100 years ago the first shots were being fired in the First World War. At the end of it the Ottoman Empire was split up into the states that are involved in the awful carnage that we are seeing every night on our TV screens.


The situation is serious and is already affecting us here. My colleague Michael Taylor has addressed the street tension in Manchester over the Gaza issue in his Downtown blog. 500 people from Britain have gone to the Syrian civil war. Some may return to try and practise jihad on our streets. On the business front the fragile recovery could be reversed by more general war in the Middle East and interruption of fuel supplies.


There have been many Middle East crises before. This one has two new characteristics. Firstly social media is centre stage in the propaganda and recruitment war. Everything is accelerated. Rumours and lies rub shoulders with the truth and people choose what to believe and what determines their action. Secondly the United States is largely absent. After the unwise involvement of George Bush we now have the isolationism of President Obama. The decision to pivot American foreign policy towards the Pacific might have had a certain logic to it when Obama took office. However as the only world super power you take your eyes off the Middle East and Russia at your peril.


There is undoubtedly a paradox in United States involvement in the Middle East. On the one hand it is the hated symbol of Western imperialism and ultimate defender of Israel. On the other hand it retains massive military power and the potential to bring people together (The Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel in 1978).


The situation is so bloody and complex that the likelihood is that the Middle East will remain a running sore for decades to come. There may be ceasefires and short term agreements but the heady mix of vast economic disparity among the people, religious fanaticism and unresolved issues of national identity may be too difficult to resolve.


In 1919 the world was a different place. One set of Empires: Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia and Ottoman Turkey were replaced by another set: Britain and France with the United States beginning to play a role.


Lloyd George, Clemenceau and President Wilson met in Paris without the chatter of social media and 24 hour news channels and carved up the Middle East and Africa. Although the superiority of the white man was beginning to be challenged, the western powers still called the shots and huge mistakes were made.


It was perhaps regrettable that T.E Lawrence’s idea for a Greater Arabia was not adopted. The secret of the Ottoman Empire was to govern lightly by collecting the taxes but letting local Sunni and Shia leaders run their areas.


The Kurds should have been given their own state and it goes without saying more thought should have been given to the implications for the Palestinians of the Balfour Declaration that set in train the creation of Israel.


The Palestinian issue is almost intractable but ultimately could a bargain be struck whereby Israel and its settlers withdraw to the pre-1967 borders in return for a demilitarised Palestinian state being set up in the West Bank and Gaza? Jerusalem should become an international city under the control of the United Nations with freedom of worship for all faiths.


It is easy to write such a proposal and it will offend many but the alternative seems to be continuing misery for the Palestinians and insecurity for the Israelis.


History is my passion so my thoughts are constantly going back to what people were thinking and doing as the summer of 1914 started.

They certainly weren’t thinking that an a world war would be under way before the leaves fell. The conflict they were worried about was in Ulster where the loyalists were threatening rebellion over Irish independence. At home the suffragettes battle for the vote commanded the headlines.

Very few saw the danger presented by an interlocking series of treaties between the Great Powers. There hadn’t been a general war for a hundred years since Napoleon’s time.

Now let’s come forward to this summer. Once again there is tension in a part of Europe most people know little about. We are focused on the economic recovery, the rise of UKIP or just running our lives. We have had peace for 70 years, partly because of NATO, an interlocking treaty that guarantees mutual support for the Baltic States and Poland should they be attacked.

Where is our Gavrilo Princip, the obscure Serb who’s assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne triggered the huge conflict? He may be found amongst the pro Russian militias currently destabilising East Ukraine. One of them bragged on TV the other day about not only taking East Ukraine but eventually taking Brussels.

A foolish and ludicrous piece of bravura of course but it made me wonder if we are fully aware of the potential danger we are in a hundred summers on from 1914.

Russia wouldn’t be reckless enough to invade East Ukraine would it? Well don’t be so sure. The Ukrainian army is showing signs of getting off its knees. If it inflicts serious casualties on the pro Russian militias, will Russia stand back?

Well Vladimir Putin has already annexed the Ukraine and lost his place at the table of the G8 world leaders.

Most significantly of all he is leading a country that is relying on military shows of strength to mask economic weakness at home. It is the classic formula for recklessness.

So suppose he seized East Ukraine. NATO would not react because Ukraine is not a member. What might well happen is a destabilisation of the Baltic States. Russian minorities in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia could well start clamouring to be reunited with Mother Russia. What happens if those revolts are put down by force. Would Putin be deterred from intervening by the fact that they are members of NATO? Probably, but only if America, Britain and France made it clear we would be prepared to start World War 3. Would our politicians have the mandate from the people to make such a threat? Can you see St Peter’s Square in Manchester or St George’s Plateau in Liverpool full of people singing “We don’t want to fight them, but by jingo if we do?”

No, me neither. After all this is 2014 the age of the computer, social media and comfortable living. The army does our fighting. The days of mass mobilisation are over. But if Putin truly believes this, then we would be in great peril. The dangers of miscalculation that were present in that summer a hundred years ago are present this summer.