Almost 100 years ago, one of the most destructive and horrifying events of human history was started by a small regional conflict in the Balkans. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian thrown was assassinated by a Serbian terrorist and the major powers of Europe, and at that time the world as well, allied themselves against one another in support of either Serbia or Austria-Hungary. The resulting posturing by Russia and Germany resulted in World War I.
The war has commonly been explained as a result of the complex system of alliances in which Europe was entangled. But, it was deeper than that. Germany saw itself as the protector of all central Europe against the encroaching ideologies of both Western Europe and Russia. It was the strongest power of all the Germanic peoples and its power required it to come to the defense of nations with large German populations such as Austria-Hungary. The war also took another interesting dimension. It pitted democratic states (or, at least, constitutional monarchies) such as France, Russia, Britain, and the United States, against monarchical empires like Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire. In fact, the United States joined the war after the Russian revolution transformed that country into a democratic state, making it easier for President Wilson to justify the war as an ideological struggle of freedom against oppression. The war escalated from a regional to continental, then global, conflict when Germany declared war on Russia to protect Austria-Hungary. Why did Germany do this? Russia did not actually attack Austria-Hungary, but its very aggressive posturing spooked Germany into declaring war.
Does this sound familiar? Could Serbia once again be the spark that ignites the powder keg? The looming conflict in the Balkans should be a regional one, but which outside nations will join in defense of whom? We know that the West supports Kosovo, and Russia and China along with much of the East supports Serbia. Once again, it is a conflict of democratic states against more oppressive regimes. Russia is once again throwing its weight around. In 1914, it was an empire in decline, but today it is gaining power back. It is hard to say what the United States should be doing in regards to Kosovo at this time, as there are very valid arguments on both sides of the table. But, regardless of the path that NATO takes, it should keep the lessons of history in mind and be careful not to let it repeat itself.