The three underlying causes of the violence were ethnic disintegration, economic volatility and declining empires.
The question now is whether the 21st century is likely to be as bloody. There is less economic volatility. Innovations such as inflation targeting have helped governments limit rises in consumer prices and organisations such as the IMF and WTO have helped avert trade disputes.
However, the Middle East has the capability to launch a new era of violence: it has economic volatility, imperial conflict and ethnic disintegration. Iraq is currently one of the hotbeds of all three: its economic growth slumped in 2003, the year the US invaded, and then rose in 2004, and has more recently slowed down. Inflation is stuck between 20% and 30%.
Ethnic conflict is unfolding more as a clash within civilisations (Shia versus Sunni) than a clash between civilisations. The escalating civil war in Iraq may spill over into neighbouring countries, involving Iran. This nightmare scenario is already more likely than one of enduring peace in the region.
The next world war
Foreign Affairs, September/October 2006
Review by Morice Mendoza