Paris, May 22, 2012 – Great power rivalries created the conditions in which the First World War became possible, but the war itself was set off by an isolated and intrinsically unimportant act of terrorism by a Serbian nationalist. All that followed was driven by nationalism in the warring countries, except in Russia and the United States from 1917 on -- both of which became victims of the illusions of internationalism.
The Second World War had nationalist sources deriving from the horrors of 1914-1918 in Europe, and the economic crisis that followed, as well as economic and commercial sources in the Far East, but it was deliberately launched by Nazi Germany for reasons of racial ideology and national ambition.
When that war was over in 1945, the geopolitical outcome was the bi-polar great power political and ideological rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States, ended in 1991 by collapse of the Soviet system. The victory, as often has happened in the past, proved an illusory one -- inspiring notions of global political and military domination, otherwise known as hubris.
The war that was supposed to follow the Cold War, according to the late Samuel Huntington, was to be a war between civilizations, with Islam and China improbably allied against what Huntington called Western Civilization, by which he meant the United States. His was a simple projection of a past that he had personally lived through. He thought wars between nations, followed by wars between ideologies, would logically end in a third and even greater struggle between religions and cultures.
Today a retrospective view of this forecast would likely say there was something in it. The bombs that ended the Boston Marathon in April were planted by young Muslims who had come to the United States as immigrants, rejected America as a civilization, and attacked it, leaving behind a message of religious war.