Saturday, November 1, 2014


Everywhere, World War I is being commemorated.  The possible consequences of the Sarajevo assassination could have been contained but the European powers chose not to.  This led to a horrendous manslaughter while the chief actors looked on, as under the spell of their own incompetence.  The Americans joined later in a conflict which left the Triple Entente and Triple Alliance shell-shocked.  The Versailles Treaty was a dystopian affair which would in due time haunt its underwriters and become seen as the unavoidable overture to World War II.
The "balance of power" policies which worked in the past failed and disappeared into the vault of history, since the unipolar American post-1945 world rendered them obsolete.

Today the world seems to be backtracking again. For the time being, and on America's clock, the former Pax Americana order no longer applies. The American leadership is contested not for reason of irrelevance but because of a lackluster performance, verging on abdication.  In this vacuum other powers become assertive and one might as well look over his or her shoulder and see the remake of a pre-1914 situation.  Yet again a plural of countries strive for regional hegemony. And yet again a sleeping Europe suffers from a potential Serbian rotten apple in its midst. Russia, China, Japan and South Korea are enmeshed in mutual distrust and maritime brinkmanship, as was the case between Germany and Britain before 1914. Ukraine might well be the new Berlin, opposing the United States and Russia. The Middle East born in Sevres is no longer, while Africa is too often looted by others and left to its own devices.

The overall situation is all the more complex and ominous in that it opens the door for accidents to happen, as was the case with Sarajevo.  America's retreat is therefore dangerous. The new actors enjoy testing very dangerous waters and borders and in the absence of a common understanding and political culture they play into the Jeux interdits.  Nobody looks willing or able to impose a structure on this new "free for all."  The United States is disinclined to intervene or impose a more consensual order. The EU is deflationary in its ambitions. The UN has become the predictable shooting-range wherein frustration and inferiority complexes determine the agenda.  All this leaves newcomers by themselves, on a roller coaster which they do not control. 

Miscalculation, incompetence, nuclear wizardly besiege the rational path and accidents are prone to happen.  It is naive or cynical  to pretend wanting to reverse course while at the same time being part of this gross miscalculation. Unfortunately managerial distance will only increase disenfranchisement while there is in reality no other alternative than to return to balance-of-power-type policies, in the absence of a sole accepted, be it reluctantly, federating leadership. As in old times we might have to return to reciprocal zones of interest or condominium models. Ukraine or the South and East China Seas might be tests.  President Obama cannot reverse the negative perception he helped to create and his successor awaits a formidable task to regain the lost influence.

History repeats itself, so the saying goes. The post-Berlin Wall euphoria is reduced to a piece of rubble in some museum. The Holocaust risks becoming a footnote in the larger history. Empires come and go and Gibbon might add a new chapter to his epic.  Let us not forget that Dr. Kissinger's methods are still valid. They might offer the only way to get the patient out of history's emergency room. His classical formula could spare us from the ruling amateurism. Diplomacy is more than a commodity after all.

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