How the US rose to a Global power
The United States’ rise to a global power was a culmination of fear of being sidelined in the struggle for raw materials and global markets, coupled with fear of economic decline on account of such sidelining. By 1890, the United States’ industrial production was twice that of Britain, its closest competitor by then. However, Britain still had the upper hand and in terms of diplomatic and military power. While the United States had only 10,000 seamen in its navy and less than 30,000 troops in its army, on the other hand, Britain’s navy was ten times bigger than that of the United States, while its army was five times bigger. The United States did not face any serious military threat and neither did it harbor any ambition to assert military influence abroad. This therefore justifies its small military and army.
From the time of the Civil War, up until the early 1890s, the United States demonstrated limited interest in pursuing territorial expansion for two main reasons. First, pursuing imperial rule did not arguer well with America’s republican principles. Secondly, the United States was not interested in acquiring individuals with diverse languages, cultures, and religions. While the older American generations consisting of mainly moralists believed that ruling a people without their approval contravened a basic principle of republicans, on the other hand, a younger generation of Americans was convinced of the obligation of the United States to support backward societies. Other influential Americans like Alfred Thayer, a naval strategist, believed that the United States’s national prosperity hinged on its ability to control sea lanes. By 1883, the United States was already constructing steel vessels powered by oil or coil as a means of replacing its wooden sailing ships. This was a key step in becoming a global naval power. However, naval power also demanded the acquisition of coaling stations and naval bases.
In mid-1890s, the Americans demonstrated a change in attitude towards expansion, a move that was partly ignited by a European scramble for power. From 1870 to 1900, leading European powers seized the equivalent of a fifth of the globe’s land mass in Asia and Africa and in the process nearly 150 million individuals were placed under colonial rule. These developments saw bankers; manufacturers; policy makers; and trade unions in the United States grow increasingly fearful that they could be excluded in the scramble for raw materials and global markets.
There was also a growing discontent at this time that nations of the world were engaged in a Darwin-like survival for the fittest kind of struggle, and that nations that did not compete in this struggle would be faced with a decline in their economic, military and diplomatic powers. This further asserted the United States’ resolve to become a super power. Consequently, the United States became increasingly reliant on foreign trade with about half of the nation’s petroleum and a quarter of its farm products finding market overseas.
The idea of the United States supporting “backward” people across the globe was also gaining currency with conventional Protestant religious denominations in the United States setting up mission in Asia and Africa. By the late 1880s, a new assertiveness was already evident by American foreign policy makers such as in 1889 when America nearly declared war against Germany over Samoa. By the start of the 20th century, the U.S was already a superpower. This is evidenced by America’s annexation of Hawaii in 1889. It was also during this period that the United States went to war with, and defeated, Spain, culminating in the acquisition of Puerto Rico, Philippines and Pacific Islands.
If there was ever any doubt about the United States’ role as a global superpower, this was clarified when in 1893 the country overthrew Hawaii’s monarchy. This is one of many events that demonstrated that the United States had come of age as a global superpower. However, the debate between interventionists and isolationists continues to inform developments in America’s foreign policy to date.