Hegemonic Power Transition from Britain to the US


The term ‘hegemony’ has a long history in the world’s socio-political arena. It was first used during the 8th century. Its ancient applications can be traced back to ancient Greek. It was used to refer to the politico-military dominance of one city state over others (Jonathan 130). The leader state dictated the societal character of the subordinate regions.

The situation constituted the hegemonic state of influence. Over the years, definition of the term has been altered to refer to a group or regimes that wield undue influence within a society (Kwon 330). Researchers in the field of political science and economy have taken a keen interest in Greek ideology to explain today’s social arrangements. The researchers have come up with the hegemonic stability theory.

Hegemony is not static. On the contrary, it is a fluid phenomenon that changes over time. For example, it shifts from one country to the other. A case in point is the shift transition that occurred from Britain to the U.S. In this paper, the author argues that the shift of hegemony from Britain to the U.S is an indication of the fact that a new hegemon will eventually replace America.

Arguments on whether or not the U.S is still a true hegemon have already started weakening the country’s dominance in the global arena. In the recent past, various nations have expressed their willingness and capability to replace the U.S. In this paper, the author will analyze the factors that characterized the transition from Britain to the U.S. A comparison will then be made between these elements and what is happening today. Consequently, the author will analyze the likely replacement of the U.S as far as hegemony is concerned.

Hegemonic Stability Theory: The Shift from Britain to the U.S

Hegemonic Theory: A Summary

Hegemonic stability theory is a framework that mainly deals with international relations in the world. The model indicates that the international system is likely to remain stable when a single nation state is the dominant world power (Jonathan 131). According to the theory, the fall of an existing hegemon threatens the stability and balance of affairs in the world. The same happens when there is no state hegemon existing.

A hegemon mainly exercises its leadership through coercion, persuasion, and diplomacy (Jonathan 130). The powers and privileges enjoyed by the nation have led to the emergence of power hungry states. At times, such nations have attempted to inaugurate themselves as the global hegemon. Most countries prefer to be ruled by the existing hegemon as long as their interests are served. In the recent past, the United States ascended to power and replaced Britain. The transition was surprisingly peaceful at a time when the world was characterized by chaos and instability.

Attributes of a Hegemon

To best understand the looming replacement of the United States as the world’s hegemon, one needs to gain insight into the attributes associated with a nation state that qualifies to ascend to power. It is noted that military power and political strength are some of the most important characteristics of a dominant nation (Eichengreen 24). It is mainly because these attributes increase the country’s ability to establish global legislations and agencies to rule over others.

A hegemon must be prepared to build and fund a superior defensive army. In addition, it needs to have an elite navy and air force. The development informs the location of most of the hegemons that have existed in the past. Most of them were located on islands. Availability of modern weapons has also played a critical role in the transition of hegemons. For instance, USA’s powerful nuclear weapons have often supported the nation’s activities of suppressing any challengers and maintaining its powers (White 590).

The economy of a hegemon has a number of characteristics. For example, it must be significantly huge and expanding. It must have economic supremacy that is unrivalled in one or more sectors (Jonathan 134). In addition, the country should be ready to lead others. In addition, it should be capable of putting in place a hegemonic system in the world. However, the willingness to lead must be accompanied by financial powers and capabilities.

The aim is to help the nation dominate and enforce the rules of the desired system. For instance, after World War I, Britain possessed the will to stop the outbreak of World War II. However, it lacked the necessary resources to stop the war. It is also noted that a superpower should be willing to establish a symbiotic relationship with other leading nations. It must then commit to the new system (Eichengreen 25).

It is important to note that most superpowers have already met most of these criteria. In fact, some of them are at a more advantageous position compared to the United States. As a result, it is only a matter of time before the world’s superpower is toppled by a new hegemon.

Transition of Hegemony from Britain to the United States

Historians have always associated supremacy in international relations with battles. They hold that supremacy wars pitting the reigning hegemon against the upcoming leader cannot be avoided (White 571). In light of this, history has found it hard to explain the peaceful transition of power from Britain to the United States. The rise of the new superpower jeopardized the interests of Britain. It jeopardized the reigning nation’s investments in the Americas and the dominant position of the royal navy in the Atlantic (White 571). For this particular reason, the world was on the verge of another war.

However, the two countries avoided a battle for supremacy. Instead, they opted for a peaceful handover of power. In addition, they fostered a strategic alliance that has lasted over the years (Lacher and Germann 102). The peaceful shift has often been attributed to the fact that both the United States and Britain had sufficient common ground to make collaboration possible.

The two nations shared the interest of promoting a liberal world order. Consequently, one can assume that the peaceful transition was achieved since the transfer was based on collaboration and not on conflict. However, during the transitional period, British leaders were divided on whether British interests were best served by an open world economy or by the maintenance of an exclusive sphere of influence through its empires (Lacher and Germann 102). The former position prevailed, leading to the acceptance of America’s leadership.

Factors that made Britain Relinquish its Powers and Settle for a Peaceful Transition

Many scholars have tried to analyze the factors that put Britain on the losing end, forcing it to relinquish all the powers it held. Many historians have pointed out that the descent begun with the decline of the country’s industrial and economic supremacy. Britain’s era of economic supremacy, the time at which its hegemony was founded, started after 1815 (Lacher and Germann 106). During this period, the country established a clear lead in finance, commerce, and trade. It exploited the situation to forge new international networks.

The commitment to free trade became the symbol of British policy in the nineteenth century (White 570). America was able to identify and exploit this weakness in Britain’s economic based system. First, the reigning hegemon was more dependent on trade than the United States. Consequently, when trade collapsed, Britain was left on the losing end. The country also exercised direct rule over some nations. The rule required extra time and resources to execute. On the contrary, America never expressed direct rule over its sphere of influence.

In spite of all these differences, the two countries opted for a peaceful transition of power. The reason is that the new situation best served the interests of the two countries. To start with, Britain realized that it would not win a war against the United States at the time. The explanation is that the neutrality of other European nations was not assured (Lacher and Germann 104). Britain itself was in need of an ally to win the war against other European nations which it was already in conflict with.

As a result, the country realized that it stood to gain more by making the United States an ally than a foe. In addition, each of the countries had made significant investments in trade transactions with each other. Neither of the two was ready to lose. Furthermore, none of them needed the territory controlled by the other. The cultural and ideological heritage of Anglo speakers was emerging (White 578). The final stage of peaceful transition of power was initiated by the alliance between the two to fight Germany and Japan during the Second World War (White 578).

Countries with the Potential to Become Ruling Hegemonies

As stated before, many superpowers have shown the interest to take over as the ruling hegemonies. China, which has in the past been underestimated and denied the status of a superpower in the recent past, is now among the strongest countries jostling for space to take the mantle from the United States. China has become one of the countries with a rapidly growing economy and high military spending and capabilities (Gries 411). It has posed a threat to the USA for years.

The nation has increasingly and constantly increased its influence over areas previously held by the US. For instance, it has gained the dominant influence over such areas as East Asia, Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East (Gries 411). The rise of China has piqued the interest of analysts in the international community. Its ascent has only served to increase the probability of great wars for power. Tensions between the U.S and China are often equated to the cold war with the Soviet Union (Gries 411).

The Soviet Union is another notable challenger of the United States. During the cold world war, the two countries opposed each other ideologically, economically, politically, and militarily (Bayar and Kotelis 252). For example, the Soviet Union preferred a rigid political order. It supported communism in the world. It advocated for a planned economy and a one party state.

On its part, the United States supported the ideology of a liberal mind and free markets (Byers and Nolte 45). It is erroneous to assume that the danger posed by Russia ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The fact is that it is still a country to look out for because it has vast energy resources and fuel supply than any other nation in the world. In addition, it has a powerful armed forces compared to other nations. It possesses superior and lethal nuclear power technology.

Factors that can Lead to a Peaceful Power Transition from the United States

It is a fact that America may be prepared to peacefully transfer power to an ascending hegemon. However, the country may find it difficult to hand over the tiara to countries that do not share its interests. Its greatest fear is that a successor hegemon could alter or suppress the institutions of commercial, social, and political norms that have helped it govern and thrive in a prosperous system (Byers and Nolte 45). It is only normal for the United States to resist the transition to a new configuration of power if the incoming successor is bound to advocate for different things.

However, there are a few factors that have pointed towards a peaceful transition of power in the future. For instance, one can find comfort in the hope that the interests of current and future rivals for global power will be compatible. Adjustments in the global economy during the twentieth century have also given international governance the much needed importance and caution, fostering peace in the process (Byers and Nolte 45). Another factor that can lead to a peaceful transition of power is the change in attitude.

In the past, a nation expressed its power by showing its inherent incompatibility with other countries. Such attitudes often led to wars during transition in the early days. In recent times, this way of thinking has gradually changed. Power is now derived from the interactions that make nations more similar than different (Bayar and Kotelis 252). Power needed to run the world now comes from cooperation and not from military conflict. America has also shown the will and effort to engage in negotiations. The country has only gone to war as a last resort.


To put it informally, one can say that the world has dodged a bullet during the peaceful transition of hegemony from Britain to the United States. Different factors that may have influenced this shift then may not apply in the current world conditions. For instance, the differences between the United States and Russia almost led to the outbreak of a third world war. During this period, it appeared that Russia would surpass the United States. Instead of both sides finding a common ground, they worked hard to arm and defend themselves.

However the war was finally averted due to luck and caution. Stopping the conflict was not a result of power relations and systems. It is for such reasons that countries should learn from the transition of hegemony from Britain to the United States. They should appreciate the importance of averting any wars or conflicts over power in the future. China, Russia, India, and Britain could eventually supplant the United States as the hegemon. The way the United States chooses to resolve the transition is very crucial. It will determine whether or not peace and stability will prevail in the new world order.

Works Cited

Bayar, Murat, and Andreas Kotelis. “Democratic Peace or Hegemonic Stability? The Imia/Kardak Case.” Turkish Studies 15 (2014): 242-257. Print.

Byers, Michael, and Georg Nolte. United States Hegemony and the Foundations of International Law, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.

Eichengreen, Barry. Hegemonic Stability Theory and Economic Analysis, Berkeley, Calif.: University of California at Berkeley, 1996. Print.

Gries, Peter. “China Eyes The Hegemon.” Orbis 49.3 (2005): 401-412. Print.

Jonathan, Joseph. “Re-Stating Hegemonic Theory.” Journal of Critical Realism 2 (2003): 127-137. Print.

Kwon, Roy. “Hegemonic Stability, World Cultural Diffusion, and Trade Globalization.” Sociology Forum 27 (2012): 325-347. Print.

Lacher, Hannes, and Julian Germann. “Before Hegemony: Britain, Free Trade, and Nineteenth-Century World Order Revisited.” International Studies Review 14 (2012): 99-124. Print.

White, Roger. “Managing Transition: Western Britain from the End of Empire to the Rise of Penda.” History Compass 11 (2013): 584-596. Print.