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A Republican senator, echoing the bellicose mood in Washington, declares that “Estonia is more than a couple of rocks in the East China Sea” and demands to know whether “the United States has torn up the treaty alliances in Europe and Asia that have been the foundation of global security since 1945.” The president gives China an ultimatum to leave the Japanese islands or face a military response.

He also tells Russia that another act of secessionist violence in Estonia will trigger force against Russian troops massed on the Estonian border. Chinese and Russian leaders accuse the United States of “prolonging Cold War hostilities and alliances in pursuit of global domination.” World War III begins. Peace, if not outright pacifism, is now bred in the bones of Europeans, who contemplate war with revulsion. America, after two wars without victory, is in a period of retrenchment that may last a generation.

Indeed, it has just happened in Crimea, where a major power has forcefully changed a European border for the first time since 1945.

Russia’s act of annexation and its evident designs on eastern Ukraine constitute a reminder that s core precept, as the Poles and other former vassals of the Soviet empire like to remind blithe western Europeans, is Article 5, by which the Allies agreed that “an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all,” triggering a joint military response.

Wars no longer happen between big land armies; they are the stuff of pinpoint strikes by unpiloted drones against jihadist extremists.

Putin’s Russia is opportunistic—it will change the balance of power in Ukraine or Georgia if it considers the price acceptable—but it is not reckless in countries under protection.

Whether this is true is irrelevant; they believe it.

National humiliation, real or not, is a tremendous catalyst for war.

They were also much in evidence a century ago, on the eve of World War I.

Then, as now, Europe had lived through a long period of relative peace, after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.


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