Are we re-living the lead-up to World War One? Margaret MacMillan—author of the excellent Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World and more recently of The War That Ended Peace—has penned the latest Brookings Essay on the similarities between our time and the years leading up to the First World War. The piece describes these similarities—including widespread belief in the peaceful powers of globalization mixed with ineffective leaders, geopolitical grappling, rising nationalism, and instability in smaller countries that are “clients” of larger powers—and argues that a another war of global proportions could be possible if we don’t learn the lessons of 1914.
It may take a moment of real danger to force the major powers of this new world order to come together in coalitions able and willing to act. Action, if it does come, may be too little and too late, and the price we all pay for that delay may well be high. Instead of muddling along from one crisis to another, now is the time to think again about those dreadful lessons of a century ago in the hope that our leaders, with our encouragement, will think about how they can work together to build a stable international order.
This piece dovetails nicely with one of WRM’s latest essays, “The End of History Ends,” in which he argues that the US needs to realize the time for responding to discrete “issues” is over. Geopolitics is back, and we need to re-learn how to think strategically about engaging whole nations in a global power struggle. War isn’t likely to break out tomorrow, but the US’ role in keeping international peace and stability is more crucial than ever. Wishing it was different is no substitute for a considered grand strategy.