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From the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 until World War I in 1914, the United Kingdom played the role of hegemon, where the balance of power was the main aim. It is also in this time that the British Empire became the largest empire of all time.1 Imposition of a "British Peace" on key maritime trade routes began in 1815 with the annexation of British Ceylon2:pp.191–192. The global superiority of British military and commerce was guaranteed by a divided and relatively weak continental Europe, and the presence of the Royal Navy on all of the world's oceans and seas. Following the Congress of Vienna the British Empire's economic strength continued to develop through naval dominance3 and diplomatic efforts to maintain the balance of power within a Europe that lacked a pre-eminent nation state.4
In this era of peace, it provided services such as suppression of piracy and slavery. Sea power, however, did not project on land. Land wars fought between the major powers include the Crimean War, the Franco-Austrian War, the Austro-Prussian War and the Franco-Prussian War, as well as numerous conflicts between lesser powers. The Royal Navy prosecuted the Opium wars (1839–1842 and 1856–1860) against Imperial China. In 1905, the Royal Navy was superior to any other two navies in the world, combined. In 1906, it was considered that Britain's only likely potential naval enemy was Germany.5
The Pax Britannica was weakened by the breakdown of the continental order which had been established by the Congress of Vienna.3 Relations between the Great Powers of Europe were strained to breaking point by issues such as the decline of the Ottoman Empire, which led to the Crimean War, and later the emergence of new nation states in the form of Italy and Germany after the Franco-Prussian War. Both of these two wars involved Europe's largest states and armies. The industrialisation of Germany, the Empire of Japan, and the United States of America further contributed to the decline of British industrial supremacy following the late 19th century.