Tribune européenne, Futuribles Journal n° 400


Foresight Studies and the Run-up to the 1914-1918 War

As we are putting this issue to bed, Europe is undergoing one of its most serious diplomatic crises since the end of the Cold War. Ukraine is currently torn between those who favour closer relations with Europe and pro-Russian activists, Crimea having seceded and become part of Russia once again. The sound of marching armies is perhaps not far off, which seems staggering to several generations of Europeans just a century after the outbreak of the First World War. That was a war with enormous consequences for the continent. The retrospective analysis of the political and strategic choices that brought it about is not without interest from the standpoint of foresight studies.

Jean-François Drevet homes in here on three elements relating to strategy or forward planning from the outbreak and conduct of the 1914-18 war, which had outcomes that were at variance, to say the least, with what the parties concerned had anticipated. These are the Franco-Russian Alliance, which, though presented as a force for peace, led to a generalization of the conflict; the Schlieffen Plan which, by violating Belgian neutrality, led to a British intervention that was decisive in the defeat of Germany; and the French strategy of all-out attack, which proved very costly in human lives in the age of the machine gun. Such errors of foresight, committed by competent, well-informed personalities persuaded of the rightness of their positions, shouldn’t be forgotten, says Jean-François Drevet, particularly in a current context of economic and financial crisis in which the forces of international high finance –the contemporary equivalent in power terms of the early 20th century’s armies– regularly flout the warnings and calls for regulation emanating from the rest of society.

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