|Illustration: Liu Rui/GT|
One century has passed since the outbreak of WWI. Commemoration events recall the trauma of the catastrophic conflict and the enormous loss of human life. Approximately 16 million people were killed and 20 million were wounded from 1914 until 1918.
Calm international voices naturally concentrate nowadays on the importance of diplomacy and the necessity for peaceful settlements of bilateral and multilateral disputes. Different interests between states, however, still fuel antagonism in the international arena.
War is sometimes considered an appropriate means for exerting foreign policy, as the US reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks outlines.
In this context, pessimism for future developments marks the public rhetoric of various leaders and politicians.
Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe, for example, has not hesitated in drawing a comparison between current tensions in East Asia and those between Britain and Germany on the eve of the Great War.
Nouriel Roubini, a US professor of economics, agrees with Abe's argument. Tweeting from the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos, he did not rule out the scenario of a war between China and Japan.
This can certainly attract media attention, but does not mirror the reality.
To start with, lessons from history suggest that attempts to anticipate future developments have been highly unsuccessful. The most recent example comes from the failure of the majority of Western politicians and scholars to predict the debt crisis and act to prevent it, or at least to be better prepared to overcome it.
Before the beginning of WWI, naval antagonism between Britain and Germany was on the rise. The Agadir Crisis of 1911, for instance, when Germany sent two warships to this small port of southwestern Morocco, was a critical pretext for the escalation of tensions.
Subsequently, the press in Britain and Germany were cultivating hostility and sending nationalist messages, while broader rival alliances started to build up. The Anglo-German naval race was one of the most significant causes of the Great War.
The fact that 100 years later, ties between China and Japan have become strained due to a dispute over a group of rocks in the East China Sea cannot justify a successful comparison with the period before 1914.
The disagreement over the Diaoyu Islands is certainly important, but its impact on a large-scale military conflict, including the formation of hostile alliances, remains questionable. Conditions are rather different. Is there an Austro-Hungarian Empire which can facilitate such a development in 2014?
Furthermore, the possibility of an asymmetric war, including in cyber and outer space, is a new risk which was not a concern for world leaders one century ago.
More significantly, the use of nuclear weapons might have dramatic consequences for the survival of the planet. This said, the principal objective of foreign policy in an era of nuclear weapons is the avoidance of a war. Are there any world leaders who do not accept this basic rule and are really prepared to violate it?
By focusing on East Asia, it is most obvious that those who express fear over the outbreak of a new world war seek to target China and condemn how it conducts its international affairs.
In their view, the establishment of Beijing's Air Defense Identification Zone, its military buildup and its naval modernization are considered as parameters of its allegedly assertive foreign policy.
This approach, however, fails to realize that China has its own legitimate rights, and is entitled to protect its sovereignty.
It also ignores the country's philosophy of pursuing a policy of peace, insisting on friendly exchanges among countries and promoting international cooperation. In the end, it was Tokyo, not Beijing, which initiated military aggression in the past.
All in all, the attempt to portray current tensions in East Asia as similar to the Anglo-German antagonism in the years before 1914 is misplaced.
Instead of efficiently employing historical models and adjusting them to the current reality, this effort connotes a biased suspicion, doubt and distrust of China's peaceful development.
The author is a research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy.