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This has proved a powerful deterrent against potential adversaries.Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has been most aggressive in the no-man’s-lands of Georgia and Ukraine, nations suspended between East and West, neither one a member of When a 19-year-old Bosnian Serb nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in Sarajevo, on June 28, 1914, he acted to secure Serbia’s liberty from imperial dominion.A Republican senator, echoing the bellicose mood in Washington, declares that “Estonia is more than a couple of rocks in the East China Sea” and demands to know whether “the United States has torn up the treaty alliances in Europe and Asia that have been the foundation of global security since 1945.” The president gives China an ultimatum to leave the Japanese islands or face a military response.
Rival powers fumed over provocative annexations, like Austria-Hungary’s of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908, but world leaders scarcely believed a global conflagration was possible, let alone that one would begin just six years later.
The very monarchs who would consign tens of millions to a murderous morass from 1914 to 1918 and bury four empires believed they were clever enough to finesse the worst. That is a notion at once banal and perennially useful to recall.
That was the case in Germany after the Treaty of Versailles imposed reparations and territorial concessions; so, too, in Serbia more than 70 years later, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, a country Serbia had always viewed as an extension of itself.
Russia, convinced of its lost greatness, is gripped by a Weimar neurosis resembling Germany’s post–World War I longing for its past stature and power. in dark imaginings, then, in the cause of prudence.
Optimism, toward which Americans are generally inclined, leads to rash predictions of history’s ending in global consensus and the banishment of war.
Such rosy views accompanied the end of the Cold War.They were also much in evidence a century ago, on the eve of World War I.Then, as now, Europe had lived through a long period of relative peace, after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.China, with its watchword of “Harmony,” is focused on its own rising success and understands the usefulness of the United States as an offsetting Pacific power able to reassure anxious neighbors like Japan and Vietnam.For the time being, Beijing will not seek to impose its own version of the Monroe Doctrine.The Moscow-backed separatists taking over government buildings in eastern Ukraine and proclaiming an independent “Donetsk People’s Republic” demonstrate the virulence of Russian irredentism. Here is one possible scenario: Clashes intensify between Ukrainian government forces and paramilitary formations organized by Russian fifth columnists. The ongoing dispatch of troops and F‑16s to Poland and the Baltic states, designed as a deterrence, redoubles anger in Russia—“a great and humble nation besieged,” a Russian general might declare.The American president, saying his war-weary country will not seek conflict, imposes sanctions on the entire Russian oil-and-gas sector.He could not have known that within weeks, Austria-Hungary would declare war on Serbia, goading Russia (humiliated in war a decade earlier by Japan) to mobilize in defense of its Slavic ally, which caused the kaiser’s ascendant Germany to launch a preemptive attack on Russia’s ally France, in turn prompting Britain to declare war on Germany. It is already clear that the nationalist fervor unleashed by Putin after a quarter century of Russia’s perceived post–Cold War decline is far from exhausted.Russians are sure that the dignity of their nation has been trampled by an American and European strategic advance to their border dressed up in talk of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.Then, too, rapid progress in science, technology, and communications had given humanity a sense of shared interests that precluded war, despite the ominous naval competition between Britain and Germany.Then, too, wealthy individuals devoted their fortunes to conciliation and greater human understanding.