On Being a Great Power

There used to be two Super Powers, the USA and the Soviet Union.  Then with the breaking up of the Soviet Union into its constituent parts only one was left..History like time never stands still and as the Soviet Union fell it was inevitable that sooner or later another power would rise up to replace it.

Though the replacement of the Soviet Union was not instant it was soon very clear who the new kid on the block would be. Though calling China, which means middle kingdom because its emperors believed it was the centre of the world, a new kid hardly gives credit to its thousands of year old civilisation and culture. So as the Soviet sun set in the West the Chinese star rose in the East.

Like the British Empire before it and the Americans after it China has all but conquered the world through trade. Where trade goes the military often follow. Now China has joined the space race, built its first aircraft carrier, while the British share one with the French, and increased defence spending to record levels.

At the same time China has announced it has no military ambitions. Well the cynic would reply they all say that don’t they?  What we do know is that China is the second power in trade having sometime ago eclipsed its bitter local rival Japan. Now it has the United States in its sights. Some say it will take twenty years others thirty before it catches and passes the States. Others say because of the problems its huge population presents it will never happen.  We also have to consider how much longer China will be allowed to manipulate its currency for its own benefit or blatantly steal patents from Western manufacturers. That probably won’t stop until like the Japanese they start developing products of their own rather than manufacturing others under license.

If you notice thus far I have been careful to refer to the United States military and ideological rivals as Super Powers rather than Great Powers. Military Might may well make you Super but it will never make you Great. It is my contention that there has only ever been one Great Power and that was and still is the United States. As long as it remains true to its core values and economically strong it will remain the Great Power even if measured by trade China one day forges ahead.
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To be a Great Power you must exercise more than self interest. You must not only pay lip service to freedom and democracy but put your weight and power behind these ideals at the cost of apathy, or even opposition, from your friends and the deaths of your own military personnel in pursuit of what is right..

This great Power status was first demonstrated by the United States at the end of the Second World War. The introduction of the Marshal Plan gave a broken and broke Western Europe a fresh economic beginning thanks to the untold millions of dollars it poured in to kick start their post war economies.  This was in contrast to those countries occupied by the Russians in their unstoppable sweep to Berlin. Poland and all the countries east of it became client States officially embracing communism while at the same time their people loathed it.  Their centrally controlled economies barely creaked along and when the people rose up in protest the bullet and death was the Russian answer.

Meanwhile in the cosines and safety of the West a politically motivated section of the population organised marches and demonstrations against the “war mongering and militarist” Americans which many of the naïve and gullible joined. When years later massacres occurred in the newly independent Balkan countries of Muslims it was the “ Great Satan,” America who intervened without a United Nations resolution  because as President Clinton put it at the time “ I could not stand aside any longer and watch these people be massacred.” The Russians stood back and let matters take their course. They did the same in Kosovo and in the original United Nations coalition against Iraq in the first Gulf War. In the streets of Western Europe no one marched to stop the Balkan massacres but they came out in force against the US in its two wars with Iraq.

The second Gulf War ,as the perceived wisdom now says, was a war for oil. Nowadays few politicians will admit having been in favour of the war. Yet at one time polls n the UK showed a majority for the war and even the leaders of those countries against such as France believed Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction .In fact it has even been suggested that Saddam Hussein himself believed Iraq possessed them.

Because of the freedoms we enjoy we can happily trash the reputation of men like Tony Blair, the leader who more or less single handed modernised Britain. He introduced the minimum wage, ended official discrimination against Gays as well as a raft of other social legislation  now taken for granted.  Meanwhile protesting against the system in China takes real bravery and dissenters unlike in the West find themselves in prison or financially ruined.

With the coming of the Arab Spring China and Russia have not just sat on the sidelines while vile massacres are perpetrated by their friends they have vetoed UN resolutions designed to stop them.  I am puzzled why the streets of Europe’s capitals are not filled with demonstrators. The only demonstrations, it seems, are in the streets and alleyways of Syrian towns where the people are mown down by Russian supplied guns and bullets. Only the cry of “Free Palestine” seems guaranteed to bring a rent a crowd  on to the streets.

Up and coming powers like India and Brazil have acted little differently. Not surprising when in the main their leaders were brought up on what was the prevailing ideology of Russia and China.

No doubt we will keep on moaning about America while we watch their films, eat hamburgers, drink Coke and munch popcorn and envy their life style.. Perhaps on occasion I might join the wingers and whiners. No one is right all the time and I value the right to be different.

But compare the chest and inside leg measurements of the other big players on the world  stage if you like. One or more might deserve the title of  super but  great, no way. That takes guts and blood and the willingness to stand by unpopular decisions and support democracy wherever it takes route. Beijing and Moscow take note.

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