As Julian Snelder wrote yesterday, World War I analogies are all the rage among Asian security scholars this year (we posted a two-part examination of the similarities and differences by Robert Kelly in March). Now Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has joined the fray, with what Fairfax's David Wroe described fairly as a dark speech to the Crawford Australian Leadership Forum yesterday (transcript here):

Every nation in the global supply chains has much more to lose from conflict than they could ever hope to gain. And yet, there is increasing instability and conflict in our time. We cannot take for granted that globalisation is, of itself, a bulwark against aggression and conflict.

This is not a new concept. British author, parliamentarian and 1933 Nobel Laureate, Sir Norman Angell observed just over 100 years ago, that economic interdependency at that time had become so significant, that war had become economically pointless. He argued that rational self-interest would triumph in the considerations of national leaders. Tragically history proved that global trade did not prevent irrational or mad decisions, and did not stop war.  We must learn from that lesson.

Today we are witnessing the re-emergence of Asia as an economic power. China has been the largest economy in 18 of the last 20 centuries and is set to be again in the 21st Century.  This has brought with it renewed, and increasingly significant border tensions as China asserts what it sees as its role as a global power – as we have witnessed recently between China and Japan, with Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries in the East and South China Seas.

Australia takes no position on the merits of the competing claims, but we do have a vested interest, a deep vested interest, in the maintenance of peace and stability in the seas and oceans to our north and west. That is why we urge all nations to refrain from unilateral or coercive behaviour and for all disputes to be settled peacefully through negotiation and according to international law. 

And it is in this context that perhaps the most critical lesson from WWI is relevant – that isolated, single, random events can unleash forces that quickly spiral out of control. That is why we urge all nations involved in territorial disputes to show restraint, to avoid miscalculation or misjudgement that could trigger another round of escalating tensions.

One other notable thing about this speech: Bishop confines the recent Arab uprisings to history by noting pointedly that these were 'formerly known as the Arab Spring'.