Have We Gone From a Post-War to a Pre-War World?
On June 28, 1914, a chauffeur panicked after a failed bomb attack on his boss, took a wrong turn and came to a complete stop in front of a café in Sarajevo where Gavrilo Princip was sitting. Princip, discouraged at the apparent failure of the planned murder, seized the unexpected opportunity and fired the shots that began the First World War, a cataclysm which claimed over nine million lives, ended four empires and set in motion events from the Communist Revolution in Russia to the rise of Nazi Germany.
One hundred years later, the world is nervously keeping its eyes peeled for misguided chauffeurs and asking itself whether history could repeat. The great powers are at peace, and trade and cultural ties between nations seem closer than ever before, yet the international scene is in many ways surprisingly brittle. In particular, a rising naval power is challenging an established hegemon, and a "powder keg" region replete with ethnic and religious quarrels looks less stable by the day.
In 1914, Germany was the rising power, the U.K. the weary hegemon and the Balkans was the powder keg. In 2014, China is rising, the United States is staggering under the burden of world leadership and the Middle East is the powder keg.
Only a few years ago, most western observers believed that the age of geopolitical rivalry and great power war was over. Today, with Russian forces in Ukraine, religious wars exploding across the Middle East, and territorial disputes leading to one crisis after another in the East and South China seas, the outlook is darker. Serious people now ask whether we have moved from a post-war into a pre-war world. Could some incident somewhere in the world spark another global war?
MIDDLE EAST POWDER KEG
Let's start with the powder keg. The immediate cause of the fighting in World War I was the set of ethnic and religious conflicts in the Balkans. In the second half of the 19th century, economic development and modernization led to heightened competition among the region's peoples. The drive for self-determination set Croats, Serbs, Magyars, Kosovars, Bosniaks, Macedonians, Bulgarians, Greeks and others at one another's throats. The death toll mounted and the hatred grew as massacres and ethnic cleansing spread -- and the ability of the outside powers to control the region's dynamics shrank as the imperial powers were themselves undermined by rising social and nationalist tensions.
The Middle East today bears an ominous resemblance to the Balkans of that period. The contemporary Middle East has an unstable blend of ethnicities and religions uneasily coexisting within boundaries arbitrarily marked off by external empires. Ninety-five years after the French and the British first parceled out the lands of the fallen Ottoman caliphate, that arrangement is now coming to an end. Events in Iraq and Syria suggest that the Middle East could be in for carnage and upheaval as great as anything the Balkans saw. The great powers are losing the ability to hold their clients in check; the Middle East today is at least as explosive as the Balkan region was a century ago.
AMERICA HAS ALL THE ALLIES
And there's another difference: alliance systems. The Great Powers of 1914 were divided into two roughly equal military blocs: Austria, Germany, Italy and potentially the Ottoman Empire confronted Russia, France and potentially Britain.
"Today the global U.S. alliance system has no rival or peer; while China, Russia and a handful of lesser powers are disengaged from, and in some cases even hostile to, the U.S. system, the military balance isn't even close."
Today the global U.S. alliance system has no rival or peer; while China, Russia and a handful of lesser powers are disengaged from, and in some cases even hostile to, the U.S. system, the military balance isn't even close.
While crises between China and U.S. allies on its periphery like the Philippines could escalate into US-China crises, we don't have anything comparable to the complex and finely balanced international system at the time of World War I. Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia and as a direct result of that Germany attacked Belgium. It's hard to see how, for example, a Turkish attack on Syria could cause China to attack Vietnam. Today's crises are simpler, more direct and more easily controlled by the top powers.
On the other hand, the Middle East's supplies of oil will keep China, as well as other powers, more involved in events there than geography would suggest. The Balkans had no products in 1914 that the rest of the world much cared about; the Middle East looms much larger in the global economy than the Balkan peninsula ever has. Already, countries including Russia and Iran have been involving themselves in Iraq. If the slide into regional chaos continues and countries like China and Japan believe that direct action is needed to secure their oil supplies, almost anything could happen in a few years.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/walter-ru ... _ref=world
RAILROADS THEN, DIGITAL NETWORKS AND DRONES NOW
..Today the disruptive effect of technological change is greater than ever. New weapons systems emerge (like drones) that transform the balance of power and set off new and unpredictable arms races. As information technology transforms the battlefield, tech itself becomes a battleground in a new era in war. Disrupting the enemy's communications, attacking its information systems (through viruses, attacks on communications satellites and EMPs for example) and otherwise wreaking havoc in cyberspace is a new frontier in war which nobody really understands.
The rapid pace of technological change makes it harder for policymakers to assess the strength of their opponents even as it puts them under pressure to speed their deliberations in a time of crisis. No one wants to be the victim of a cyberspace version of Pearl Harbor, so leaders may feel forced to accelerate the move toward war before suffering a devastating attack.