Economics Index and Qualifications
By Richard Bruce BA, MA, and PhC in Economics
Former Instructor St. John's University, New York City

The Developed Democracies have formed Long, Strong, Alliances

It is now 2014, the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of World War I. In that war three great democratic powers France, the British Empire, and America allied with one another. This alliance of advanced democratic countries has largely continued until today, almost a hundred years later.

It has expanded to include many other countries, not conquering them, or turning them into colonies, or satellites, but as allies in the cause of democracy and development. Today the combined population of the nations that are free as defined by Freedom House, and developed as defined by the World Bank exceeds a billion people. All but a relatively small portion of these are united in a system of alliances.

America alone has a defense budget almost equal to the defense spending of all the other countries combined, but a huge portion of the rest of that defense spending is by our allies. So the vast majority of all defense spending is by the Western alliance.

As strong as America and the West are, we may face significant challenges in the future. China in particular has an economy that is about half that of the United States if measured in ordinary exchange rates, and growing far more quickly. Thankfully China's relations with us and our allies are mostly peaceful, but it would be fair to say it is an uneasy peace.

As the economic output of and perhaps the military potential of China catches up with the United States over the next couple of decades we will need to emphasize the strength of our alliance. One way to do this is to emphasize the longevity of our alliance, and a good way to do that is to recognize and celebrate the anniversaries of our alliance.

Holding a celebration, building a monument, making a speech, all of these may seem a less than serious way to defend our freedom, but in limited doses dollars spent on them could be more effective than a few more dollars spent on traditional raw military power. Once again this is only true if one is spending a fairly limited amount of money. But reminding the Chinese or any other potential adversary of the longevity of our alliance system has real value.

Next year will be the two hundredth anniversary of the end of the War of 1812. This is the last significant war between the United States and the British Empire. The same year saw the Battle of Waterloo and therefore the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Since then France and the British Empire have been at peace. So these three great democratic powers have maintained peaceful relations for a couple of centuries.

Much of that first century involved what was sometimes an uneasy peace, and not an alliance. However, in 1904 the British Empire and France signed the "Entente Cordiale". This was one element of the Triple Entente between Britain, France, and Russia. Perhaps the "Entente Cordiale" could mark the beginning of the modern alliance of democratic powers. Next year the "Entente Cordiale" will see its 110th anniversary.

When the "Entente Cordiale" was originally signed it was not as high minded as the later alliance. It was in part an agreement between the British and French empires not to interfere in each other's empires.

Furthermore, it was not thought to be a very strong treaty. It was widely feared that the Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria, and Italy was the more determined, cohesive alliance. World War I proved otherwise. The Italians had signed a secret treaty with France, and bugged out on their promise to support the Triple Alliance. Eventually Italy fought on the side of the Triple Entente and against its fellow members of the Triple Alliance. This may count as still another example of how democratic societies are better at holding together alliances than authoritarian regimes.

In World War I the Western Alliance formed and fought in earnest, first with France, Britain, and smaller allies, eventually with America added. Since then the Western Alliance won World War II, and the Cold War. Along the way it has absorbed many of its former enemies. So the Western Alliance in one form or another has had a strong run of about a hundred years.

Looking ahead ten to twenty years when China is in the process of catching up with the United States the weak beginnings of the "Entente Cordiale" will be a hundred and twenty to thirty years old, and the relatively strong alliance of "the Allies" will be a hundred and ten to twenty years old.

Germany and Japan of course joined the alliance somewhat later. But World War II ended about 68 years ago. Once again the end of World War II will be eighty to ninety years old by the time the Chinese fully catch up to America economically.

More recently we moved from cold war to uneasy peace with Russia, and many of the Soviet Union's old allies, and a few of the Soviet Union's republics have joined NATO, and therefore the Western Alliance system.

The earliest parts of the Western Alliance were formed decades before the Chinese government came to power. So our alliance is older than their government. Furthermore, it is a decade or two older than the government of Saudi Arabia, the oldest authoritarian government in the world. These are things we could emphasize. Note that by far the oldest governments in the world are democratic governments.

It is often said that since the breakup of the Soviet Union the United States is the world's only super power, but China is rising to challenge us. Alternatively it could be argued that the Western Alliance has more or less dominated for a century or more, and is likely to continue to dominate, even as Chinese power increases.

Celebrating our longevity through the observance of our anniversaries and in other ways can strengthen the unity of our alliance system and remind potential aggressors of that unity. Western strength and unity will help make any doves in the Chinese leadership look reasonable and any hawks look foolish. This is a key objective, we do not want any doves that may be at the top levels of leadership in China to look like cowards. We want peaceful development to be the overwhelming reasonable choice for the Chinese leadership.

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Last updated May 12, 2014

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