The Fall of Atlanticism and Globalisation – Lessons from Rome
By Graham Vanbergen: Dr. Nafeez Ahmed’s recent article “Pentagon Study Declares American Empire is Collapsing” makes for really interesting reading. In it, Ahmed reveals stunning new evidence that the U.S. Department of Defense is waking up to the collapse of American primacy, and the rapid unraveling of the international order. In this article we heed the words of Winston Churchill who once said -“The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see” – to find more evidence to support Ahmed’s conclusions. The similarities to the well documented fall of the Roman empire and that of the United States and the West in general are both striking and notable.
As historian’s have endlessly documented, it was about the late fourth century when the Western Roman Empire literally crumbled after a nearly 500-year uninterrupted run as the world’s greatest superpower. Many blamed the collapse on a number of factors, but the most popular explanations of why the empire fell is more or less agreed upon as thus:
- Invasions by Barbarians
- Economic Troubles
- Rise of the Eastern empire
- Over expansion and military overspending
- Government corruption and political overspending
- Migration of the barbarian tribes
- Loss of traditional values
- Weakening of the Roman legions
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Invasion by Barbarians.
By the late 300’s various barbarian armies were invading the borders of the empire where there was a notable and consistent string of significant losses. In 410, Rome was eventually breached by small groups of barbarian invaders but the city was defended until 455 where it was raided and partially sacked. Finally, in 476 Emperor Romulus Augustulus was deposed by Germanic leader Odacer. From that date, no other Roman emperor would rule.
First popularised in the aftermath of the Spanish-AmericanWar of 1898 the concept of American empire arrived in the aftermath of World War II. This empire now has a geographical extension of direct political and military control through 800 military basis in 70 countries, despite the closure of dozens of bases in the Middle East. The world order of today was created around America’s global control. Soon after the war, the EU was formed with the sanction of America to create a new trading bloc to be exploited and to create a buffer zone against perceived enemies from the East.
However, the barbarians are coming. From 1968 to 1980 there were 47 notable terror events in the western world. From 1981 to 1988 (Under Reagan) there were 60 events. Under Bush (1989-1992) there were 18, under Clinton (1993 – 2000) there were 18, under Bush (2000 – 2008) there were 25, under Obama (2009 – 2016) there were 131 and so far under Trump there have been 31 – a rate equivalent to a doubling of the Obama years.
In the meantime, the refugee and migrant crisis of the EU is literally tearing it apart. Britain has democratically elected to leave the bloc because of it. Poland has just been threatened with by the EU for not falling into line, Hungary may follow suit and the southern edges of the bloc are in dire financial trouble. The union is likely to split into several trading blocs as old wounds and grudges come to the surface. 70 years of peace-building is coming to a rapid close.
One characteristic of the fall of The Roman empire was overspending due to constant war. The result was an oppressive taxation regime and inflation, that hugely increased the gap between rich and poor. To escape taxes, many members of the wealthy classes fled to the countryside and set up independent fiefdoms. In addition, the crumbling empire was severely hampered by a labour or slave deficit – the workforce that built and maintained much of the Roman infrastructure.
Today we have similar problems. The ‘Great Recession’ is a term that represents the sharp decline in economic activity dating from the financial collapse emanating from the banks in late 2007, which is now generally understood to be the largest downturn since the Great Depression but has now taken longer to recover from. In the meantime, last year, global military expenditure rose to $1.68 trillion. America and Europe increased their overall expenditure with the US budget increasing to $611 billion, almost one third of global spending. American infrastructure is failing and there are many indicators like rising poverty or a shrinking middle-class to suggest life in general is declining for millions.
As for taxation. The global super-rich have exploited gaps in cross-border tax rules to stash an eye-watering $32 trillion of wealth offshore in tax havens, most of it from westerners. This is almost as much as the American and European (all 28) GDPs combined – according to research commissioned by the campaign group Tax Justice Network.
To make matters worse, income inequality is at the highest level in American history.
Rise of the Eastern Empire
Towards the end, the Roman empire was then split into two more governable regions, but East and West failed to properly work together in a joint effort to combat outside threats. In the end, the two argued over resources and military spending. The East survived whilst the West disintegrated.
After the last world war, efforts were made to fully unite the western world, but only on America terms. Those terms are increasingly unravelling and effectively coming to an end. Many dire predictions from geo-political analysts emerged from the financial crisis. Economists and politicians are now on board and there is a general consensus that the EU and NATO will cease to exist in as little as a decade from now. Indeed, the EU has declared that the US is no longer a friend. In addition, there is a serious economic war going on between America and Russia that is hurting the EU and less known sanctions that the US is imposing on China for the behaviour of North Korea. The rise of Asia over the last four decades is such that it’s economy is now regionally the biggest on earth and rising, whilst N.America and Europe continues to stagnate.
Over-Expansion and Military Overspending
At its greatest moment, the Roman Empire stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Euphrates River in the Middle East, and at the time, its territory was considered vast. Rome struggled to manage, communicate or administrate such an area as more and more money was literally poured into its military upkeep. Its overall superiority was eventually watered down. Technical advancement dramatically slowed and Rome’s civil infrastructure basically fell into disrepair leading to transport and communication disintegration.
In 2015 US defence spending outstripped that of China, Russia, UK, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia and India combined. With 800 military bases in 70 countries and fighting on many diplomatic and battle fronts, America is now stretched to the limit even of its capabilities. Greece has the second highest military expenditure/GDP ratio in the world – it is also one of the most indebted and insolvent. NATO’s combined expenditure is almost $1 trillion a year – five times than is required to end global poverty and 33 times more to end global starvation.
The result is that America is in danger of imperial overstretch. As Bloomberg puts it, “military spending hasn’t yet crippled the U.S. economy, but just wait, it will”. In the meantime, with the impending decline of NATO the EU is building an EU army whilst at the same time being insolvent itself.
Government Corruption and political Instability
In the end, civil war pushed the Roman empire into chaos, and in the span of only 75 years 20 men took control, usually after the murder of their predecessor. The emperor’s personal bodyguards, the famed Praetorian Guard assassinated and installed new sovereigns at will. This stemmed from a senate who were unable to stop the scale of corruption from within, which led to a loss of trust by civil society.
In 2006, about 65 percent of the general public believed what they read in western media in and in little more than ten years this high level of trust has crashed to little more than a quarter. In fact, trust in the four institutions of government, business, media and NGO’s has taken a dramatic dive in just the last three years alone. Corruption in America and the EU is now at epidemic proportions and civil society is on the brink. They are beginning to demonstrate this by upturning the establishment at the ballot box. The result is political instability across Europe and America as evidenced by Brexit, the rise of nationalism, protectionism, isolationism, extremism and deteriorating relations.
Migration of the Barbarian Tribes
There was a mass migration caused by the Huns’ invasion of Europe in the late fourth century. Migrants were forced towards the Roman borders. Once inside Roman territory, these immigrants were very badly treated. The result was that, over time, a dangerous enemy rose from within their own borders that eventually attacked a Roman legion and killed its Emperor.
The invasion by America and its allies of the Middle East in recent years has alarming similarities. Combined with the ransacking of Africa where its share of global GDP has not risen above 5% for 50 years, the U.N.’s refugee agency reports that the number of displaced people across the world is at its highest ever, surpassing even post-World War II numbers. It is hard to accept that modern day democracy and the ideology of globalisation has created more people to be displaced by conflict and economic strife than with the most devastating event in the history of humanity.
Increasing terrorism, much of it homegrown, is now part of the iconography of the new millenium. So is the term ‘clash of the civilisations,’ the refugee crisis and migrant crisis that is destabilising much of the Western world order.
Christianity and the Loss of Traditional Values
The decline of Rome came about at the same time as the spread of Christianity. Some have argued that the rise of a new faith helped contribute to the empire’s fall, displaced the Roman religion and with it came the usurping of Roman values that many despised and subsequently relocated away from.
The European Policy Centre wrote in 2016 that the current (refugee) crisis is having an impact on European cohesion and image. “The crisis has exposed the limits of EU cooperation and solidarity, not only on a political level but also among many citizens where populism and xenophobia have increased in the wake of the crisis.” The result, says Europe’s Journal of Psychology is that “We are witnessing a return of the politics of fear” and that the “bonding agent to a real European identity through various political disagreements is throughout law and the guiding common values, which is now in crisis. We are witnessing a return to instinctive national sentiments.” The same can be said of America’s recent isolationist stance towards the world.
The UN Secretary General uttered the words “We are living in the age of the mega-crises” as he complains of donor fatigue. He blames the ongoing refugee crisis that is eroding humanitarian principles in Europe and that seventy years after the last world war a new Iron Curtain is descending across Europe, made of razor wire and of failed asylum policies. As the Independent wrote “Europe has started to enshrine Islamophobia into law – history tells us this can’t end well.” Such discriminatory and openly xenophobic policies contradict Europe’s inherent belief that was until recently, a bastion of freedom. In America, a new President was elected to halt immigration and re-create its ‘greatness’ whilst curbing job losses to its own invention – globalisation, itself originally designed to expand the empire into new markets for exploitation.
Weakening of Roman Legions
Rome’s military was without doubt the envy of the ancient world and certainly its main strength. But its decline came about as it was unable to recruit enough soldiers from the Roman citizenry. Mercenaries swelled the legions, who in turn gave no real loyalty to the empire. In the end, power-hungry officers often turned against their Roman employers destroying discipline and focus, which finally ended successfully in the attack of Rome itself.
Although, the west collectively spends massive sums on its military might today, cohesion between the USA and Europe is crumbling. And whilst this is happening, technology is changing the balance of power. Cyber-warfare, bio-weapons and other weapons of mass destruction can take the place of armies. Foreign Affairs opines that “During this period, Russia has made great strides in exploiting technology for military purposes and has fundamentally altered the strategic balance.” The same goes for China and their increasingly more confident allies. It’s not that the west has a weakened military – it’s just that everyone else is catching up. Technical advancement dramatically slowed in Rome as they focused on keeping the empire going, whilst others increased their ability to fight back.
Conclusion: Battle fatigue Has Set In
Time wrote in their article ‘The Hollow Alliance’ that “today the US/Europe alliance is weaker and less influential than at any other time since the 1930s. Americans and Europeans are distracted by challenges at home. Anger at government and public anxiety over the impact of globalisation are on the rise. Emerging powers in Asia and elsewhere are asserting new values, and the U.S. and Europe are increasingly at odds over how best to adapt to a changing world.”
What we are witnessing today is an exhausted and angry electorate, tired of globalisation, tired of political ideologies such as neoliberalism and austerity, of war, terrorism, epic financial crimes, inequality, rising poverty, corruption and funding it all through taxation. What has arrived is a strong sense of social injustice which is leading the commonly understood western shared geo-political values to disintegrate.
The rest of the world is just as weary and many have had enough. The Mid-East wars, mass surveillance, mass migration, disagreements over the handling of Russia and Asia – it is in plain sight – Atlanticism is diverging. That the world’s biggest trade deal TTIP fell apart between the US and the EU, is yet more evidence of the abandonment of those common goals.
And what do our leaders stand for in these modern day western democracies today? Contrary to fighting for democracy, freedom of speech, the rule of law and human rights, they are now the very source of the weakening of such noble principles whilst swimming in a cess pool of corruption that ordinary folk despair of.
These are the characteristics of a declining empire where partners, friends and allies no longer trust each other. Each country now looks to new investors, technologies and mutual collaborators as loyalties fray and conflict. The geo-political chessboard, the world order, is therefore moving and challenging the accepted global pre-eminence of the West, whose power rose from ashes of 1945 and is declining through lack of discipline within the ranks of the elite. What we now have, as Rome had, is anarchy by the rich and powerful and growing dissent by everyone else.