June 2014: Echoes of June 1914?

This week marks the centenary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria – the key trigger for WWI leading to a conflict between European powers soon enough. A hundred years later, the world has similar echoes of the early 20th century with a major shift in global power once again occurring.

The power has shifted from the global North to the South with Asian countries such as China being primary beneficiaries, as opposed to Germany and Russia. The geo-political tensions are once again challenging key elements of the U.S-led international order. This is partly driven by rising economic power resurrecting nationalism and claims for resources shown by disputes between China, and neighboring countries.

It is in Asia where the most tension and insecurity lies in terms of potential for a great power war: there is focus on the Syrian conflict and rise of Islamic extremist group ISIS in Iraq. China’s rise is then unsettling the region and the world with dangers of miscalculation growing because of military build-ups. Even the Japanese Prime Minister has drawn parallels in the geopolitical landscape in Asia today and Europe in the eve of war in 1914. Philippine President compared Beijing’s track record of belligerent behavior with Germany expansionism in 20th century by questioning which point is actually the stopping point.

In Asia, the tensions between Japan and China, as well as between Taiwan and China, are potential triggers of conflict.

However, there exist differences making the war impossible. The memories of the two wars linger quite strongly; the emergence of Communism in Russia, and seeds of Nazis leading to WWII. The presence of nuclear power is a great brake on major power conflict. Both revisionist nations, China and Russia, and status-quo powers all possess nuclear power. Post war international institution presence, like the United Nations, is another determinant to stopping any major war from occurring. Lastly, there is a difference in the gap of power in the leading powers today which again has a great role to play.

Since WWI, when United States emerged as a super power, the country has gone through decline. purchasing power parity has shown that China is to become the biggest economy of the World. There are indications that U.S power will remain resilient for decades to come buoyed by factors such as the energy revolution which has far reaching consequences.

Overall, while another major war can not be ruled out, the prospect of this for the foreseeable future is not as high as it was 100 years ago.

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