Monday, September 19, 2011

Up to World War III?

The situation now is starting to look more and more like that on the eve of World War I. It is often thought that the rise of Germany was the main cause but I think the general climate in that period was more important. Geopolitical changes like the rise of Germany are happening all the time. What differs is how people deal with them.

Before World War I there had been a long relatively peaceful period and nobody expected anything serious. People were very nonchalant about war. There were even reports of people celebrating when their country declared war and the general expectations were that within a few weeks "our" troops would be home celebrating victory.

We see now increasingly the same thing happen. The speed within which the US undertakes new wars keeps increasing while its respect for international treaties and organs keeps diminishing. And the recent enthusiasm in Europe about the Libya war and Germany's behavior in Kosovo show an increasing war-loving Europe too.

In 1914 it went wrong when the adversary proved too strong and the diplomats were incapable of finding more peaceful solutions. Now the West may one day find itself facing China or Russia and have the choice between real war and compromise. It might well end up with real war.


The Hero of Crappy Town said...

Just last week or so I listened to an interview* with a historian who argues the atmosphere before WWI was nothing like we have long been told. Far from being nonchalant about war or celebrating its breaking out, the public hoped there would be none.


Wim Roffel said...

Thank you for your comment.

I listened to the track and found it interesting. But I feel that Neiberg is exaggerating the current historian position. Nobody suggests that everybody celebrated in 1914. But the fact that some (including Hitler) did so is telling: in 1939 nobody celebrated. That most soon found out that war in reality is no fun only highlights how distorted their thinking before had been.

The war started as a punitive expedition of Austria against Serbia. Given the relative size and level of development of the countries there was no doubt who would win. In this it looked very similar to our recent wars (Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya). The lack of preparedness of the big power even to consider anything else but total surrender is also very similar.

You see the same distorted thinking after the war. First you had the lopsided agreement between Russia and Germany and then the even worse one of Versailles. When you are thinking up restitution payments for many decades you have totally lost the realization that 10 years from now the power balance in the world may be different.

So what I see is a lack of preparedness then and now to think in terms of compromises, power balances and long term stability.