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A Brief History of International Relations

The World Made Easy

Kathleen Brush

The world does not need to be complex and confusing. It can be made simpler so that the business, political, social, and economic implications of global news briefs beaming across televisions and electronic devices can be easily grasped. Key to this is knowing that a five-hundred-year competition for global supremacy between the Chinese, European, Islamic, and Russian empires only ended in 1945. When it did, the world had 57 independent nations. After all empires were dissolved in 1991, there were 193, and each nation carried histories of empires in the form of conquest, religions followed, languages practiced, diversified populations, repressive rule, and histories of discrimination. A Brief History of International Relations: The World Made Easy explores this history of global conflict to contextualize and simplify the often perplexing relations between nations and empires.

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Chapter 2. The European Empires


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In Europe, the competition for empire took two distinct paths: some competitors focused on a intra-European empire and some on overseas colonial empires. The French empires, the House of Habsburg, and later the German empires were the primary intra-European competitors. The Spanish, Portuguese, British, and French were the main competitors for overseas colonial empires. There were, however, other European competitors that ruled a small number of colonies.

The creation of overseas colonial empires was uniquely European. So was the creation of empires that spanned the Old and New Worlds. The Chinese, Islamic, and Russians built their empires by conquering contiguous land polities in the Old World.1 Only the Europeans built far-flung empires that in the case of Britain included colonies on all six inhabitable continents: Old-World Africa, Asia, and Europe; and New-World Australia, North America, and South America.

Europe’s overseas colonial empires

The Ottoman defeat of the Byzantine Empire in conjunction with monopolizing access to the Silk Road and spice trade was a provocation that shook ← 15 | 16 → Europe’s commercial and religious establishments from its Middle Ages torpor. For centuries, the Silk Road had been the source of innovations and coveted luxuries that drove profits for merchants and monarchs in Europe. Rulers became motivated to restore access. The pope, Europe’s most influential religious leader, was naturally very concerned by the continuing loss of Christians and Christian lands. He prioritized eliminating the remaining Islamic...

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