Our Sarajevo Moment

Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914)

This year we spent a few days in Belgium and France visiting various World War I sites, including The Somme and Passchendaele. That war, in which millions of soldiers and civilians were slaughtered, was triggered by a relatively minor incident: the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand and his wife in the town of Sarajevo in the modern day Bosnia/Herzegovina. For years the great powers of Europe had been building their military capability, both on land and at sea. But it took this apparently random event to trigger the “War to End All Wars”.

As we look at our world now, we seem to be in a similar situation. However, the danger is not of war per se, but of a tipping point that will trigger a cascade of crises to do with the fact that that we are depleting the world’s finite resources, particularly crude oil. As I write these words a major oil field/refinery in Saudi Arabia is burning as a consequence of an apparently minor event: an attack by just ten drones. Could this be the first domino to fall? No one knows, of course. Probably we will muddle through, just as we have muddled through previous potential crises. But, sooner or later, I suspect that an event such as this week’s attack could indeed be a tipping point, a “Pearl Harbor moment”.

Saudi Arabia oil facilities fire drone attack