To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change

To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change

By Alfred W McCoy

Book Review

This book concerns the concept of “world orders,” which McCoy describes as over-arching global control by a single empire. He asserts there have been three world orders in the last 500 years.

The first was the Iberian world order, lasting from 1494 (with the creation of the first New World colonies) until 1815. The British world order (arising from the catastrophic Napoleonic wars and the replacement of slavery with fossil fuels) lasted from 1815 until 1945. The Washington world order (arising from the collapse of European economies after World War II) began in 1945. McCoy’s describes America’s world order as maintaining a strong official stance on human rights, while simultaneously using the CIA to overthrow multiple democratically elected governments. McCoy predicts America’s world order will end in 2030.

He provides a detailed historical account of the events leading up to each of these world orders. For example, he explains how the Age of Exploration was precipitated by the Black death and the loss of 60% of European and Chinese populations. This severe labor shortage meant serfs became free wage laborers, making European desperate for new sources of labor to exploit.

The book also examines the scholarly theoretical basis for forming and maintaining a new world order. Britain was very much influenced by naval historian Captain Alfred Thayer Mahal, writing in the 1890s that creating a world order required a powerful Navy and “an empire of islands” for naval bases. Mahal’s writings also influenced US strategy in their imperialist adventures following the Spanish-American War, German strategy in World War I and Japanese strategy in World War II.

In 1904, the opening of the Transiberian Railroad inspired Sir Hulford MacKinder to propose an alternative strategy for world domination: namely gaining control of the “World Island,” aka the Eurasian land mass. Zbigniew Brzezinski slavishly followed MacKinder’s approach in pressuring President Carter’s to launch a massive covert CIA operation in Afghanistan in the late seventies.

I learned a great detail about European history from this book that I never learned in school. I was intrigued to learn how labor shortages caused by the Black Death also led directly to important labor saving devices, such as the printing press and more efficient sailing ships.

McCoy’s history of the North Atlantic slave trade and Europe’s brutal colonization of India and Africa is also extremely comprehensive. I was especially intrigued to learn how active the British navy was in conducting anti-slavery patrols following Britain’s ban on the North Atlantic slave trade in 1807. In total Britain’s navy liberated a total of 82,000 captives from slave ships and transported them to Sierra Leone. There they were registered as British subjects, with some remaining there, some enlisting as soldiers and some returning to their homelands.

McCoy’s chapter on China is extremely disappointing, as it clearly reflects the US State Department-CIA view of China’s global role in the world. Likewise his final chapter (on climate change). The latter relies on he corporate elite’s exclusive focus on carbon emissions, neglecting the fact that global warming has numerous causes (with massive deforestation and industrial agriculture being far more important than fossil fuel emissions) and can’t be solved by simply replacing fossil fuel with renewable energy.

 

Demise of the American Empire: Pinpointing the Timeline

 

In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power

by Alfred W McCoy

Haymarket Books (2016)

Book Review

Prior to 2001 and the launch of the War on Terror, the US political elite adamantly denied (despite massive evidence to the contrary), that the United States was an empire rather than a republic. Because their sudden about face (ie acknowledgement and promotion of US imperialism) was so recent, there has been little opportunity for scholarly analysis of America’s effectiveness as an empire. It’s this void Alfred McCoy seeks to fill with In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power.

Competition for Control of the Eurasian Landmass

McCoy traces America’s serious global empire building to their defeat of Spain in the Spanish-American War in 1898, which won them Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Panama Canal Zone and the Philippines.* He maintains that us strategies for empire-building, like those of the former British empire, have mainly relied on seeking and maintaining control of the “World-Island.” This is a term coined by London School of Economics director Halford Mackinder’s World Island in 1904. Under this concept, the World Island consists of the vast European-Asian landmass that is home to 70% of the world’s population, 75% of its global energy resources and 60% of its current productivity.

How the US Maintains Military Control

After the US became the world’s preeminent superpower after World War II, they have used nine basic strategies to maintain military control of the Eurasian landmass: mass surveillance (based on a system of extensive personal data collection that began during their “pacification”** of the Philippines (1898-1907); CIA covert operations (involving electoral interference, military coups, installation of compliant puppet dictators, targeted assassinations, torture, advanced technological weaponry (electronic senors, satellite imagery, drones, etc) and, increasingly cyperwarfare and space-based weaponry (most information about the latter two is classified).

America Falling Behind China Economically and Militarily

For me the most interesting section of the book examines ways in which the US is rapidly falling behind China – not only economically but militarily. McCoy identifies Bush’s rash decision to invade Iraq as the start of the American empire’s steady decline. While the US has spent the last 16 years mired in unwinnable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, China is busily building alliances and investing their trade surplus (from selling Americans cheap consumer goods) in Russia and other countries located in the World Island. In Afghanistan alone, they are responsible for 79% of foreign investment.

Meanwhile China is rapidly creating a single economic zone across the Eurasian landmass, with a vast network of high speed trains and pipelines following historical Silk Road and Tran-Siberian Railway routes – and soon a high speed Southeast Asian and Moscow-Beijing line.

Even the Pentagon-linked Rand Corporation predicts China’s will exceed that of the US by 2030 or sooner. In 2010, China became the world’s leading manufacturing nation. In 2014, it took the lead in the number of new patents it awards annually.

Even more concerning is the rapid decline of US educational standards compared to those of China, which has ominous implications for the development of high tech weaponry. Chinese students consistently score first in math, science and reading, while US students score 27th, 20th and 17th respectively.

By 2025, China is expected to have better long range cruise missiles than the US, better air defense aircraft, better electronic sensors, better digital communications capacity, better computer processing power and better cyber-security. At the same time, they have a significant strategic advantage because the US spreads its military resources so thin by fighting so many foreign wars simultaneously.

According to McCoy, they already have the ability to cripple critical US infrastructure (electrical and telecommunications grid and pipelines) via cyber warfare.

Collapse Predicted Between 2030-2040

McCoy predicts (and makes an excellent case for) the demise of the US empire some time between 2030-2040. It could happen gradually, as US economic and military prowess continues its steady decline – or suddenly, if the loss of its privileged status causes the US dollar to collapse. The impending implosion may be aggravated by climate change, especially if the Pentagon is drawn into wars over dwindling food and water resources or control of massive numbers of climate refugees.


*In a separate development, the Kingdom of Hawai’i was illegally overthrown by The Committee of Safety (a group of wealthy American/European businessmen) in 1998. The Committee of Safety used U.S. Marines to detain the Queen while they announced their takeover of Hawai’i.

**”Pacification” is a military euphemism for violently subjugating the indigenous population of an occupied country.

Originally published in Dissident Voice