ABU DHABI — My reading choice aboard a fourteen-hour flight from DC to the United Arab Emirates, in a nod to this week's centennial of World War I armistice, was Norman Angell's 1909 book, "the Great Illusion."
Its thesis, proven catastrophically wrong a few years later with the deadliest war in human history, was that great power conflict had grown obsolete. The rising forces of globalization, economic integration and technological advance, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate argued, made such conflict unthinkable among nations with so much to lose and little to gain.
Turning the pages while flying over our increasingly disorderly planet, I find the similarities to our times inescapable, both in the overwhelming arguments against conflict and growing chance it might occur. On the Great War's anniversary, it's a good time to ask: How can we prevent a World War III among countries with even more devastating, technologically advanced might and economic interdependence?
Angell's "Great Illusion" turned out to be tragic delusion. By failing to anticipate the prospect of war between a rising Germany and a declining United Kingdom, the U.S. and others took too few steps to prevent it. Similarly, events are unfolding today on four continents where delusional thinking could cloud the necessity for strategic response and preventive action.
Those delusions, detailed below, are 1) U.S.-Chinese military conflict is inconceivable; 2) Europe is fine and U.S. transatlantic engagement of reduced significance; 3) Middle Eastern problems can be contained, and 4) that U.S. global leadership is assured.
And don't forget it was only after a second World War that the U.S. and its allies responded by creating a set of alliances, institutions, practices and relationships that have since brought the world one of its longest periods of peace and progress.
The United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF, NATO, the European Coal and Steel Community, our Asian alliances and more were this period's legacy. Though they were designed to adapt, they have been slow to do so to accommodate rising powers and address emerging risks, thus increasing the chance of conflict.
"Our predecessors recognized that global cooperation must evolve to survive," writes IMF managing director Christine Lagarde.
So, what does survival look like across "the four delusions?"