The Tinderbox: In 1914, one region of the world, the Balkans, was a tinderbox. But how little we learn. Today, that volatile region is the Middle East, where borders date from the casual division of that first war’s spoils. When the Ottoman Empire drew its last gasp during the war, the British and French took out their rulers and drew lines that either created or partially shaped what we today call Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon among others. Over the century, the straight lines they drew in an ethnically convoluted region exacerbated the sectarian and nationalist tensions that today threaten to explode into region-wide war.
Geopolitical Punches: In 1914, the world’s dominant player, Great Britain, was feeling the sharp elbows of an aggressive new Germany, united only a few decades earlier but already surpassing Britain in steel production by 1900. Today, the United States feels the heat from a surging China, set to overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy any year now. And China today, like Germany back then, is not yet constrained by any sort of regional security framework.
Globalization: It’s old news: In 1914, nations deceived themselves into believing war was impossible because of the interdependence caused by trade and new technologies such as the telephone, telegraph, steam engine and manned flight. Sound familiar? Today, many argue that the interdependence we call “globalization” — or burgeoning trade, the Internet, social media, international mobility — ensures that nations will resist the folly of major wars.