Like China today, the US was making a statement. Britain’s Royal Navy might still rule the high seas, but the US now controlled its own surroundings. Not so coincidentally, London began to draw down the Royal Navy’s American Station, acknowledging it could no longer compete with the US Navy near US shores. Nor did British statesmen see much reason to try, with a largely friendly power clamoring to take up the burden of maritime security — and ease the burden on the British fleet.
Frictions between rising and established powers, then, are nothing new. The main difference between Asia today and the US then: China appears as determined as Cleveland’s US to make itself No. 1 in its home region, but the US, unlike fin de siecle Britain, is set on clinging to its dominant position in the Western Pacific. What kind of working arrangement Washington and Beijing can fashion, if any, remains unclear.
Beware of shoal water.
James Holmes is an associate professor of strategy at the US Naval War College. The views voiced here are his alone.