The Anglo-German Naval Arms Race and Edward Snowden

100 years ago the United States entered the first great modern military catastrophe. Unfortunately it would not be the last. There were many, many factors contributing to the First World War, but one of them was a naval arms race between Germany and Great Britain.

As a rising power, Germany saw a strong navy as a deterrent to Great Britain’s ambition and as a way to expand their own Imperial ambitions. As for the British, they had a policy of having a navy larger than the other two largest navies combined. Tremendous strain was placed on the British industrial capacity and government funding when the United States and Germany both put their industrial might to use on their burgeoning naval fleets. Germany never did quite catch up to Britain before the war started, but they came close, and they came close for one reason: the British switched their ships’ fuel from coal to oil.

In an instant the new classes of oil-powered warships made all other warships obsolete. The British and German navies began at the same point because they both possessed the same technologies. Germany strove to produce as many new oil-powered warships as quickly as they could. In turn, the British attempted to do the same in order to maintain their superiority. Intensifying the arms race destabilized the world. Feeling pressured, the British became increasingly prepared to use force to counter the Germans and the pressure for decisive military confrontation to defeat the other side increased.

When reviewing the Anglo-German naval arms race as a historical precedent, it is easy to see how Edward Snowden, and other leaks of the United States’ technical ability in cyberspying and cyberwarfare, have made the world less safe.

Leaks from the NSA, and now the CIA, revealed both advanced methods and means of attacking computer networks. Every other major power in the world now has the ability to do exactly what the NSA and CIA have the ability to do. This inflames a cyber arms race that was already raging. United States intelligence agencies now have increased incentive to strike other powers harder and more often preemptively than they had in the past. Other powers may now have abilities to seriously damage or infiltrate US assets that they could not in the past. A wider range of actors have the ability to do more damage than they did previously.

Snowden, and others, may have sparked a debate in the United States about how much the government should be monitoring citizens, but in the grander view, the leaks have made all citizens less safe.

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