It has become increasingly difficult since World War II to study race in international relations. After the excesses by Nazi Germany, most Western officials were shamed into at least keeping their thoughts on racial characteristics private. This is not to say that the problem of race in international relations was solved, but, like sex in Victorian England, became something that was not mentioned in polite company. However, there has been a fair amount of scholarship recently that has reintroduced race as a method of analysis in diplomacy with interesting results. In The Anglosphere: A Genealogy of Racialized Identity in International Relations, Srdjan Vucetic takes a look at the most enduring and perhaps only genuinely special relationship in international relations, primarily that between the United States and Britain but also with Australia, Canada, and New Zealand thrown into the mix as junior partners. Vucetic’s contention is that the bond between the Anglo nations of the world was forged not out of realpolitik but along racial lines in the late 19th century. Over the next century, these bonds would be tested by evolving values of state, nation, empire, and liberalism.
It was an English historian and diplomat Edward Carr who wrote in 1939 that the Anglos were consummate international hypocrites, bent on spreading their forms of politics under the guise of morality and neutrality. Vucetic explores this thought through several crises – Venezuela in 1895 and 1902, the Pacific Pact in 1951 binding the United States to the security of the far-flung former British possessions of Australia and New Zealand, the Suez Crisis in 1956, the Vietnam War, and the build up to the Second Gulf War in 2003. In each case, the author finds compelling reasons for the Anglo powers not to have sided with each other as they did and suggests that their behaviour was brought about by a feeling of kinship.
By any yardstick of historical precedence, the United States was almost destined to become Britain’s rival if not enemy in the late 19th century. Yet, a rapprochement took place. The United States sought to secure the Western hemisphere for itself by repelling and expelling all foreign presence in the region. It moved against French, Russian, Danish, and Spanish possessions by coin or by Colt – except for the British. Washington never threatened the territories of its Anglo cousin in Canada, Newfoundland, or the West Indies. In the Venezuelan Crisis of 1895, for example, Venezuela claimed Essequibo and Guayana Esequiba from British Guyana. The United States forced Britain to abjure from the use of force and accept an arbitration (which awarded London 90 percent of the territory anyway). In 1902, the United States did not move against a blockade of Venezuela by Britain and other European powers for the failure to compensate for damages caused during the Venezuelan Civil War (1859-1863).
The general explanation preferred by many Liberals for US behaviour is democratic peace theory which posits that the behaviour of two democracies is always tempered by their institutions such that they never go to war. Realists, however, argue that London’s imperial commitments elsewhere around the globe and distance from the New World meant that it did not pursue a more muscular policy in 1895. Both overlook, however, the human element of diplomacy – the racial statements made by prominent figures on both sides of the Anglo Atlantic. Joseph Chamberlain and Arthur Balfour, for example, who had long called for a “race alliance” between the two carriers of liberal modernity, declared war between America and Britain to be “unnatural,” “fratricidal,” a “horror,” and a “crime against the laws of God and man.” Archibald Primrose and Lewis Harcourt, members of the Opposition, agreed that war must be avoided at all costs. This sentiment was reciprocated on the other side of the Atlantic – Secretary of State Thomas Bayard, for example, asked why “two trustees of civilisation should fight over the mongrel state of Venezuela.”
During the Second Boer War in 1899, the United States stayed neutral and its secretary of state John Hays argued that the “fight of England is the fight of civilisation and progress and all our interests are bound up in her success.” Washington’s neutrality was seen as repayment or gratitude for British neutrality during the Spanish-American War in 1898. Even one of America’s most preeminent strategic thinkers, Alfred Mahan, targeted Germany and Japan but not Britain when he made a case for a strong navy to counterbalance the influence of the United States’ rivals in Europe and the Asia-Pacific. In discussions of foreign policy, it is often forgotten that the 19th century was an era in which race mattered immensely. The American Civil War had ended barely a generation ago and immigration was strictly controlled in favour of Anglo Saxons. It is not clear why international relations scholars would assume, then, that their domain remained unaffected by this prejudice.
There were, at the same time, perhaps linguistic and religious cleavages with other world powers. The French were an Other because of their Catholicism and the Germans were the impulsive and brutal Teutonic Other. The Anglosphere was thus imagined as a largely white, English-speaking Protestant federation. Such distinction is clear from how the American media, for example, differentiated the German bombardment of San Carlos and the British role in the flattening of Puerto Cabello during the Second Venezuelan Crisis. The former was uncivilised and disproportionate while the other was judicious and restrained. Similarly, the expansion of German imperial domains was seen as threatening to US security interests while Britain continued to add to her colonies without much comment from the United States. Thus, as political scientist Daniel Deudney provocatively states, “the most important and successful interstate alliance of the twentieth century is actually a type of non-state national unification,” one that did not officially achieve even a customs union let alone a dissolution of borders or single polity.
The New Zealand historian James Belich has an interesting observation about the histories of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand independent states: no one knows when they truly began. In 1950, the Australasian territories were more British than independent and the people saw themselves as “neo-Britains” or “better-Britains.” They made sure to always distinguish themselves as part of the Old Commonwealth, the real or original community that included Canada and South Africa while the New Commonwealth comprised of India, Ceylon, and Pakistan. In fact, the Anglosphere was not even stated in the English penal colonies but remained an implicit presence and was most visible during the early years of the Cold War.
In 1950, for example, the Sydney Morning Herald opined on the security arrangements against the Communist bloc by reminding Canberra that “our religious faith, our national philosophy, and our whole way of life are alien to Asia.” Rather than buttressing Asian democracies against communism, what the audience wanted was Canberra to join the Anglo-led West in containing all of Asia. Interestingly, the United States was not interested.
With the Soviet Union playing up the status of blacks and other non-white people in the United States, Washington could not afford to be publicly seen entering into white alliances around the globe. The racist undertones of Australian and New Zealand diplomats was sidestepped by John Foster Dulles by proposing a Pacific Ocean Pact in which ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) would prop up the isalnd states of Japan, the Philippines, and Indonesia; the United States also refused British membership in this pact because it did not want to create a “closed club for Anglo Saxons,” Dulles explained to the British ambassador in March 1951. Australian and New Zealand officials were irate, pointing out that an alliance with the Philippines or Indonesia but not Britain was unthinkable and any move to turn Japan from an enemy to a firm ally overnight would have serious political ramifications domestically. As Vucetic shows, Manila’s request to be included was rebuffed by Canberra and Wellington on grounds of shortage of time and money. The final result was ANZUS – “about Asia, but not of Asia,” as historian David Lowe once described.
Vucetic argues that this showed that it was balance of race that was important to the Anglosphere, not balance of power. He writes, the fact that “Washington deliberated with its junior allies during the negotiations and lost, instead of simply overruling them, reveals the operation of collective identity in practice…it is a sense of shared identity that compels friends to accommodate each other, regardless of extant hierarchies and asymmetries.”
The influence of race on the foreign and security policies of the Anglosphere diminished over time but still remains dormant. Furthermore, the shared sense of brotherhood that was forged in the early 20th century is still with us to this day. The first sign of a shift came in Canada’s discomfiture at the British invasion of Egypt in 1956 to seize the Suez Canal. A liberal internationalism and the urge to distinguish itself from its southern cousin motivated Ottawa as was seen in its response to Vietnam as well. Australia, however, contributed boots on the ground in every major engagement the United States found itself in. Even in the Second Gulf War, while Britain and Australia saddled up to go to war in Iraq, New Zealand and Canada stayed on the sidelines though gave ambiguous blessings to their racial cousins by pontificating on the ethics of liberal interventions. Americans did not rename, however, as Vucetic points out, Canadian bacon as they did French fries.
The end of white-only immigration policies – in 1967 in Canada and in 1973 in Australia – catalysed the emergence of multiculturalism in the Anglosphere, especially as the number of non-white immigrants surpassed white immigration after the mid-1990s. Yet the reinvention of the Anglosphere as a community of (still English-speaking) liberal, democratic, capitalist states still carried undercurrents of a racial bond. The conflict in Afghanistan, wherein the Anglo powers bore the brunt of the warfare, fed the conservative and Hochromantik imagery of a small band of Anglo states preserving civilisation and standing against the tides of barbarians. Picking up from where Chamberlain and Churchill had left off, the British historian Robert Conquest proposed a political association of English-speaking states and American businessman James Bennett argued modern technology had finally allowed Anglophone societies to create a globe-spanning network commonwealth of liberal democracy, free trade, and labour movement. As Duncan Bell wrote in his 2007 The Idea of Greater Britain,
“Grandiose fantasies of Anglo-Saxon unity and superiority continue to exert their mesmeric power, shaping visions of a future world order, and drawing people back into the dangerous orbit of empire.”
There are several narratives of the rise of the English-speaking powers – rags-to-riches, revolution-to-rapprochement, autocracy-to-democracy, racism-to-multiculturalism, colony-to-nation, or imperial-war-to-international-law. The Anglosphere contains many of these frameworks, though undergirded by bonds between settler colonies – even penal ones – that have so far been overlooked. Vucetic notes that today, “all core Anglosphere states and societies define their liberal identities, not simply against present authoritarian Others but also against their own racial past. The mainstreaming of antiracism…has had a paradoxical effect of reifying racialized structures of meaning. Instead of reducing race talk, national census-style racial categories have contributed to it.”
Is it possible that Vucetic has been oversensitive to the race angle? After all, critics may point to the idea of a bill of rights, trial by jury, habeas corpus, the centrality of private property, a man’s word of honour and several other aspects of Anglo culture other than race and sect that bind together the people of the English-speaking first world countries. This, however, is a Churchillian view, premised on the belief that other cultures did not understand property rights or other social and political liberties. Furthermore, the notion that race and religion, two of the most powerful categories in the Age of Imperialism, did not play a role in foreign relations is rather farcical.
Talk of race these days is meant to get our hackles up. However, it is difficult to deny that there exists a sense of kinship that can be forged from racial, linguistic, ethnic, or religious identities. What makes the racial identity of the Anglosphere any more pernicious than the religious bonds of the ummah? Such natural commonality does not banish acrimony in relations but it does create a greater willingness to compromise and maintain ties. Wise or not, the inherent appeal of such bonds should be clear to most of us who meet a fellow countryman when travelling abroad.
Regardless of one’s views on the role of race and religion in foreign affairs, The Anglosphere is an intriguing book whose central thesis asks us to open our minds enough to consider yet another framework to international relations and alliance politics. Vucetic’s argument is not necessarily novel but charts new territory in the direction earlier scholars such as Michael Hunt and WIlliam Inboden had already suggested. In that, it stands firmly on the shoulders of excellent historical research and explores further the implications of what has only recently fallen out of fashion.
The Anglosphere is a valuable addition to foreign relations scholarship that is a must-read for anyone looking to equip their intellectual toolkit to the fullest.