Our View: ‘Speculative stuff’

Posted: January 4, 2014

Get ready for it: With the coming of 2014, we will see an avalanche of articles about the 100th anniversary of the march into the abyss of World War I — commentary, by the way, certain to be tinged with speculation as to whether the globe will ever again bear unholy witness to such a conflagration. This year, perhaps?

In truth, the initial rumblings of the avalanche — not world war, mind you, merely expository writings about it, at once reflective and prognosticative — have already been evidenced. The year was not 24 hours old when Graham Allison, writing in The National Interest, sallied forth with “2014: Good Year for a Great War?”

One might think the volatile Middle East would serve as tinder for such a conflict. Mr. Allison begs to differ, albeit noting the region’s witch’s brew of politics and faction could spawn “local wars.” Rather, he says, it’s “in the growing competition between the United States and China” that “one can hear echoes of 1914.”

How so? Mr. Allison cites a “cluster of factors” known as the “Thucydides Trap,” i.e., a rapidly rising power challenging an established hegemon. Think Athens and Sparta, as the Greek historian Thucydides did when he wrote, “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.”

Fast-forwarding a bit closer to the present, Mr. Allison reminds us that in 1914 a melange of “entangling alliances” within Europe plunged the continent, and eventually the world, into war.

The pregnant question, of course, is: Could such a scenario be envisioned today? “Not easily,” Mr. Allison concludes, though he does note growing unease between China and Japan, America’s foremost ally in the Far East. Not only are Japan and the United States linked via a mutual defense treaty, but the former is also nurturing ambitions of a return to regional prominence, particularly in the military sphere. Mr. Allison’s advice: keep an eye on islands in the East China Sea, over which Beijing has unilaterally declared an exclusive air zone.

Surely, this is speculative stuff, especially given China’s internal efforts to stabilize its unbalanced economy. Or is it?