Tuesday, February 5, 2013

the spectre of 1914 in the western Pacific

All historical analogies are inexact, but some are still helpful in assessing foreign policy problems. Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times warns that the looming disputes in the waters of the western Pacific might trigger a 1914-like stumble into a major war. China is a rising power, as Germany was then. A major power [the United States] has given security guarantees to its allies, who might be emboldened to risk confrontations that could spiral out of hand.

As Harvard professor Graham Allison says:
“The mechanism in 1914 is instructive. Who could imagine that Serbian terrorists could kill an archduke no one had heard of and trigger a great war, at the end of which all contestants were devastated? My view is that the Chinese leadership has no intention of challenging the US militarily, yet. But what about the hothead nationalists in China or Japan?”
I worry about those "hothead nationalists" too. A Chinese friend says that his relatives bought their first car last year but have kept it garaged ever since because they fear the vandalism some of their neighbors have suffered --because it's a Japanese model car.

Until the various parties are willing to try to negotiate a settlement, they should at least work to develop emergency communications links ["hotlines"] and rules of the road understandings like the U.S.-Soviet incidents at sea agreement of the 1970s. Such mechanisms were lacking in 1914.

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