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Lessons From Versailles

The summer of 2014 was a season of analogies and anniversaries. European leaders commemorated the start of World War One. Russian President Putin???s annexation of Crimea and destabilization and invasion of eastern Ukraine recalls the threatening and testing days before September 1939.But as the Middle East and North Africa implode, perhaps focus should be directed on the end of the first World War??? and specifically the settlement fashioned by US President Woodrow Wilson, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and French Prime Minister George Clemenceau at Versailles in 1919.Advertisement opens in new windowMuch of the chaos in the region today has its roots in Versailles and its associated treaties, so policymakers are contemplating the relevance of Henry Kissinger???s observation in 1994 that ???whether an international order is relatively stable, like the one that emerged from the congress of Vienna, or highly volatile, like those that emerged from the peace of Westphalia and the Treaty of Versailles, depends on the degree to which they reconcile what makes the constituent societies feel secure with what they consider just.???There are multiple echoes of Versailles in current headlines.As David Gardner pointed out in the Financial Times, the frontiers that now appear to be shattering were sketched by the initially secret Sykes-Picot Agreement on spheres of influence in 1916, a ???deal meant to limit Anglo-French rivalry in a Levant that might undermine the alliance against Germany.??? Those lines were not intended to create cohesive future nation states in the Middle East, but rather preserve spheres of influence tailored to Europe???s empires, by dividing the region among them, and historian Margaret McMillan reminds us that ???Sykes-Picot was made in the midst of the war, when promises were cheap, and the prospect of defeat very real.??? After the war, T.E. Lawrence, the Lawrence of Arabia, arrived at Versailles determined to overturn Sykes-Picot, but fail



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