Taking Stock after Geneva: Reducing International Tension
It is interesting to notice how the language of politics changes. When people nowadays talk about “international tension” and the need for “reducing” it, they use these words in a sense different from that current before the First World War. At that time, the word “tension” usually referred to a state of acute and dangerous irritation over some specific issue. When a state of tension was noted, it meant, more often than not, that the question of war or peace was raised in acute form. For example, one power made moves to establish itself in an area where another had vested interests. As the former was pushing its plans, the latter threatened to hinder them by force if necessary. The question was then whether the controversy could be settled by compromise before either power did something that made war inevitable.
Tension of this sort, when it became acute, called for immediate action and regularly touched off intense diplomatic activity. There were feverish consultations behind closed doors, and at the same time threatening gestures, naval demonstrations, and clamor in the streets. It was a race against time, for war could not be avoided once the prestige of any power was irrevocably committed. Such acute tension could not last long. Either it was speedily resolved, or it erupted into war.
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