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The Challenge of Hegemony

mony. Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 and its attempt to create a new Roman Empire threatened Britain’s passage through the strategic Mediter- ranean Sea. Although Britain never dominated the Continent, in 1938, beginning with the Anschluss, Germany expanded its hegemony over Central and Eastern Europe.4

Thus, Britain’s decline was far from global, simultaneous, and uniform. Beginning in the early 1930s, Britain confronted Germany, Japan, and Italy on disparate fronts, challenging Britain for regional hegemony. Had Britain confronted a single contender, it could have concentrated its resources in the respective region. Oversimplifying London’s predicament makes it hard to understand the dif‹cult problem that Britain faced in striking the correct balance between its rearmament program and its global interests while avoiding ‹nancial ruin or leaving the country mili- tarily weak (Kennedy 1983, 27).

imperial challengers Japan

By the decade prior to World War II, Britain confronted a preponderance of imperial contenders for regional hegemony. The foreign commercial policy of a state re›ects whether it will impose an open or closed door com- mercial order in any locale that it comes to dominate. As imperial con- tenders, Japan, Germany, Italy, and to a lesser degree, France would create an economically self-suf‹cient fortress in any locale they controlled. In contrast, a liberal United States favored an open door commercial policy and decolonization. Empowered British economic nationalists clashed with the United States over Britain’s imperial preferences adopted at the Ottawa Conference and colonial rule. The United States also viewed Ger- many’s Mitteleuropa in central and eastern Europe and Japan’s New Order in Asia as an obstacle to the liberalization of global trade.

Until the 1930s, Anglo-Japanese relations were based on decades of cooperation (see chap. 3). As Japan retreated from its support of Britain’s Open Door policy in Asia, its commercial and security policies were designed to create an exclusive hegemonic position in the region, begin- ning with the conquest of Manchuria (1931) and the invasion of Shang- hai (1932). During the 1930s, Britain’s leaders recognized that Japan wanted to consolidate its hold on north China, dominate the political and economic life of the rest of China, and ultimately extend its control over the rich resources of Southeast Asia. Many in Britain suspected that

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