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margaret_macmillan_An eminent scholar compares the world today with the one that was shattered in 1914

Margaret_Macmillan_An eminent scholar compares the world today with the one that was shattered in 1914

We had Davos last weekend, and for this weekend we have the 50th annual Munich Security Conference. So we welcome to these discussions of the Munich Security Conference, built on the unique character of transatlantic meeting.

Both the USA:s Secretary John Kerry and Secretary Chuck Hagel, as well as EU Catherine Ashton will be In Munich together with European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, Carl Bildt and Swedish defense minister Karin Enström among others. Where Ukraine and Iran belong to the important topics.

In a very influential book and article,The Rhyme of History, by Margaret Macmillan, fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and professor of international history at Oxford University, compares the world today with the one that was shattered in 1914.

We have entered a new and potentially perilous era. There are now nine countries with nuclear arsenals, including Pakistan, a fractious if not failing state, and North Korea, which has proved itself as reckless as it is repressive.

Depending on whether Iran gets the bomb, numerous other states—including Japan perhaps— are likely to exercise their own nuclear options. That would make for a very dangerous world indeed, which could lead to a recreation of the kind of tinderbox that exploded in the Balkans a hundred years ago—only this time with mushroom clouds.

Like the world of 1914, we are living through changes in the nature of war whose significance we are only starting to grasp.

But even if all nations were to agree that nuclear war simply does not make sense, there are drawbacks and dangers to the wars being waged with conventional weapons, which many of our military leaders fail to understand.

Margaret Macmillan argue that World War I still haunts us,..we still cannot agree why it happened….but if we can see past our blinders and take note of the telling parallels between then and now, the ways in which our world resembles that of a hundred years ago, history does give us valuable warnings.

1914 was also the gateway to thirty years of disaster—marked by two world wars and the Great Depression. It was the year when everything started to go wrong. What happened?

The search for explanations began almost as soon as the guns opened fire in the summer of 1914 and has never stopped. Scholars have combed through archives from Belgrade to Berlin looking for the causes. An estimated 32,000 articles, treatises, and books on World War I have been published in English alone. Yet afterward Margaret Macmillan, professor of international history at Oxford University, could not stop thinking about this question that has haunted so many.

The seizure of power by a military organization or its leader is historically the oldest way of setting up a modern form of non-democratic regime. The modern historical precursor was the rule of Oliver Cromwell (leader of the New Model rule of Army) in seventeenth-centruy Britain but the more immediate and applicabe prototype was the way in which General Napoleon Bonaparte became military dictator of France in the aftermath of the French Revolution.

Margaret Macmillan, argue that , a hundred years ago, most military planners and the civilian governments who watched from the sidelines got the nature of the coming war catastrophically wrong. The great advances of Europe’s science and technology and the increasing output of its factories during its long period of peace had made going on the attack much more costly to human life.

There was plenty of evidence from the smaller wars fought before 1914—the American Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5—about what this would mean on the battlefield. Yet the best brains in Europe’s general staffs refused to face the new reality, explaining away or ignoring the uncomfortable facts, just as today many choose to ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence of global warming.

What happened was that the birth of the modern industrial society brought about massive dislocation. The world was rife with tension—rivalry between nations, upsetting the traditional balance of power, and inequality between the haves and have-nots, whether in the form of colonialism or the sunken prospects of the uneducated working classes.

By 1914, these imbalances had toppled over into outright conflict. In the years to follow, nationalist and ideological thinking led to an unprecedented denigration of human dignity. Technology, instead of uplifting the human spirit, was deployed for destruction and terror.

The European powers went into war in 1914 with plans that, without exception, were predicated on an offensive strategy. As a British major general said in 1914, “The defensive is never an acceptable role to the Briton, and he makes little or no study of it.” The British—and the soldiers of many other nations—paid a high price for that willful blindness.

The one-hundredth anniversary of 1914 should make us reflect anew on our vulnerability to human error, sudden catastrophes, and sheer accident. So we have good reason to glance over our shoulders even as we look ahead.

History, said Mark Twain, never repeats itself but it rhymes. The past cannot provide us with clear blueprints for how to act, for it offers such a multitude of lessons that it leaves us free to pick and choose among them to suit our own political and ideological inclinations. Still, if we can see past our blinders and take note of the telling parallels between then and now, the ways in which our world resembles that of a hundred years ago, history does give us valuable warnings.

Globalization—which we tend to think of as a modern phenomenon, created by the spread of international businesses and investment, the growth of the Internet, and the widespread migration of peoples—was also characteristic of that era. Then, as now, there was a huge expansion in global trade and investment. And then as now waves of immigrants were finding their way to foreign lands—Indians to the Caribbean and Africa, Japanese and Chinese to North America, and millions of Europeans to the New World and the Antipodes.

History does give us valuable warnings.

Last week at Davos the big take-away was that China-Japan was much more problematic than many of us thought and it causes real disruption on trades and hurting both economies is real. If you need evidence of the significance of this geopolitical clash, look no further than the surprising comment made at Davos by Prime Minister Abe of Japan, who said his country´s relationship with china was in a similar situation to the one between Germany and Britain before world War I.

China is displaying an increasingly belligerent streak in its territorial disputes with a number of other countries. Threatening other states in order to bend them to its will on issues of this kind is completely unacceptable and it is vital that Japan maintains its uncompromising stance for the good of the whole region. Protecting the territorial integrity of one´s state is a core responsibility for any government. Japan’s Abe worries a conflict could be sparked by something entirely unexpected that could become the flash point for conflagration. “There may be some conflict or dispute arising out of the blue, on an ad hoc level … or inadvertently,” he said.

It is also tempting—and sobering—to compare today’s relationship between China and the U.S. with that between Germany and England a century ago. Now, as then, the march of globalization has lulled us into a false sense of safety. Countries that have McDonald’s, we are told, will never fight each other. Or as President George W. Bush put it when he issued his National Security Strategy in 2002:

The spread of democracy and free trade across the world is the surest guarantee of international stability and peace; as President George W. Bush put it

How does democracy promote peace? In brief, Leaders of democracies as well as the citizens generally benefit from avoiding conflict, especially with one another because the political costs of fighting wars are higher for democratic leaders. If they lose the war, they almost certainly will lose power, but even if they win a costly war, the domestic political costs may be quite high.

During the course, interest in the democratic peace grew broader. Bruce Russett and John Oneal (2001), for example, analyzed whether there was a more general liberal peace. Drawing on long-standing arguments by Immanuel Kant and others, they hypothesized that democracy, high levels of economic interdependence, flow of trade between states and participation in international organizations combine to inhibitinter-state conflict.

According to Margaret Macmillan We are now witnessing, as much as the world of 1914, shifts in the international power structure, with emerging powers challenging the established ones. Just as national rivalries led to mutual suspicions between Britain and Germany before 1914, the same is happening between the U.S. and China now, and also between China and Japan.

Yet the extraordinary growth in trade and investment between China and the U.S. since the 1980s has not served to allay mutual suspicions. Far from it. As China’s (FDI) investment in the U.S. increases, especially in sensitive sectors such as electronics and biotechnology, so does public apprehension that the Chinese are acquiring information that will put them in a position to threaten American security.

China’s businesses have been encouraged to “go global” and invest abroad to find new markets, secure access to energy and raw materials, and enhance their competitiveness by acquiring new technologies, brands, and management skills. And for their part, the Chinese complain that the U.S. treats them as a second-rate power and, while objecting to the continuing American support for Taiwan, they seem dedicated to backing North Korea, no matter how great the provocations of that maverick state.

At a time when the two countries are competing for markets, resources, and influence from the Caribbean to Central Asia, China has become increasingly ready to translate its economic strength into military power. Indeed, Kevin Rudd, Former Prime Minister of Australia, in his recent IISS Alastair Buchan Memorial Lecture on 16 December 2013, predict that China is beginning to use its growing influence to reshape the rules and institutions of the international system to better serve its interests.

Increased Chinese military spending and the build-up of its naval capacity suggest to many American strategists that China intends to challenge the U.S. as a Pacific power, and we are now seeing an arms race between the two countries in that Asia-Pacific region.

History, never repeats itself but it rhymes. The past offers such a multitude of lessons that it leaves us free to pick and choose what suits our own political and ideological inclinations: Mark Twain

The world is changing both because of shifts in international problems and because of shifts in what we care about, democracy and liberal peace and values we in Europe and America cherish.

We are facing threats of terrorism and untamed growth in radical sectarianism and religious extremism, which increases the challenge of failed and failing governments and the vacuums that they leave behind. And all of this is agitated by a voracious globalized appetite and competition for resources and markets that do not always sufficiently share the benefits of wealth and improved quality of life with all citizens.

Just look at the actual and potential conflicts that dominate the news today. The Middle East, made up largely of countries that received their present borders as a consequence of World War I, is but one of many areas around the globe that is in turmoil, and has been for decades. Now there’s a civil war in Syria, which has raised the spectre of a wider conflict in the region while also troubling relations among the major powers and testing their diplomatic skills.

Many urgent security challenges confront the international community in early 2014 – from the catastrophe in Syria and Iran’s nuclear program to the NSA disclosures and European defense integration.

For the U.S, they are at the centers to push Syria to turn over its chemical weapons, the Israelis and Palestinians to resume direct peace talks, and the development of political orientation of the Syrian country.

On January 28, 2014, President Barack Obama delivered the State of the Union.

“From Tunisia to Burma, we’re supporting those who are willing to do the hard work of building democracy. … And we will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific, where we support our allies, shape a future of greater security and prosperity and extend a hand to those devastated by disaster, as we did in the Philippines;” President Barack Obama

The President continued, emphasizing that in a world of complex threats, America’s security depends on all elements of its power, including a “strong, principled diplomacy.”

Today, American diplomacy: has rallied more than 50 countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed U.S. to reduce its own reliance on Cold War stockpiles; said U.S. President Barack Obama

In other words, the global world is differnt from 1914 and its implications for global governance and the possibilities of cooperation among many states of the world impacts upon todays world in a differnt way.

Three years ago Tunisia was the starting point for the upheavals that swept across the Arab world. In the years Tunisia has often looked as though it might descend into the same anarchy that has afflicted other states in the region.

During the past six months, however, the country´s politicians have hammered out a remarkable set of compromises that are now setting the country on a new path of development to democracy in which democratic principles and the rule of law must be respected.

The progress achieved in Tunisia’s transitional process, in particular on finalizing the approval of each article of the Constitution, which represents an important milestone for Tunisia. And, next week, in Tunisia, a new democratic constitution will be celebrated. Also Ukraine must have the freedom to choose its own path without external pressure.

In the midst of all these shifts, Europe is finding its role and place. “The future of Ukraine belongs with the European Union” said President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, in his opening speech of first panel at the Munich Security Conference 1 February 2014.

“We all paid a price to live free. In the European Union, with many of our countries returned only relatively recently to the harbour of democracy, we know all about it”said President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy,

As today at the Munich Security Conference, people across the world – not least in nearby Ukraine – are voicing their aspirations for universal values we in Europe and America cherish.

We’re also talking about the post-second World War era and the early 1950s, in Europe, just to date. This was rebuilt with help from the Marshall Plan. An extraordinary ambition  (Read A Brief History) which helped deliver postwar reconstruction in a bid to avoid the mistakes. A programs strengthening the U.S.-German relationship in particular, when Europe rebuilt itself with American support.

As German President Richard von Weizsäcker would later write, Marshall‘s plan was “unparalleled in the history of world powers in generosity, selflessness, and vision. It was the work of a farsighted, highly responsible American administration”.

A key event that played an important role also in trade and financial negotiations with other countries, among which were the United States and United Kingdom. American-European partnership is Indispensable. In this phase of change, America’s presence in Europe is more necessary than ever.

“But it was more than just the rebuilding of a continent; it was the rebuilding of an idea, it was the rebuilding of a vision that was built on a set of principles, and it built alliances that were just unthinkable only a few years before that” said Secretary John Kerry at the opening of second panel this morning. Read more here.. the full speech.

2014 will mark the centenary of World War I. The one hundredth anniversary of something makes it no more relevant than any other marker of time. Yet, it is worth reflecting on at least one thing—the way in which an order that seems to work reasonably well can be suddenly brought to an end. The contemporary order is working reasonably well, and there are as many sources of optimism as concern. It is up to all of the states that benefit from it to ensure that it does not come to an end.

Many of today’s young leaders have no memory of those post-World War II events. Nor do they appreciate how they shaped vital political and economic relationships that are still needed.