. Writing in 1980 -- before the rise of China -- Paul Kennedy wondered 'whether the relative productive forces -- and, by extension, the rel­ative national power -- of any two neighboring states before or since had altered in such a remarkable way in the course of one man's lifetime as occurred here between Britain and Germany.'

"Britons experienced Germany's industrial growth most immediately in the form of German exports displacing British products at home and abroad. Between 1890 and 1913, Britain's exports to Germany doubled --but were still worth only half the value of its imports from Germany, which had tripled. A best-selling book in 1896, Made in Germany, warned Britons that 'a gigantic commercial State is arising to menace our prosperity, and contend with us for the trade of the world.'

"Germany was overtaking Britain not only in the heavy industry and factory products of the First Industrial Revolution, but also in the elec­trical and petrochemical advances of the Second Industrial Revolution. By the turn of the century, Germany's organic-chemical industry con­trolled 90 percent of the global market. In 1913, Britain, France, and Italy together produced and consumed only about 80 percent of the electricity that Germany did. By 1914, Germany had twice as many telephones as Britain, and almost twice as much railway track. Ger­man science and technology had surpassed Britain's to become the best in the world, fostered by a supportive government and nourished by esteemed universities. Between 1901, when Nobel Prizes were first awarded, and 1914, Germany won eighteen prizes overall, more than twice as many as the United Kingdom and four times as many as the United States. In physics and chemistry alone, Germany won ten No­bels -- almost twice as many as the UK and the US combined."



Graham Allison


Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap?


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Copyright 2017 by Graham Allison


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