Trump’s National Security Strategy Is Nothing Like the British Empire’s ‘Blue Water’ Policy

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tags: Trump, National Security Strategy



Philip Zelikow is the White Burkett Miller Professor of History at the University of Virginia. He is also a former government official, having held posts in five previous administrations.

In a piece for the Wall Street Journal published Monday, Walter Russell Mead makes a truly terrible argument in defense of the Trump administration’s new National Security Strategy. Mead’s case is based on an astonishingly inept historical analogy. He argues that the new U.S. strategy has embraced “an older strategic approach” exemplified by the so-called “blue water” policy of the British Empire at its height.

In Mead’s cartoon, British imperial leaders always had a debate between two schools. One he calls a continentalist strategy, which prioritized alliances and close political cooperation with key European powers. The other Mead calls a blue-water policy, which encouraged Britain to turn away from Europe and toward the open oceans, “using its unique global position to maximize its power and wealth.” The United States, according to Mead, now also seems to be making the blue-water choice — which Mead praises as an evocation of Britain’s past wisdom.

This is wrong on so many levels. First, it is the blue-water men who were the multinational globalists of their day, emphasizing the maintenance of a bewildering variety of political, military, and allied linkages — dozens of them. Somehow Mead gets through an entire essay about the British analogy without once using the words, “empire,” “imperial,” or “India.” These omissions would have startled any British strategist of that era, blue water or no.

None of those strategists thought their country’s prosperity was to be found at sea. The water just connected the nodes of the imperial network. In their globalist conception, which they sometimes contrasted mockingly to the ideas of “Little Englanders” (the America Firsters of their day), the oceans connected little Britain to its vital economic and military partners which, above all, consisted of India (the indispensable partner) and the “White Dominions,” (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa). Beyond those core partnerships there were the associated alliances to shore up the Ottoman Empire (aided by the colony in Cyprus), look after Egypt, prop up Argentine commerce, administer the Suez Canal, fortify Aden, build up Singapore, police Shanghai, and so on.

Second, these same blue-water globalists were entirely aware of the other great dimension of the British world system. This was Britain’s world leadership of the cause of free trade and common global financial cooperation in the form of the gold standard. London was the financial hub and organizing center of this world system, as commodities from across the world flowed into and out of England’s docklands. This was foot-on-the-pedal globalization. ...

Read entire article at Foreign Policy


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