The British Empire remained the undisputed leader of the world for centuries. Its empire spanned Europe, Asia, and Africa, all the way to America.
BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE BRITISH EMPIRE
It would control 35 percent of the world’s GDP. Its industrial products were imported across the world. Every imported machine-made article used to have the tag “made in England.” It would control 27% of global manufactured exports. Its trade share was 54 percent, which was substantially greater than that of Germany (40 percent) and America (10 percent). The British army was massive, including soldiers from every nook and corner of the world. The British Empire was the greatest empire in history. The country’s wideness and exploitative policies made it immensely influential and wealthy. According to a Colombia University research paper, the British extracted 45 trillion dollars from India in their 200 years of rule.
REASON BEHIND THE FALL OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE
World War I is considered the first reason behind the UK Empire’s decline. According to Mark Harrison and Broad Berry’s book “The Economics of World War I,” Britain lost around 715,000 troops and more than 15 lakh soldiers were injured. It deprived Britain of human resources, which were necessary for post-war recovery. This war destroyed 24% of overseas assets, 3.6% of human capital, and 10% of domestic assets. Britain squandered 25% of its GDP, precipitating a financial crisis. Weakening the empire financially, the UK had to take loans from the USA.
DWINDLING CONTROL OVER VAST AREAS LED TO THE DECLINE OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE
The USA extended loans worth $7 billion to the allied powers. Coupled with financial hardships, it was proving difficult to maintain control over the vast colonial empire amidst the growing resistance from the native people. The native people were demanding outright freedom, and their demonstrations were becoming more intense day by day. Simultaneously, Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution paved the way for Communist Soviet Russia, which eventually became a rival to Britain and supported freedom movements.
THE GREAT ECONOMIC DEPRESSION
The “Great Economic Depression” of 1929 further increased the difficulties of an already struggling Britain. It caused massive unemployment in Britain. Around 27 lakh people lost their jobs, which gave birth to social unrest. The industrial locations of Britain, such as southern Wales and northeast England, were among the most affected regions during the Depression. Banks collapsed across Europe, and the budget deficit was 120 million pounds. Owing to the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was facing the worst conditions. This situation strengthened the leadership position of Adolf Hitler, who was a critic of the Treaty of Versailles.
In addition to it, the distribution of war compensation dissented Italy, and there was the birth of fascism. Germany and Italy’s envy of the expanding British Empire resulted in warlike conditions. In 1939, Germany invaded Poland, which culminated in World War II. Japan, Germany, and Italy were collectively called “Axis Powers,” fighting against the British Empire and its allies. It damaged British exports drastically, and it had to take loans from the USA. Eventually, the UK won this battle, but its effects were severe.
AFTERMATHS OF WORLD WAR II
Its worst financial and human resources crisis did not make it the leader of the world anymore. And the power went into the hands of the USA and the USSR. After fighting the Cold War for 40 years, the USA emerged as the world’s sole superpower in 1991. That is how the United Kingdom went from world leader to ally of the United States.