28 june 1014, 100 years on: where there’s life, there’s hope

It was 100 years ago today that a radical serb nationalist shot the austro-hungarian emperor, setting off events that led inexorably to the first greatest carnage of the last century. It was a different britain then, in which london rather brutally ruled a quarter of the world, women had no vote and the age children worked in mills and mines had just been raised to 12. The 4 years of war, and the 15+ million killed, meant britain, and the world, were never the same. Although it took a second world war to usher in the new, it was ww1 that ushered out the old. In many ways - and juncker's appointment as commission president yesterday when europe's leaders assembled after a commemoration at ypres illustrates it graphically - britain has still not adapted to its lesser role and the need for new continental and global alliances to exert influence. Sarajevo (see 6 april 2012, still crazy after all these years) itself is gory testament to the fact that "the war to end all wars" did no such thing, and nationalism, insularity and law of the jungle mentality and aggression (hello vladimir vladimirovich, see 23 march 2014, the bearly new world order) are even now not confined to the 19th century past they belong to. For all its many, many flaws, one of the best bulwarks built against humanity's past resort to power politics and law is the united nations and the global framework of international law it sits at the heart of. Inconsistent, unenforceable, picked and chosen from by different countries at different times and blocked at most turns by the veto-wielding power reality dictates the "permanent 5" have in new york and geneva, it nonetheless has hundreds of uncelebrated successes over the decades and thousands of good people working for it, trying at every turn to avert a third world war. In this supposedly new world, britain and france sit rather oddly as 2 of the 5, and act in fact as (albeit one of several) a block towards the reform needed to make this vital system stronger: better jaw, jaw than war, war. There are no signs that this entrenched position may change (indeed eu events make it less likely) but at some point some sense on our part might just be the move that breaks the logjam to the refom needed to strengthen the international system enough to make it a better actor. It will sorely needed sometime in the next 100 years, and perhaps sooner than we might expect.