Very interesting stuff there Mark. Although Dyer’s credentials lend his thoughts a lot more weight that mine do, I have to disagree with his analysis of what the threshold for a war to be dubbed a ‘world war’. I guess my thinking is that his criteria (based on this short narrative) seems to pretty Euro-Centric in account the 30 year’s war and the Spanish Succession to be a world war. I could be wrong, but I thought both of those wars were pretty much just fought between European powers and confined, for the most part, to Europe itself.
I know I’m pretty guilty of knowing a LOT more about Western civilization and history than I do about Eastern history/civilization. I’m not trying to dig on him or his work, I just figure that you could apply the label of ‘major power’ to at least the Incan, Aztec, and Chinese empires. I guess it depends on how you define major power though.
I do however agree that the last four on his list qualify as world wars and I like his theory on treaties reflecting the true balance of power. I never really thought of the time periods between wars in that light before and on the surface it seems to make a lot of sense and in my mind goes a long way towards explaining the cycle of war and peace in Europe.
You make a good point about Dyer’s list being Eurocentric, which is something that hadn’t occurred to me (since I don’t have much familiarity with wars outside the western world). And I don’t know enough about the first three wars on the list to make an informed judgment about how well they fit the all-the-major-powers-of-the-time criterion.
In his discussion of the fifty-year cycle, Dyer speculates that this amount of time is about how long it takes for the difference between the fixed world power structure defined by major peace treaties and the constantly-evolving actual power structure on the ground to become sufficiently large that it reaches the breaking point. Dyer’s book (based on a TV series of the same name) was published two years before Paul Kennedy’s 1987 book “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000,” but the argument Dyer makes has some similarity to Kennedy’s.
Kennedy argues that, even when a particular country retains the same level of absolute strength, it may still find itself in a position of decline relative to other countries whose strength happens to be growing. He identifies the source of that strength as the relationship between economic and military power in any given country, saying that they reinforce each other: economic power (gross national product and foreign trade ) enables you to boost your military power (by buying weapons and enlarging your military forces), and military power returns the favour by helping to protect your economic interests from foreign threats. A classic example is the synergistic relationship that existed between the Royal Navy and the British merchant marine in the 19th century. An example closer to home (here on this discussion board) is the fact that, in A&A, income buys units, units fight battles, battles win territories, and territories generate income.
Kennedy states, however, that economic and military strength must be kept properly balanced for the equation to work. He points to the way in which history’s great powers have tended to get caught in the following trap: when their power declines in either relative or absolute terms, they try to maintain their standing by devoting more and more of their economic resources to the expansion of their military strength, thus upsetting the balance of the equation. His book came out before the USSR imploded, but as I recall one of the factors which contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union was that it bankrupted itself through excessive military spending, along the lines of Kennedy’s theory.