The Grand Alliance and Global Stability

By: J. Ernesto Serrano

October 2, 2007





















          ?Since the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 and every subsequent empire thereafter, decline has always been preceded or followed by widespread instability—economic and/or military. The definition of “empire?is somewhat subjective; different historians will cite different qualifications, such as landmass, people, or wealth. For the purposes of this paper, I will refer to the widely accepted global empires/superpowers. I will take a brief look at the circumstances surrounding their rise and fall and draw some parallels from the historic powers to the current world order. The historical empires I will look at are the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the British Empire. In each of these cases, the empire set the global order well beyond the boundaries of their rule.

Today, the reigning empire is that of the American empire, but it appears that their time is waning while China emerges as the world’s next great superpower. In this paper, I will argue that a change in the global order is not a desirable outcome for the great democracies of the world, (or even the non-democracies of the world) and that they should, in fact, actively engage to preserve the current world order. While this is the general proposition offered by Pelanda (2007), I will provide support for this idea through exploring the consequences of fallen empires throughout history and the economic benefits of globalization in the current world order.

Fallen Empires

          ?In order to get an idea of what we may face in the future, it may be helpful to consider the events of the past. Here, I will show that the transition from one empire to the next and one global order to a new world order is usually wrought with tumult and danger.

The Roman Empire ruled for over 500 years, expanding ever more and bringing more peoples into their rule. Though war was relatively ever present as tribes raided the boundaries of the empire and challenged its borders, the subjects of the empire enjoyed an advanced society with many comforts unlike their contemporary neighbors. Credited with being one of the three pillars of modern western civilization, the Roman Empire collapsed due to a variety of contested issues, among them: plague, mismanagement, and Christianity. What is not contested is that the Germanic tribes conquered the Western Roman Empire and gradually rolled back the advances of the Roman civilization (Heather, 2007). The fallen territory became unsafe and unruly. What was left of the Roman Empire to the east became known as the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Empire lasted for a thousand years more, but it would also fall in war when the Ottomans conquered the capital city of Constantinople. Following their conquest, the Ottomans proceeded to pillage, murder, and rape the remaining survivors (Quataert, 2005).      

The Ottoman Empire lasted from 1299 until 1922 and spanned three continents. They functioned as an arbitrator of trade from the east to the west due to their geographic location. The Ottoman Empire expanded aggressively but stagnated and began to lose territory during the 18th and 19th centuries (Goodwin, 2003). The Ottoman Empire finally collapse at the end of World War I after suffering disastrous casualties.

          ?While World War I was the death knell for the Ottoman Empire, WWII saw the decline of the British Empire from a Global superpower to a supporting role to the United States. At its pinnacle the British Empire ruled over a quarter of the world’s population, it was a great source of pride for her people that “The sun never set on the British Empire? (James, 1997). However, the sheer size of the empire along with the responsibilities of maintaining the global order would force the British to fight many battles, including WWI and WWII (Ferguson, 2004). The economic pressures posed by WWII as well as the coming of age of American power would be too much for the British Empire to withstand.   

          ?This small sample covers the major historical empires and their downfall. What they all have in common is that their decline was either preceded or followed by wars and/or financial difficulties. In the case of the more recent powers in which international trade took on a larger role in the wealth of nations, the decline of the reigning superpower would affect not only the declining country but also its trade partners and allies.

Virtually without exception, every empire has buckled under the pressures of war, whether they were already in decline or not. As illustrated in the cases above, these wars can have the effect of rolling back advances in technology and civilization, as was the case for the Roman Empire. These wars can also result in mass killings, as was the case of the Byzantine Empire, and can be ruinous not only to the vanquished, but to the victorious power as well. For confirmation, one need only examine the case of the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire; one empire was soundly defeated and the other was victorious in world wars, but both lost their empires as a result of these wars, illustrating that victory is not necessarily a safeguard against decline.

Much like the Roman Empire, the American world order we have enjoyed since the end of World War II is diminishing. At this point in time, history can repeat itself and China can emerge by helping the United States in its descent, or the great democracies of the world can prop up the flagging Americans and conserve the global order. They can decide to bolster the country that has absorbed the costs of maintaining the world safe for democracy and free trade from which they have all benefitted. The time of free riders is coming to an end, and as history has shown, when one superpower overtakes another, the consequences can be drastically destabilizing. In this era of economic interconnectedness and nuclear weapons, the world community can hardly afford to assume a wait-and-see approach.

The Current World Order Under Globalization

          ?A prominent reason to maintain the current world order is to sustain the international benefits afforded by globalization. Generally speaking, globalization refers to the process through which national economies around the world become integrated and interdependent. Historically, globalization emerged successfully in the latter half of the 1800s, but it later collapsed between 1914 and 1945, the time frame during which two world wars, a great depression, and a cold war took place. The latter half of the 1900s, however, marked a renaissance for globalization (O’Rourke & Williamson, 2001), and this rebirth coincided with the United States staking claim as the world superpower. The current state of globalization is one that positively influences several national economies on a global stage.

          ??/span>According to Fisher (2006), globalization is correlated with enhanced quality of life and increased economic freedom on a world front. Since the 1950s, globalization has paved the path toward improvements in trade, foreign investment, international travel, and global communications. Specifically, as a percentage of world product, trade has increased from 15 percent in 1986 to approximately 27 percent today; since the 1980s, the stock of foreign direct investment assets has increased nearly four-fold as a percentage of gross domestic product; and over the past 55 years, there has been a dramatic incline in global travel, with one foreign visitor for every 100 individuals in the 1950s, to six foreign visitors per every 100 people in the mid 1980s, to twelve foreign visitors per every 100 individuals in current times. Furthermore, countries that are more open to globalization are more likely to have governments and corporations with more stable policies and regulations, are more likely to sustain legal systems that acknowledge and enforce property rights and the rule of law, and are more likely to have institutions in place that foster innovation (Fisher, 2006).

          ?In particular, in the last 50 years, globalization has brought about unprecedented economic prosperity, not only to the United States and Europe, but also to formally poor nations in Asia—most prominently, India and China (Schifferes, 2007). In the United States globalization has led to dynamic economic growth as trade’s share of U.S. gross domestic product rose from 9% to27%, and U.S. merchandising exports rose from 4% to 40% from pre WWII to post WWII levels (Griswold, 2007). Additionally, thanks to globalization, over the past 20 years, more than 200 million people have left poverty behind and the trend continues as more countries both developed and developing take advantage of the world market (Geddes, 2004). ?/span>What is ironic is that globalization has not only benefitted the U.S. and its allies but one of the heavier winners of globalization has been China. The country that now threatens the system owes at least in part its meteoric rise to globalization. Reasonably, it follows that many of the countries that have benefited from globalization have strong incentives to maintain the status quo.


          ?As China continues to expand and achieve unprecedented levels of economic and military power, the United States will have to either surrender its role as the world’s primary superpower or look to alliances to form a counterweight to China (Pelanda, 2007). The specter of world wars in the nuclear age is too dangerous to chance, and the accomplishments of free trade and globalization are too significant to risk. With the dawn of Chinese power near, strategies must be pursued by all those countries that have a vested interest in freedom, democracy, and free trade. The Grand Alliance is an idea whose time has come.


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Fisher, R.W. (2006, July 4). Globalization’s hidden benefits. YaleGlobal Online. Retrieved September 30, 2007 from the World Wide Web:

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Goodwin, J. (2003). Lords of the horizons: A history of the Ottoman Empire. New York City: Picador.

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Quataert, D. (2005). The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922 (new approaches to European history). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schifferes, S. (2007, January 21). Globalisation shakes the world. BBC News. Retrieved September 30, 2007 from the World Wide Web: