By Come Carpentier de Gourdon
One of the most persuasive and best documented accounts for the origins of the first world war highlights the role of Cecil Rhodes's Round Table society, a semi-secret conclave of influential British imperialists whose avowed goal was to unite the world under Anglo-Saxon hegemony by bringing the United States back under the Crown's control and extending the City of London's sway over the other great powers, primarily France and her colonies,Turkey, Russia, Japan and China.
The major challenger to the continuance and further expansion of Britain's dominance at the dawn of the twentieth century was then fast rising Imperial Germany which had reunified in 1871 and whose industrial and scientific output bested the United Kingdom's. Hence the primary goal of Rhodes and his colleagues and successors soon became the defeat of the 'second Reich' established by late Chancellor Bismarck. In pursuit of this objective the Round Table's inner circle deployed its considerable resources in the political, military, diplomatic and financial realms. The press in particular was used with great effectiveness to foster a climate of growing hostility to Germany which was regularly accused of carrying out a nefarious conspiracy against the British empire and its allies. The recurrent message was that Berlin's aggression and subversive designs would inevitably lead to a major military conflict.
That was a sea change for the British diplomatic establishment which had traditionally supported Prussia and her expanding sway against France and other continental states. The British royal family was of teutonic extraction, being a branch of the house of Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha and many high level figures in England such as the famous Houston Chamberlain were germanophiles. However during the first decade of the 1900s British diplomats and 'grey eminences' such as Lord Rothschild, Rhodes's financier, managed to cobble together a grand anti-german Entente with France and Russia while building Japan militarily to confront Russia in the Far East.
The project of the British supremacists entered a new phase when the great war began in August 1914 between almost all European powers. However like most grand plans the conflict did not go as expected by either of the two warring coalitions. It did indeed bring about the collapse of the Central Empires of Germany and Austria-Hungary but it ruined France, destroyed the Tsar's empire and seriously weakened the United Kingdom itself while stirring the simmering embers of nationalism in its colonies and occupied territories, from Ireland to India and from Africa to China.
This lengthy prologue is intended to draw a parallel to the current situation in which the Anglo-Saxon empire, headed by the United States since 1943 at least, is being confronted by the rising might of China from the beginning of this century. Once again the globally dominant 'Union of English-speaking peoples' desired by Winston Churchill in line with the designs of Rhodes and his co-conspirators is beating the war drums against an enemy which can almost match it economically and militarily or at least will soon be able to do so. From 1900 Britain entered a period of relative decline and since the 1980s the United States is slowly sliding on a downward slope. As was the case more than a hundred years ago, the Anglo-Saxon Realm is mobilising to try to perpetuate itself and restore its dominance through a combination of diplomatic, financial and military initiatives.. This is the context in which the COVID-19 virus has gone on the rampage worldwide and accelerated a gigantic economic depression or rather the new phase of the global crisis which began in 2007.
The two world wars which have been described by various historians as two acts of a single international contest dug the grave of the century-old predominance of the gold-backed British pound which the Bretton Woods agreements replaced with the US Dollar. That enabled the Anglo-Saxon empire to remain in a modified form represented by the Atlantic Alliance and, the other military pacts and bases maintained by the US and Britain with several other countries on all continents. Vanquished and occupied Germany was included in those arrangements and the Soviet Union became the new rival until its demise in 1991 when Cecil Rhodes's dream appeared to find its fulfillment, albeit in a modernised, vastly different shape than he had envisaged. Yet the key parts of the old Empire, North America, Australia, Southern and Eastern Africa, the Persian Gulf states and even parts of India, now rebranded as Pakistan and Nepal remained broadly under its aegis and India was still connected to it through the Commonwealth and the many links forged with its business, aristocratic, political and academic elites, whether they professed fabian socialism or conservatism. At the helm of the empire, the bi-partisan oligarchy then symbolised by the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers and the Rhodes is still in charge under new names in New York, Washington and London,
The picture of American victory showed cracks when the mysterious attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred and decline accelerated during the unsuccessful occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan which prompted the return of Russia to global power politics. After being admitted to the World Trade Organisation China's commercial and financial might grew by leaps and bounds.
The rulers of China and their advisers have carefully studied the history of the Anglo-Saxon empire and analysed the ways in which it operates. They have known for long that once their country grew too powerful the Anglo-Saxon hegemon would seek to cut it down to size as Japan was in the eighties through the Plaza Accords. Beijing has long planned its moves to protect itself from the inevitable pushback from the USA. The PRC's leaders were well aware that the deep state bi-partisan ruling circles in Washington, New York and London would sooner or later apply measures towards them similar to those that had been implemented against Wilhelmine Germany a century earlier.
Consequently, Beijing forestalled hostile moves by co-opting through financial and other incentives a large section of the American and European elites and making western economies increasingly interdependent with its own. Just as many of the influential voices in Westminster and White Hall had been pro-German in the late 19th century, a large section of the Anglo-American political, intellectual and financial oligarchy kept a favourable attitude to China until recently and it is only with Donald Trump's election that his threat to curb China's ascent brought abiout a reshuffle of the deck of cards.
China was now acknowledged as the greatest menace to the Empire. Obama's Pacific Pivot consisted in building an anti-Chinese coaltion resting on Japan, South Korea, Australia, India and ASEAN states, somewhat comparable to the Edwardian United Kingdom's continental anti-German Entente. Trump's visceral antipathy to foreign entanglements, traditional amongst conservative Americans turned him against the project of a trans-pacific partnership but he kept the concept of an Indo-Pacific military alliance intended to contain China and anchored on the Quad (US, Japan, India and Australia).
The COVID-19 pandemic and the correlated economic crisis have considerably increased the tension between the two more or less solid 'blocs' which invite us to evoke the twin familiar archetypes of Geopolitics: the Anglo-Saxon maritime leaguer on one side and the Eurasian heartland coalition on the other even though the combined disasters have also exposed the fissures within both those more or less formal alliances.
Many have drawn analogies between our age and the troubled nineteen thirties but in strategic terms we are also in some way back to the early nineteen hundreds. To pursue the comparison further we can see that in this intended anti-China alliance India finds itself in the situation of early 1900 Italy which adhered to the Triple Alliance with Germany and the Austo-Hungarian state but wished to retain strategic autonomy and left that alliance to later change sides after the great war began in 1914. India has one foot in each of the two camps. It is a pillar of the Quad but also a member of BRICS and the SCO. If open conflict starts between the US alliance and the Sino-Russian Entente will India be able to remain disengaged and neutral?
Author is currently the Convener of the Editorial Board of the WORLD AFFAIRS JOURNAL and an associate of the International Institute for Social and Economic Studies (IISES), Vienna, Austria.
Views expressed here are personal.