Both the World Wars were fought for multiple reasons. The causes of World War I remain controversial and debated. The war began in the Balkansin late July 1914, triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, on June 28, 1914, and ended in November 1918, leaving 17 million dead and 20 million wounded.
A long-term analysis of its origins seeks to explain why two rival sets of powers-Germany and Austria-Hungary on the one hand, and Russia, France, Serbia and Great Britain on the other-had come into conflict by 1914, and also by the vacuum created by the decline of the Ottoman Empire.
The crisis escalated as the conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia came to involve Russia, Germany, France, and ultimately Belgium and Great Britain. Other factors that came into play during the diplomatic crisis that preceded the war included misperception of intent (e.g., the German belief that Britain would remain neutral), fatalism that war was inevitable, and the speed of the crisis, which was exacerbated by delays and misunderstandings in diplomatic communications.
The Second World War was fought between the Axis (Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, Imperial Japan and their smaller allies) and the Allied nations, led by Britain (and its Commonwealth nations), the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America. Some also say that the Second World War was simply a continuation of the first one that had theoretically ended in 1918. Others point to 1931, when Japan seized Manchuria from China. Italy’s invasion and defeat of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935, Adolf Hitler’s re-militarisation of Germany’s Rhineland in 1936, the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and Germany’s occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938. The two dates most often mentioned as “the beginning of World War II” are July 7, 1937, when the “Marco Polo Bridge Incident” led to a prolonged war between Japan and China, and September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, which led Britain and France to declare war on Hitler’s Nazi state in retaliation. From the invasion of Poland until the war ended with Japan’s surrender in August 1945, multiple nations were at war with each other. The war was also fought against the Nazi racism wanting to capture the world, and annihilate the race of jews. This was the most destructive war in all of history, with casualties totalling 50 million service personnel and civilians.
The war led to positive consequences too. It brought about major leaps in technology including those of nuclear bombs, and also laid the groundwork that permitted post-war social changes including the end of European colonialism, the civil rights movement in the United States, and the modern women’s rights. It led to two superpowers, the US and USSR, emerging from World War II to begin a Cold War with each other that would define much of the rest of the century and beyond.
The years after World War II brought many occasions for the start of World War III, but it could not be fought with nuclear arms in full play. But there were issues to be settled, and limited wars were fought in Kuwait, Afganistan, Indo-Pak-Bangladesh, Cuba, Ukraine etc.
But now with democratic forces and globalisation becoming powerful all over the world, the issues which would normally have ended in wars are increasingly being settled through the ballot box, multilateral institutions and economic policies in one country or more. Lately, one of the powerful area of confrontation was countries becoming more insular and xenophobia setting in. Perhaps as a reaction to increasing globalisation aided by visa-free wire or wireless connectivity, and forces of terrorism including those of ISIS engulfing the world, which has lead to huge emigration. No one questions the nature of xenophobia say in Japan, a very stable democracy for ages, and in many other countries, but people are not prepared to accept such tendencies in India (emigration from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan), Britain, Europe or the US, against the claims of local populations that the nation belonged to them, and not to the entire humanity, as claimed by those supporting unlimited immigration on humanitarian grounds. Ultimately, the war was fought on many fronts in mid-2010’s. But it had to be fought with different rules of the game.
The issues were whether Britain belonged to the white Britishers who had built the country through the hard work involved in colonisation or industrialisation or whether the resources belonged to everyone, all present and future immigrants and refugees, who could legally immigrate by becoming citizen of any European state, and claim rights over the entire resources. Could a Syrian or a Polish claim equal rights over these resources, despite no world order emerging yet? Yes, the European Union, and also forces of globalisation had emerged for economic reasons, but could they ride roughshod over British nationality. The big conflict was answered without war through the Brexit vote.
Did the Middle-East belong to the nations in that region, or whether the oil-consuming nations had a right to intervene? What was the role of United Nations vis-à-vis policies pursued by these countries? In a pre WW-II environment, these would have led to many world wars, but now the arena was forced to be limited.
Could the resources of India, left after creating a two-nation state belong to the minorities first, despite the provisions in the constitution that there would be no discrimination on the basis of religion? Again, the issue got settled through the ballot box in 2014.
The ideas of a world state, born prematurely in Germany, perhaps due to the guilt of it earlier being a Nazi state, could also not sustain, where Merkel kept defending the immigrating refugees, and is now on the wrong side of the democracy in that country, and would perhaps lose the polls. France had also welcomed immigrants in the name of human rights. And now, popularity of Marine Le Pen for France Presidential election, 2017 is also giving strong signal of above hypothesis.
Canada, Australia and Japan like many developed nations are short of working hands. Japan has problems of no growth and negative interest rates, yet it has never allowed immigration under the logic that Japan belongs to the Japanese, consequently facing no danger of terrorism, shoot-outs and ethnic tensions. Canada and Australia welcome immigration. May be problems will emerge there too.
But ultimately, the war against the rights of immigration, unlimited globalisation etc. has been settled in the oldest democracy, the US, through election of Trump. It has also settled the debate of the creation of nations on racial issues and their sustenance as nation states without World War III. Like after the end of WW-II, this would also lead to far reaching changes in trade, geopolitics, technological and social issues in the world, which need to be watched.
The author is former chairman, Telecom Regulatory
Authority of India.
Views are personal