It’s debatable when the world last found itself in such a perilous situation – and there are disturbing echoes of the eve of the first world war

As UN secretary general, it is António Guterres’s increasingly frequent duty to warn the major powers they are rushing towards catastrophe. On Friday, on the eve of the US-led airstrikes, it was the former Portuguese prime minister’s turn once again to raise the alarm at the latest of a series of deadlocked security council sessions on Syria.

“The cold war is back with a vengeance and a difference,” Guterres said. The difference is that it is no longer cold. American troops are already a grenade’s toss away from Russians and Iranians in Syria, and this weekend, missiles and planes from the US, UK and France flew at the Syrian regime.

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