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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.China dispatches a small force to what it calls the Diaoyu Islands “as a protective measure.” Japan sends four destroyers to evict the Chinese and reminds the American president that he has said the islands, located near undersea oil reserves, “fall within the scope” of the U.
Wars no longer happen between big land armies; they are the stuff of pinpoint strikes by unpiloted drones against jihadist extremists.
Putin’s Russia is opportunistic—it will change the balance of power in Ukraine or Georgia if it considers the price acceptable—but it is not reckless in countries under protection.
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.
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.European states dependent on Russian energy grumble; a former German chancellor working in natural gas says his country’s interests lie with Moscow.Then, say, an independence movement of the Russian minority gains momentum in Estonia, backed with plausible deniability by Moscow’s agents, and announces support for the Donetsk People’s Republic.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.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.Whether this is true is irrelevant; they believe it.National humiliation, real or not, is a tremendous catalyst for war.Citizens everywhere now have the tools to raise a cacophony in real time against the sort of folly that, in World War I, produced the deaths of so many unidentifiable young men “known unto God,” in Kipling’s immortal phrasing. It would certainly be nice to believe that, as President Clinton suggested in 1997, great-power territorial politics are a thing of the past.A new era had dawned, he said, in which “enlightened self-interest, as well as shared values, will compel countries to define their greatness in more-constructive ways.” In fact, the realization that the Russian bear can bite as well as growl is timely.