Frittering away peace and prosperity
The flailing Trump administration is a danger to U.S. prosperity and international peace. While this may seem histrionic, the current chaos can have dangerous consequences as we manage the rocky shoals of international affairs. The U.S. must manage China’s emergence as a major power, nurture relations with allies, counter Russia’s revanchism and coordinate global warming mitigation efforts, yet the administration still hasn’t made senior-level appointments to the State Department and has alienated several allies. We take our current peace and prosperity for granted, assuming it’s preordained, but complacency is a dangerous hallucination.
To defend against such complacency, I’ll imagine how the world could have looked if pivotal historical events turned out differently, with their effects reverberating through time. The most often cited counterfactuals include a British victory in the Revolutionary War, a victorious Confederacy in the Civil War, or a Nazi victory in World War II.
Regarding the latter, barring a few avoidable blunders, Nazi Germany could have easily ruled much of Europe for decades. The movie “Dunkirk” reminds us how narrow was our escape. The Germans had 400,000 British and French troops trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk. However, the Germans postponed their advance for three days, giving the allies enough time to flee. Had they continued the fight, they would have either decimated the U.K. army, resulting in a possible unconditional surrender, or won a conditional surrender as Churchill sued for peace to prevent a massacre. Either way, the Nazi regime would have had free reign over Europe.
Germany also could have simply honored the German-Soviet Nonaggression pact of 1939. This would have kept the USSR out of the war, allowing Germany to invade Poland without starting a wider two-front war with the Soviets.
The agreement even codified how the two powers would split eastern Europe. By not declaring war on Russia, the Nazis would have likely ruled most of Europe, even with U.S. entry in the war, because the Soviet Union’s contribution to the Allied victory cannot be overstated. Without them, the Nazis would have likely defeated the allies.
Instead of a bi-polar U.S.USSR Cold War, there would have been a three-way Cold War. The Soviets would have dominated eastern Europe, the Germans would have controlled western and central Europe and the U.S. would have led an Anglo-Saxon alliance with the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This accommodation could have persisted for decades.
Now imagine a world where Japan avoids war with the U.S. and thus retains dominion over east and south-east Asia. U.S. power and wealth would have been diminished because the lion’s share of our economic trade would have been confined to our English-speaking allies.
The Soviet Union and eastern Europe would have still suffered their debilitating economic inefficiencies. But Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan would have forged a mercantilist relationship with their possessions at best, and a slave/master tyranny at worst.
Thankfully Germany’s critical errors played a significant role in their losing the war. Instead of a four-way global split, the Marshall Plan rebuilt western Europe and helped create reliable democratic allies and a vast economic market of millions.
Japan became an integrated economic powerhouse, and the Asian tiger miracle followed soon thereafter. Their success helped beget China’s loosening of its Communist mores and inclusion into the world economy. We helped midwife a vibrant global economy that is a veritable wealth generating machine.
Applying the lessons of the past, we see there are no guarantees in international affairs. Continued peace and prosperity can be lost.
Will China aggressively stake its South China Sea claims, possibly leading to a regional war, or will it honor international laws of the sea?
Will Russia test NATO’s resolve by invading the Baltics, or will deter such aggression by reaffirming unambiguously our commitment to NATO’s common defense? Only sound stewardship of international events will deliver the bright future considered our birthright. U.S. political bedlam threatens it.
Adam Goldin is a Philadelphiabased economist with master’s degrees in both economics and international affairs. He resides in Chester County. Email: email@example.com