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Is Europe Sleepwalking To War Again?

Mar 28, 14 Is Europe Sleepwalking To War Again?

One hundred years ago, Europe was at peace. While there have been two wars in the Balkans in the prior two years, there hadn’t been a war between the major Europe powers since 1871 during the Franco-Prussian War – save for a brief conflict between Italy and the Ottoman Empire for control of Libya.

That all changed in the summer of 1914 following the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary in Sarajevo in what is today Bosnia-Herzegovina, and by the end of the summer, the “Guns of August” roared and Europe was at war. This “Great War” – known to us today as the First World War – lasted until 1918 and cost tens of millions of lives and set the stage for many of today’s problems.

While the simple answer to how it started was that various treaty commitments set the European powers on an eventual collision course, many scholars today still question and debate exactly who is to blame for the war. Author Christopher Clark questions this in his book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914.

Clark is just the latest author who points the blame not on one nation: Germany; and certainly not one man: Kaiser Wilhelm II. The simple view is that the Kaiser wanted war, Germany wanted war and thus Germany and the Kaiser should get the blame. It is true that Kaiser Wilhelm II in some ways prodded Austria into war with Serbia – as the assassin of the Arch Duke was a member of the Serbian secret society The Black Hand, which had ties to the Serbia military.

Today Europe – and with it the United States – could be sleepwalking to war.

It is easy for politicians to compare Russian President Vladimir Putin as having the aggression of Hitler, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did recently. It is true Hitler made land grabs in the name of protecting ethnic Germans, just as Putin has made similar claims in his efforts to consolidate power not only in the Crimea but in Georgia and Chechnya.

However, Russia’s current geo-political ambitions are not really all that different from 100 years ago. It desired a warm weather port and long had its eyes on Constantinople – today’s Istanbul – a city sometimes dubbed as the future “Czargrad” as in City of the Czars. Today it isn’t Istanbul that Russia desires (at least not yet) but simply Sevastopol, the Crimean city that is the de facto port of the Russian Black Sea’s fleet.

In addition Russia is not a member of either NATO – which was formed as a counterweight to the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact – or the European Union (EU). Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 the Warsaw Pact was disbanded but NATO continued – and now many former Warsaw Pact nations are members of NATO.

Thus the balance of power has dramatically shifted, yet Russia has looked to maintain its sphere of influence over territories that were once part of the Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union. For Russia this is partially a matter of prestige but also about regaining its place as a world power.

Russia is one of the former Soviet states – along with Belarus and Kazahstan – to suggest the creation of a Eurasian Economic Union, which would be modeled on the European Commission (EC). To date Kygrystan and Tajikistan –central Asian nations that have always had close ties to Moscow – have expressed interested in joining. Russia of course has courted Georgia and the Ukraine.

In fact, much of the recent troubles in the Ukraine have been the result of Ukraine’s now ousted leaders wanting in on the Eurasian Economic Union while many citizens have wanted closer ties with the EU/EC. It has resulted in tensions and could lead to a region conflict.

The dangerous part is that new treaty obligations could create the very same situations that existed in 1914 and later led to the Cold War.

More worrisome is if Russia pushes too far than NATO may be forced to respond and that means actual war. On the other hand if Russia pushes and NATO doesn’t respond than it could mean the end of NATO – which could create another dire situation where Russia could become a dominant power in the region and bully lesser states including those once dominated by the Soviet Union.

Thus Europe – and with it the United States – could be sleepwalking into a very uncertain future.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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