Harold James: Cosmos, Chaos: Finance, Power and Conflict

Abstract for the conference Das 20. Jahrhundert und der Erste Weltkrieg

My presentation focuses on comparisons between 2013/14 and 1913/14.  It makes the following main arguments:

  • Rule-based international orders are strained by transitions in power, even though all the parties see the desirability and need for a common system of rules;
  • vulnerability is increased by the degree of complexity of the rules;
  • moments of transition are accompanied by a heightened attention to the possibility of covert action to abuse the complexity of the rule-based system to the advantage of one particular power.

The most obvious parallels of 2013/2014 to 1913/1914 lie in:

1. A fascination with the historical precedent of the decline of empires.

2. A global order underwritten by a Great Power / Superpower (Great Britain / United States) which is less economically dynamic than the challenger (Germany / China) but which considers its political institutions more legitimate and more capable of being universalized.

3. Concern on the part of the rising power in the aftermath of a major and system-changing international financial crisis (1907/2007-8) that the rules of the system privilege the old holder of power and disadvantage the challenger.

4. A focus in Asia on the growing power of China.

5. A focus in Europe on the growing power of Germany.

6. A (perhaps misplaced) confidence that the international economy is so complex and inter-connected that it could not be disrupted by military conflict.

7. A focus on the logistics and infrastructure of the international economy as a way to exercise new forms of strategic influence.


Harold James is Professor of History and International Affairs at Princeton and holds a joint appointment as Professor of International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School. 

Quelle: http://grandeguerre.hypotheses.org/1225