World War I Never Really Ended
The world is terrible today. The US has just begun bombing in Iraq, the Russians are still menacing Ukraine, Syria remains in shambles, the African ebola outbreak continues to worsen, the Israel-Hamas ceasefire has collapsed, and to top it all off Azerbaijan seems to have decided the time is right to declare war on Armenia in a rerun of one of the deadliest conflicts of the Soviet collapse. This may just be a bluff, it may be serious, or it might be both. Not coincidentally, last week we just commemorated the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. The amazing thing is that (except for the ebola outbreak) all of the above crises can be traced back to the events of a hundred years ago.
The wreckage of World War I still marks these conflicts. The fall of the Russian empire set off vicious wars amongst the various nationalities – including the Azeri-Armenian war and the failed Ukrainian War of Independence. The Soviet takeover froze those conflicts, but the fall of the USSR booted them right back up and they continue to play out. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a direct consequence of the British seizing Ottoman Palestine and opening it up to Jewish settlement. Iraq and Syria are creations of the war as well, and the weakness of these multi-ethnic, loosely-bound states are the legacy of heir creations as ad-hoc colonial divisions. In some sense, the blurring of the border under ISIS control may be more stable than the rigid state boundaries that existed before.
World War I deeply broke the prevailing international system, and a century later the consequences are still playing themselves out at the cost of many, many lives. Something that you should keep in mind when anyone confidently predicts the outcomes of military action.