A fixture of world history has been the possibility of the dominant military power to limit war in the world. The first such incidence of this was the Pax Romana based on the defeat in 146 BC of Carthage, its only competitor in the Mediterranean. See: Punic Wars here, This continued to the fall of Rome in the fifth century and the ensuing Dark Ages. For the next 1200 years, no dominant power emerged until Britain was victorious over France in 1815 and the Pax Britannica followed for 99 years.
The Pax Britannica was based on overwhelming control of the seas by the Royal Navy. No threat to this dominance occurred until Germany launched a Naval program that threatened the balance that had occurred between the master of the heartland( See: Mackinder, Heartland Theory Here developed during the late 19th and early 20th Century, lead to a series of diplomatic alliances, the so called Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy and The Triple Entente between Britain, Russia and France. This led, because of the mutual defense aspects of these secret alliances, to the out break of World War I when the Russians moved against Serbia in 1914 after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife.
World War I so weakened the Entente victors, that they could pose no threat to a rearmed Germany when the European part of World War II erupted in September, 1939. The history of that war is not important here, but it is important to note that the United States emerged from WWI as a world power, but disarmed, so it could not take the place of the British absence on the world stage. Curiously, prior to entering WWI, America was such a poor military power that the Germans felt no fear of US intervention in Europe when it began unrestricted Submarine warfare in 1916. The huge American build up during the war was scraped almost immediately. This lack of American power lead to Hitler’s, who had no fear of American arms, declaration of War against the US in December 1941 after its ally, Japan, had attacked Pearl Harbor.
At the conclusion of WWII, America was dominant at sea and Russia dominated the Heartland. During the post-war period, America increased its military power -until recently. It is now hard to imagine a situation in which the United States was thought of as too weak to act after 68 years of the Pax Americana, but we have that situation today.
Last week, Defense Secretary Hagel announced a reduction of force to a level below WWII. Remember, that was the time Hitler thought so little of us that he declared war, seemingly with impunity. He did so, by the way, so he could attack American shipping with his own unrestricted submarine campaign.without restriction, History does repeat.
Close upon Hagle’s announcement, Vladimir Putin, announced that Russia had “issues” with the Ukraine, a nation of 46 million people contiguous with Russia. Putin has also seized the Crimea, Ukrainian naval facilities, and some report that he has demanded the surrender of Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea. It is expected that Russian troops will invade the Ukraine to protect Russian speaking people there. Hitler, by the way, did the same thing in middle Europe in 1938.
What is the American response? There is Chamberlain like rhetoric, but what can we do? Our army is shrunken, the Navy is at a modern low level and we have virtually no ability to have an impact, anywhere in the world, over the Russians. Our self inflicted end to the Pax Americana now takes its toll.
The toll to be extracted is not clear yet. However, Mr. Putin is seeking eight naval and airbases in warm weather areas. Three of those are Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, so the current administration is overseeing not only the end of the Pax Americana but the end of the coercive elements of the Monroe Doctrine, which involved our having the real ability to apply military force, if necessary.
America and the world have been fundamentally changed in the last five years. History will write the verdict as to whether this change was worth the instability now present in the world.