In the summer of 1914 when the crisis began following the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Imperial Throne on 28th June in Sarajevo the handling of this and therefore the future of Europe lay with a handful of major powers.
They failed to resolve it and the diplomatic crisis quickly began to escalate into military threats and then the mobilisation of armies. The consequence of a number of secret treaty obligations and the timetables demanded for the movement of troops meant that once begun, stopping it needed urgent effective action and leadership.
It was not forthcoming. Emperor Nicholas II of
Russia had been supreme Head of State since 1894
and although he had conceded some political authority was
still a mix of firmly authoritarian ways, older advisers and a leadership of
the representative body that was confused and uncertain. Russia
Wilhelm II had been on the throne since 1888 and was determined to exercise
personal authority particularly in military and diplomatic matters. He was supported by a proud and fierce
military caste of advisers. That is when
they were not dancing around in ballet tutu’s to please their Kaiser. Germany
Servia or Serbia as we know it; was the epicentre of the crisis and governed by King Peter I since 1903, a turbulent and difficult period in which he struggled to maintain any sort of effective control.
The Empire of Austria-Hungary was governed by the Emperor Franz Joseph who had reigned since 1848 and lived through decades of strife, personal tragedies and constant political threats and confusion. He was an old and tired man with old advisers and an overflowing in tray with little going out.
, due to
the party divisions and an electoral system that led to government by constantly
shifting coalitions, chaos was normal, order improbable and decisions were
forced by events. But in military
matters it still had an officer elite that operated on its own terms. France
Then there was
trying to muddle through as ever with Herbert Asquith and a cabinet that had
been in place since 1908, a period of serious political conflict and
uncertainly with constant trouble at home and the Empire. Britain
What was common to all them is that they were all very tired men. They all had too much on their plate and had been faced with not just awkward but impossible situations. In each of the countries the strains of growing population allied to rapid industrialisation meant that the political systems and its leaders could not cope.
Looking around the world today, there are some strong similarities. Cameron is looked whacked out and the chaos unfolding around him and the coalition mean that a lot of issues and problems that need to be addressed are not. All we are getting is short term easy to spin handling of matters that is getting us nowhere.
President Obama has just gone through a bruising campaign. Evidently, he too is tired and he is faced with myriad intractable problems that neither he nor his advisers seem to be able to manage. Also, he has a military and financial elite that intends to go its own way, President or no President.
Chancellor Merkel is facing elections soon and also has Balkan problems in the mix. She is faced with a
in the middle of a major monetary and economic crisis whose leadership and her
advisers seem to be taking nowhere. She
is looking tired and seems increasingly to be on autopilot in a plane running
out of fuel.
In Russia Putin has been around for a long time, possibly too long, in that he is playing the same tune when the orchestra around him has moved on to the next item. Because of
it is not clear what could
happen but something will and Putin may not be able to control it. Russia
Hollande at the moment seems both secure and relatively fresh. He is trying to exercise some leadership but
it may be in the wrong direction. There
are still too many real problems in France for comfort. It is delicately balanced there but with too
many potential serious issues. France
In the situation of 1914 the end result was a major world war that destroyed some powers and severely damaged the others. In 2013 there may not be a war, we cannot afford one and these days would not really know what to do.
Our political leaderships are weak and strongly influenced by local elites. What there could be is either a major crash or more likely the beginning of a series of system failures that will bring an end to past prosperity, economic strength and any sort of financial security.
And all we have is a bunch of tired people, desperately short of time who are struggling to keep up with the travel schedules.