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The Hawkish Need To Take Sides (II)

Andrew Stravers makes an unconvincing comparison between the Ukraine crisis and the July crisis of 1914:

The lessons of WWI are clear here. When powerful players in the international scene play a game of vague commitments and uncertain neutrality, the slow march toward a wider war continues.

The comparison inevitably suffers from the major differences between the two periods and enormous changes to the political landscape of Europe in the last ten decades, but it is also marred by overemphasizing one aspect of the July crisis–Britain’s delay in declaring its position–to the neglect of several other more important factors. Had it not been for unwise commitments by other outside powers and a rush to take sides in what could have remained a regional conflict, uncertainty about Britain’s position wouldn’t have mattered at all. Stravers likens modern Germany’s role to that of Britain in 1914, but the two really have nothing in common. The problem for him is not that there is uncertainty about Germany’s position, but rather that it is very likely that Germany isn’t going to support the kind of confrontational policy that Stravers evidently prefers.

His recommendation that Germany should pursue a course of “cutting off energy imports from Russia” is obviously a bad one, but he is making it because he thinks that this will eliminate the “endless uncertainty” about which position Germany will take. Stravers takes a reasonable observation about the crisis a century ago (i.e., that Britain waited too long to declare which side it would take) and wrongly applies it to a very different sort of crisis in which no Western government is remotely prepared to go to war. Stravers takes for granted that there will be “a continued march into a greater conflagration,” but there can’t be anything like that as long as Western governments correctly refuse to be drawn deeper into the conflict. The current crisis in Ukraine and the July crisis have almost nothing in common, but there is same foolish hawkish impulse on the part of some people not directly involved in the conflict to find excuses to take sides.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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