In his 1897 poem “Recessional,” Rudyard Kipling lamented the decline of British power, which had helped to establish and maintain a liberal world order since the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. Pursuing a grand strategy of primacy, Britain provided an international “public good,” underwriting the security upon which global stability, interdependence and prosperity depend.
By balancing power on the European continent and enforcing freedom of navigation and supporting free trade, Britain was able to maintain an uneasy peace, disturbed only by the Crimean War and the Wars of German Unification. But by the end of the 19th century, Great Britain had become a “weary titan.” In many respects, Albion was the victim of its own success.
Having prevented general war in Europe for nearly a century, many opinion leaders in Great Britain came to believe that peace was the natural condition of the world and that war could be prevented by adhering to what is today called liberal internationalism. The burden of defense was too high. Who needed a large Royal Navy when peace was at hand?