December 12, 1987
Why is it that throughout history some nations gain power while others lose it? This question is not only of historical interest, but also important for understanding today’s world as the new century dawns, for just as the great empires of the past flourished and fell, will today’s – and tomorrow’s – empires rise and fall as well.
In this wide-ranging analysis of global politics over the past five centuries, Yale historian Paul Kennedy focuses on the critical relationship of economic to military power as it affects the rise and fall of empires. Nations project their military power according to their economic resources and in defense of their broad economic interests. But, Kennedy argues, the cost of projecting that military power is more than even the largest economies can afford indefinitely, especially when new technologies and new centers of production shift economic power away from established Great Powers – hence the rise and fall of nations.
Professor Kennedy begins the story around the year 1500, when a combination of economic and military-technological breakthroughs so strengthen the nation-states of Europe that soon they prevailed over the great empires of the East; but European dynastic and religious rivalries, along with new technologies, made it impossible for any single power to dominate the continent. From the campaigns of Emperor Charles V to the struggles against Napoleonic France, victory repeatedly went to the economically strong side, while states that were militarily top-heavy usually crashed to eventual defeat. This is a pattern, Professor Kennedy shows, that also applied in the two world wars of the present century, where superior economic and technological resources twice defeated the German war machine.
In what will probably be the most widely discussed part of this book, Professor Kennedy devotes his closing chapters to an analysis of Great Power politics since 1945 through the year 2000. Here, too, his focus is not only on the military abilities and policies of the leading states, but also on those profound shifts in the world’s productive balances that – as in the Renaissance – cause certain Great Powers to rise as others fall. Professor Kennedy’s discussion of the implications of these changes for the United States, the Soviet Union, the countries of Western Europe, and the emerging Asian powers of China and Japan makes this one of the most important political studies of recent time. Both for the policymaker and the general public, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers transcends its historical scholarship.
Educated at the universities of Newcastle, Oxford, and Bonn, Paul Kennedy is now Dilworth Professor of History at Yale University, where he teaches modern international and strategic history. A former research Assistant to Sir Basil Liddell Hart, he has written and edited ten books on subjects such as naval history, imperialism, Anglo-German relations, strategy, and diplomacy. A visiting fellow and guest lecturer at many universities, he reviews widely in daily and weekly journals as well as for professional magazines. Paul Kennedy is married, has three children, and lives in Hamden, Connecticut.