Friday, April 21, 2017

Another Party Heard From

From Yahoo UK News today:

"Russia sends troops to North Korea border as tensions escalate...A report from primemedia.RU claims: ‘Railway trains loaded with military equipment moving towards Primorsky region via Khabarovsk have been noticed by locals.

A military official added: ‘The movement of military equipment by different means of transport to southern areas is being observed across Primorsky region over the past week.’

The movement comes only a day after Russia and the US clashed at the UN over a UN security council statement, drafted by the US, which condemned North Korea’s latest failed test."

Not totally confirmed yet, but that's all we need- another superpower being sucked into the morass Trump has created by his grotesque mishandling of North Korea's government.  North Korean leaders have been acting in the same belligerent manner for decades, and every previous President, even the village idiot George W. Bush, has managed to respond in an adult manner.  No more, I guess.

We do not have quite the same entangling web of treaty obligations that we saw in the runup to World War I, but I do not think I am being unfair to see a similar phenomenon, where a number of world powers are being dragged into what should be a regional matter of little concern outside the area.  We can see, I think, North and South Korea as Bulgaria and Romania in 1914, countries of small consequence, but whose long standing alliances with the world's great powers are risking a cataclysmic collapse into violence.

I would like to say a little more about this comparison.  I have spent a lot of the last decade reading about the runup to World War I, going back to the unification of Germany in 1871.  I now believe that the war was not, in the end, about the Balkans at all, but about the death throes of European colonialism.  Until 1871, there were three "great powers" in Europe; England, France and Russia.  England and France had far flung colonial empires, and Russia had everything east of the Urals, as a sort of internal colony.  The unification of Germany began a game of musical chairs, in which four countries now competed for the colonies of three.  This caused tensions to rise dramatically, with numerous colonial struggles, such as the Agadir crisis, the struggle for European colonies and trade centers in the Pacific, or the fighting between England and France over the Sudan, bringing the world closer and closer to the cliff edge.  The Balkan crisis was really about colonialism too, with the "great powers" struggling over territories that were slipping away from the decaying Ottoman Empire.  There were two Balkan wars in the period before World War I.  We in the West tend to hear about nothing but Serbia and the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, but things were far more treacherous in Romania and Bulgaria.  Romania was primarily a Catholic, Western oriented country, and Bulgaria had a population of Slavs, primarily in the Orthodox church, who had natural associations with the Slavic, Orthodox country of Russia.  When the Ottomans began to lose their control over the Balkans, the two countries turned to their natural allies, and a ready made conflict of big countries was provided.

Here's a map of the Balkans from just before the Balkan wars; sorry that it's not in English, but I think it's easy enough to identify the countries involved:


What I have said in the above paragraph is a great simplification of the complex conditions that led to World War I, but I think it does show how great powers were sucked into what should have been a local affair.  We have, I think it is safe to say, a very similar alignment on the Korean peninsula today, with the Western powers being naturally aligned with the Capitalist South, while Russia and China have both historical and political connections with the North.  So, when Austria attacked Serbia, which by all rights it should have conquered in weeks, and then utterly muffed their invasion, in the greatest military blunder of the twentieth century, the resulting quagmire drew countries one by one to the aid of their smaller allies, and, as they would say at Scotland Yard, Bob's your uncle.

If Trump does decide to launch an attack against North Korea, as he is so obviously hungering to do, does anyone have the confidence that he could go for the quick kill?  An attack there that stretched out to more than a few days could easily draw the great powers into the struggle, with the most catastrophic results.  And Trump's obsession with appearance over substance would almost guarantee that whatever action the US took would collapse quickly into military catastrophe at least as great as that which overcame Bush's Iraq aggression, which incidentally was the greatest military blunder since the Austrian invasion of Serbia, with the possible exception of Hitler's fumbling the attack on Stalingrad.

So, there you have it.  If you wanted to write a novel about the start of World War III, there's a perfectly believable plot line for you.  Will it happen?  Probably not, because the worst rarely does happen, but it has happened twice in the last century or so, and that is without a patently mentally incompetent leader to lead the world into the abyss.  We'll see how it all goes.

4 comments:

Harry Davis said...

1) "Romania was primarily a Catholic, Western oriented country,"

Currently, 81% of Romanians identify with the Orthodox Church. The majority of Roman Catholics are ethnic Hungarians, most of whom live in Transylvania and the Carpathian basin - neither of which were part of the Romanian state before WWI, as shown by your map. Thus, the percentage of Romanians who were Orthodox in 1913 was higher.

2) "Bulgaria had a population of Slavs, primarily in the Orthodox church, who had natural associations with the Slavic, Orthodox country of Russia."

Bulgaria joined with the Central Powers - the enemies of Russia - in 1915. As wikipedia points out:
"In the aftermath of the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913, Bulgaria found itself isolated on the international scene, surrounded by hostile neighbors and deprived of the support of the Great Powers. Anti-Bulgarian sentiment grew particularly in France and Russia, whose political circles blamed the country for the dissolution of the Balkan League, an alliance of Balkan states directed against the Ottoman Empire. "

3)"So, when Austria attacked Serbia, which by all rights it should have conquered in weeks, and then utterly muffed their invasion, in the greatest military blunder of the twentieth century, the resulting quagmire drew countries one by one to the aid of their smaller allies,"

Please read this interview with Sean McMeekin, author of July 1914, and this article on the July Crisis.

Austria-Hungary declared war on July 28, but its military didn't cross the border until August 12. However,
"On 25 July 1914, the council of ministers was held in Krasnoye Selo at which Tsar Nicholas II decided to intervene in the Austro-Serbian conflict, a step toward general war. He put the Russian army on alert on 25 July. Although this was not mobilization, it threatened the German and Austrian borders and looked like a military declaration of war."
This was before the Dual Monarchy declared war. Furthermore, "On 28 July, Russia ordered partial mobilization in response to Austria's declaration of war on Serbia." The Austro-Hungarian empire had to transfer troops away from Serbia and towards the Russian border. How it could have conquered Serbia before the Russian army went on alert, only Green Eagle knows.

4) "I have spent a lot of the last decade reading about the runup to World War I,"

Could I see the reading list?
Տիգրան Հակոբյան

Green Eagle said...

Did I get the two countries mixed up? As I mentioned below, our Shetland Sheepdog, a wonderful dog that we have had for thirteen years, got sick and died today, and I haven't been that on top of what I am writing.

Marc said...

Americans, being generally geographically blind, don't understand the physical layout of the countries in the world. Many would probably have trouble correctly labeling all 50 states. Yes, I'm an elitist, since I had to know geography as part of my job for quite a few years, and that knowledge really never really goes away.

I'm really not looking forward to this next week - the toddler in the White House has only recently gotten the praise he wants when he is ordering use of larger and larger ordinance. He has little to show for his first 100 days in office, compared to his promises, and he'll want to have something to show for it. What comes after using a MOAB?

Preemptive nuclear action would drop any pretense that this nation is anything but a third world nation with nukes - but the propaganda machine would try to use something along the lines of; "they had it coming" or "they looked at us funny - it was self-defense!” Doing anything on a large scale to Pyongyang, would affect Seoul, Tokyo, and Beijing most directly. I'm just talking the physics involved from such an action. Economically, it would be a disaster of unimaginable magnitude, due to the amount of manufacturing which supports much of the 1st world lifestyle enjoyed in the world. Talk about going out with a bang…

Harry Davis said...

Sorry about the dog.

You did get some things right about the two countries.

1) Romania became more Western-oriented during the 1800s, as nationalists pointed to the fact that Romanian (like French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese) is descended from Latin. At the beginning of the century, Romanian was written in the Cyrillic alphabet. By 1880, Romanian was written in the Latin alphabet.

2) Bulgaria's population is largely Slavic and Orthodox. However, so is Serbia's, and the two countries fought each other during the Second Balkan War in 1913. Since Bulgarian territorial ambition destroyed the Balkan League, Russian sympathies were directed towards Serbia.