1914 and 2014: Years of Trauma and Change


2015-01-02 By Robbin Laird

1914 was a year, which marked the end of an era; although the inevitability of this change was evident after the events set in motion that year had their full effect.

History has an inevitability about it, which is not experienced by those living through that history.

The outcomes are explained; and the alternatives, which might have happen, are explained away.

Such is the case with the impact of the guns of August 1914.  The mobilization of the European armies and the engagement of the war from Europe to the Middle East set in motion the most destructive war in history to date.

European culture, economies, and political systems would never be the same in the wake of the events set in motion in 1914.

2014 is hardly as dramatic a year as 1914, but it may well be looked back on as the unfolding of a new historical epoch.

When histories are written from the hindsight of 2030, what would 2014 look like in the rear view mirror of history?

Several events in 2014 might well congeal into what will look like in the future is the harbinger of significant historical change.

This article will look at some of these events, without being exhaustive simply suggestive of what might be our future history.

The Seizure of Crimea

Europe ever is the trigger of global conflict.

Even in the wake of the Franco-German rapprochement after World War II, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the “end” of the Cold War, the formation and then expansion of the European Union and the formation of a single European currency, conflict has not been eliminated as a source of tension.

A key element facing European governments in their inability to provide leadership in dealing with 2014 has simply been that historical conflict in Europe should have disappeared and with it the threat to defend Europe directly against the Russians.

Russian tanks and soldiers storm a Ukrainian air force base in Belbek near the Crimean city of Sevastopol on March 22, 2014. (Viktor Drachev / AFP/Getty Images).
Russian tanks and soldiers storm a Ukrainian air force base in Belbek near the Crimean city of Sevastopol on March 22, 2014. (Viktor Drachev / AFP/Getty Images). 

Yet in 2014, Putin put in motion historical change.

The seizure of Crimea, and the intervention into Ukraine is part of a strategy to restore the Slavic empire for Putin.

It is not the Soviet Union, which he has in mind; it is the integration of those parts of Russia, which are “naturally” part of the Russian state broadly understood.

He also sees himself as the ring master of a Russia which becomes a dominant player in shaping the future of energy and other resources crucial for global development, and as such has positioned Russia for a breakout capability for Arctic development.

The sanctions put in place by Europe and the United States to deal with these developments are hardly a geopolitical response, nor part of addressing how to defend Europe against Russian “hard” power coupled with intervention agendas which use cultural and other tools to reshape the map, but they have had their economic impact.  Coupled with the downward trend in energy prices, Russia is suffering significant economic pressure.

From the standpoint of 2030, which trend will appear “inevitable”: the economic collapse of Russia and the revolt of the Russians against Putin, or Putin consolidating the Russian Slavic state while Europe fails to shape an effective response?

One clear outcome from 2014 has been to undercut any real belief in Article V in NATO, that is to say that a threat against one state will see a comprehensive NATO response.  Putin, the Chinese and the Jihadists can look clearly at 2014 and see that it was not quite every man for himself, but close.

The national interpretations of events have clearly overshadow any real collective response to Putin’s strategy in Europe. 

Each Western state has come up with its own version of why the Russian direct defense challenge is not a clear and present danger.

For the US Administration, leading from behind is enough, and working with the Russians, reset or not, is a central strategic objective.

The Russians seizing Crimea and putting the Budapest agreement of 1994 to guarantee Ukrainian territorial integrity in exchange for giving away their access to nuclear weapons into the dustbin of history has not been missed by global observers, although Inside the Beltway it has barely been noticed.

ISIS and the Middle East

A second key development has been in the Middle East where the Islamic Jihadists are the quest for seizure of territory from which to operate.  The war with Western civilization continues, beheadings, killings, martyrdom are all contributors to the advance of radical Islam.

An Isis Tank in Syria or Iraq

The ISIS engagement in Iraq continues into 2015, and if the West fails to vanquish its leadership and recapture territory and place under Iraqi civil control, a turning point in Middle East history could well be reached.

Unfortunately, the public debate in the United States has been about the Bush Administration Iraqi policy, not the real issue facing Americans which is the future of the Middle East.  It does not matter how much “smarter” the current Administration thinks it is compared to its predecessor, it is about protecting Western interests in the region and Western civilization against the onslaught of radical Islam.

Looking back from 2030, will the ISIS attack seen to have been the beginning of the end of the late 20th Century Middle East order, with the rise of a nuclear Iran, the growth in the ability of Iran to power project through social movements, the collapse of Iraq and Syria with the augmentation of Russian and Chinese influence in the region, with the erosion of power in the Conservative Arab states and their “inevitable” overthrow? 

Or will we see effective Western policy working with the conservative Arab states and Israel in turning back radical Islam and working through ways to enhance regional stability and to short circuit a nuclear arms race in the Middle East?

North Korea Comes to the Movies

A third key development has been the cyberwar of North Korea against a completely private sector in the West, namely the film industry.

If a dictator does not like a Western movie he cannot go to a Western court simply to block it; a better way to do this is simply to cyber attack your adversary and get the various stakeholders involved in the issue to fight with one another and to remove the problem or be aware of your power in shaping INTERNAL developments in that adversaries territory.

Sony Pictures plans to release The Interview on Christmas Day
Sony Pictures planed to release The Interview on Christmas Day 

And as Ed Timperlake has suggested, the US government can shape its investigation around the Economic Espionage Act, rather simply focusing on freedom of speech.

However against this hack attack, all involved have every right to actually demand real action from our Commander-in-Chief. It is not a First Amendment issue, it is actually Economic Espionage against American interests, and in violation of the 1996 Economic Espionage Act:

(a) In General.— Whoever, intending or knowing that the offense will benefit any foreign government, foreign instrumentality, or foreign agent, knowingly—

(1) steals, or without authorization appropriates, takes, carries away, or conceals, or by fraud, artifice, or deception obtains a trade secret;

(2) without authorization copies, duplicates, sketches, draws, photographs, downloads, uploads, alters, destroys, photocopies, replicates, transmits, delivers, sends, mails, communicates, or conveys a trade secret;

(3) receives, buys, or possesses a trade secret, knowing the same to have been stolen or appropriated, obtained, or converted without authorization;

(4) attempts to commit any offense described in any of paragraphs (1) through (3); or

(5) conspires with one or more other persons to commit any offense described in any of paragraphs (1) through (3), and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, shall, except as provided in subsection (b), be fined not more than $5,000,000 or imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both.

(b) Organizations.— Any organization that commits any offense described in subsection (a) shall be fined not more than the greater of $10,000,000 or 3 times the value of the stolen trade secret to the organization, including expenses for research and design and other costs of reproducing the trade secret that the organization has thereby avoided.

Rather than flail against the First Amendment get President Obama, the AG and US Government Counterintelligence agents actively engaged in determining if the Dear Leader is in a criminal conspiracy in violation of the Economic Espionage Act.

North Korea brings together two of the crucial trends which from 2030 might well seem inevitable.  The reach of cyberwar, the inability of the West to work effectively in its own defense, in part because of its legal system and cultural values, and the return of nuclear weapons as key players in shaping the global system.

The inability to deal with internal subversion via North Korea cyber intrusions, can only be read by an isolated leader like that of North Korea as demonstrating lack of will by the United States in dealing with the threats which he can deliver.

Does the US government’s response to the North Korean cyber intrusion provide insight to the North Korean leader into what HE believes the US would or would not do if he uses a nuclear weapon against US forces involved in the defense of South Korea?


These are only three of the many trends, which could be discussed.

Among the others are the continuing Euro crisis and the virtually certainty of one or more states exiting the Euro; the Chinese government’s willingness to assert its power and to challenge its Asian neighbors while in the midst of its own economic difficulties; the challenge of dealing with a new global disease and shaping a global response which might be effective; the downward pressures on the US economy and defense and security budgets; the challenge of winding down the Afghanistan engagement and the coming impacts of post-withdrawal developments on the global conflict with radical Islam; etc.

In short, when writing the history of 2030 looking back on the first third of the 21st century, there will be at least a chapter on 2014, perhaps a section. 

The trends will be clear and the leadership and analytical failures to deal with these trends highlighted and identified.

Shaping how best to deal with these trends and to shape as positive an outcome as possible ought to be of significance in the debates of 2015 and the run up to the Presidential election in 2016.