Thursday, March 11, 2010

Charles A. Kupchan's "How Enemies Become Friends"

Charles A. Kupchan is professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He served on the National Security Council during the Clinton presidency and is the author of The End of the American Era (Knopf).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, How Enemies Become Friends: The Sources of Stable Peace, and reported the following:
What is happening on page 99 of How Enemies Become Friends? Let’s start with the beginning of the first full paragraph: “As the first decade of the 1900s progressed, a third concept emerged alongside this discourse of friendship and common heritage – the notion that armed conflict between the United States and Britain was becoming unthinkable. Statements to this effect were appearing in Britain by 1904.”

This sentence represents a snapshot of the book as a whole – a still photo of the dynamic process through which Great Britain and the United States moved from being hardened adversaries to trusting friends. The story in chapter 3 begins about a decade earlier. By the middle of the 1890s, Britain confronted the prospect of strategic overextension – which was only growing worse over time due to the ongoing rise of the United States, Japan, and Germany. In response, London decided to make a run at befriending the United States – a move ultimately intended to enable Britain to remove the U.S. from the enemy column and free up the resources that London was committing to the western Atlantic and North America.

The courtship began when London in 1896 acquiesced to Washington’s demands concerning a dispute over the border between Venezuela and British Guiana. The United States then responded in kind, agreeing to bring to arbitration a disagreement with Britain over sealing rights in the Bering Sea. Soon thereafter, Washington and London amicably settled disputes over U.S. intentions to build the Panama Canal and over the border between Alaska and Canada. Britain was the only European power to support the United States in the Spanish-American War (1898), and London went on to welcome America’s imperial expansion into the Pacific.

After diplomacy dampened rivalry, elites on both sides of the Atlantic sought to recast popular attitudes through ambitious public relations campaigns. Arthur Balfour, leader of the House of Commons, proclaimed in 1896 that, “the idea of war with the United States carries with it some of the unnatural horror of a civil war.” In a speech at Harvard in 1898, Richard Olney, U.S. secretary of state from 1895 to 1897, referred to Britain as America’s “best friend,” and observed “the close community ... in the kind and degree of civilization enjoyed by both.”

Fast forward to page 99. The long quote at the top of the page makes clear that Anglo-American affinity had spilled into the broader public through publications like the Atlantic Monthly and Scribner’s. In the United States, decision makers and ordinary citizens alike were embracing the view that Britain was a benign power – indeed a member of the family. The view was reciprocated on the other side of the Atlantic.

It was this gradual transformation that set the stage for the belief that “armed conflict between the United States and Britain was becoming unthinkable.” And, as the last paragraph on page 99 makes clear, it was this firmly held belief that then enabled the former adversaries to stop planning for war with each other – and to embark on the strategic partnership that has lasted to this day.

The rest of the book, through an additional 19 historical cases, explores these themes -- how peace breaks out and when and how nations are able to turn enmity into amity.
Read an excerpt from How Enemies Become Friends, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue