Blogs: The Buzz

Ghosts of 1914: The West Risks Creating a "Central Powers 2.0"

The Buzz

During the July Crisis a century ago, Austria-Hungary and its powerful ally ultimately decided that, despite the risks, the defense of interests that other powers discounted justified the actions they adopted. The Central Powers lost. But the price the Allies paid for victory was high.

The Second World War was about many things, but one of them was the nigh impossible decisions the Allied peacemakers had made when, faced with maddening historical, ethnic, linguistic and folkloristic arguments, they dissected the Austro-Hungarian corpse.

Even in defeat, Austria-Hungary is a powerful warning of why the West should avoid pushing too gleefully on the Russian door. From Grozny to Vladivostok, via Muslim Tatarstan, Buddhist Tuva and neo-animist Yakutsk, a Russian implosion would create an even greater nightmare.

Whether as an ally of an increasingly assertive, authoritarian China, as a source of Chinese energy and resources, or as a failed state, therefore, Russia and its 21st century geopolitical disposition is of critical interest to every Western government - especially if, in the same way Ottoman Turkey threw its lot in with last century's Central Powers, an isolated and embittered Iran joins them.

A course of action that sets out to contain or sanction the better part of Eurasia is likely to fail.

Let's return to 1914.

When Vienna's sternly-worded ultimatum to Serbia came, London couldn't understand the political and strategic considerations that had shaped it - to Churchill, "the most insolent document of its kind ever devised." In its humiliating conditions, London saw a thinly veiled declaration of war on Belgrade - though, as Clark notes, Vienna demanded a less substantial surrender of Serbian sovereignty than NATO's 1999 ultimatum over Kosovo.

Fostered by years of indifference to Austrian interests, London's incomprehension was largely hypocritical, of course. For centuries, the British Empire had grown as a result of colonial infractions far lesser than the assassination of an archduke.

Our perspective on events is rarely neutral, but its consequences far-reaching.

After a more than decade of war against "rogue states" in Afghanistan and Iraq, the West might better appreciate today Vienna's determination to crush the state-sponsored terror that, modern research now shows, had slipped its fingers about the levers of power in Belgrade.

Of course, today's Ukraine is not the quasi terrorist state Austria-Hungary faced. But, to Moscow, its creeping admission to a hostile Western bloc is probably far worse.

On the threshold of a century that will test the West's 500-year global dominance, Western diplomacy would score a massive own-goal if its blindness to Russia's interests in western Eurasia gave rise to a Central-Powers-style bloc at the heart of Mackinder's famous "world-island".

The warning from 1914 is that if we pick our enemies blithely, even in victory, the future can always be worse.

Matthew Dal Santo is a freelance writer and foreign affairs correspondent. He previously worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia. This article first appeared in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's The Drum here

Image: Office of the President, Russian Federation. 

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Chinese Assertiveness Has Asia on Edge: How to Respond

The Buzz

During the July Crisis a century ago, Austria-Hungary and its powerful ally ultimately decided that, despite the risks, the defense of interests that other powers discounted justified the actions they adopted. The Central Powers lost. But the price the Allies paid for victory was high.

The Second World War was about many things, but one of them was the nigh impossible decisions the Allied peacemakers had made when, faced with maddening historical, ethnic, linguistic and folkloristic arguments, they dissected the Austro-Hungarian corpse.

Even in defeat, Austria-Hungary is a powerful warning of why the West should avoid pushing too gleefully on the Russian door. From Grozny to Vladivostok, via Muslim Tatarstan, Buddhist Tuva and neo-animist Yakutsk, a Russian implosion would create an even greater nightmare.

Whether as an ally of an increasingly assertive, authoritarian China, as a source of Chinese energy and resources, or as a failed state, therefore, Russia and its 21st century geopolitical disposition is of critical interest to every Western government - especially if, in the same way Ottoman Turkey threw its lot in with last century's Central Powers, an isolated and embittered Iran joins them.

A course of action that sets out to contain or sanction the better part of Eurasia is likely to fail.

Let's return to 1914.

When Vienna's sternly-worded ultimatum to Serbia came, London couldn't understand the political and strategic considerations that had shaped it - to Churchill, "the most insolent document of its kind ever devised." In its humiliating conditions, London saw a thinly veiled declaration of war on Belgrade - though, as Clark notes, Vienna demanded a less substantial surrender of Serbian sovereignty than NATO's 1999 ultimatum over Kosovo.

Fostered by years of indifference to Austrian interests, London's incomprehension was largely hypocritical, of course. For centuries, the British Empire had grown as a result of colonial infractions far lesser than the assassination of an archduke.

Our perspective on events is rarely neutral, but its consequences far-reaching.

After a more than decade of war against "rogue states" in Afghanistan and Iraq, the West might better appreciate today Vienna's determination to crush the state-sponsored terror that, modern research now shows, had slipped its fingers about the levers of power in Belgrade.

Of course, today's Ukraine is not the quasi terrorist state Austria-Hungary faced. But, to Moscow, its creeping admission to a hostile Western bloc is probably far worse.

On the threshold of a century that will test the West's 500-year global dominance, Western diplomacy would score a massive own-goal if its blindness to Russia's interests in western Eurasia gave rise to a Central-Powers-style bloc at the heart of Mackinder's famous "world-island".

The warning from 1914 is that if we pick our enemies blithely, even in victory, the future can always be worse.

Matthew Dal Santo is a freelance writer and foreign affairs correspondent. He previously worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia. This article first appeared in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's The Drum here

Image: Office of the President, Russian Federation. 

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How to Stop the Sale of France's Mistrals to Russia: NATO Should Buy Them

The Buzz

During the July Crisis a century ago, Austria-Hungary and its powerful ally ultimately decided that, despite the risks, the defense of interests that other powers discounted justified the actions they adopted. The Central Powers lost. But the price the Allies paid for victory was high.

The Second World War was about many things, but one of them was the nigh impossible decisions the Allied peacemakers had made when, faced with maddening historical, ethnic, linguistic and folkloristic arguments, they dissected the Austro-Hungarian corpse.

Even in defeat, Austria-Hungary is a powerful warning of why the West should avoid pushing too gleefully on the Russian door. From Grozny to Vladivostok, via Muslim Tatarstan, Buddhist Tuva and neo-animist Yakutsk, a Russian implosion would create an even greater nightmare.

Whether as an ally of an increasingly assertive, authoritarian China, as a source of Chinese energy and resources, or as a failed state, therefore, Russia and its 21st century geopolitical disposition is of critical interest to every Western government - especially if, in the same way Ottoman Turkey threw its lot in with last century's Central Powers, an isolated and embittered Iran joins them.

A course of action that sets out to contain or sanction the better part of Eurasia is likely to fail.

Let's return to 1914.

When Vienna's sternly-worded ultimatum to Serbia came, London couldn't understand the political and strategic considerations that had shaped it - to Churchill, "the most insolent document of its kind ever devised." In its humiliating conditions, London saw a thinly veiled declaration of war on Belgrade - though, as Clark notes, Vienna demanded a less substantial surrender of Serbian sovereignty than NATO's 1999 ultimatum over Kosovo.

Fostered by years of indifference to Austrian interests, London's incomprehension was largely hypocritical, of course. For centuries, the British Empire had grown as a result of colonial infractions far lesser than the assassination of an archduke.

Our perspective on events is rarely neutral, but its consequences far-reaching.

After a more than decade of war against "rogue states" in Afghanistan and Iraq, the West might better appreciate today Vienna's determination to crush the state-sponsored terror that, modern research now shows, had slipped its fingers about the levers of power in Belgrade.

Of course, today's Ukraine is not the quasi terrorist state Austria-Hungary faced. But, to Moscow, its creeping admission to a hostile Western bloc is probably far worse.

On the threshold of a century that will test the West's 500-year global dominance, Western diplomacy would score a massive own-goal if its blindness to Russia's interests in western Eurasia gave rise to a Central-Powers-style bloc at the heart of Mackinder's famous "world-island".

The warning from 1914 is that if we pick our enemies blithely, even in victory, the future can always be worse.

Matthew Dal Santo is a freelance writer and foreign affairs correspondent. He previously worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia. This article first appeared in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's The Drum here

Image: Office of the President, Russian Federation. 

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