One minute you're looking for South Ossetia on a map; the next everyone's talking about nuclear confrontation. The escalation of the conflict in the Caucasus into a kind of post-modern Cold War has been breathtaking. But great international conflicts have a habit of starting in "far-away places of which we know nothing": Sarajevo, Poland, Pearl Harbour and now South Ossetia.
Fortunately, our diplomatic mechanisms are rather better at handling international crises than they were in 1914. But that doesn't mean we are out of the woods yet in the Caucasus. It's a sobering thought that, if George W Bush had had his way and Georgia had been a member of Nato, we would now be at war with Russia.
Nato is an alliance which, in theory at least, commits its signatories to react collectively to a military threat to any one of its members. Would we really have been prepared to lay waste to Europe in support of the unstable and unreliable Georgian leader, Mikhail Saakashvili, who launched a cowardly, brutal assault on the South Ossetian town of Tskhinvali under the cover of the opening night of the Olympic Games? I hope not, but we can't be sure. With someone like George W Bush supposedly leading the "free world", we can't be sure of anything, except that it will be a mess.