wenty five years after the Berlin Wall’s fall, which symbolised the end of the Cold War between the US-led Western bloc and the Soviet Union-led East European bloc, the Earth we live in is far from being a planet of peace but a place of never-ending conflicts.
The root cause of most of these conflicts is man’s greed. Whether it is the Ukrainian conflict which has stoked fears of a new cold war or many recent and ongoing wars in the Middle East, it is the greed factor – the greed for more power and more wealth – that ignites the engine of war. Iraq is a living – or should we say dead -- testimony. The war for Iraq is firstly, secondly and lastly a war for oil.
However, during the Cold War, socialism as a socio-economic ideology stood as a colossus to stop the avalanche of avarice with which the capitalist West tried to expand its markets and plunder the resources of the Third World.
The Soviet Union with its nuclear weapons and long range ballistic missiles remained a powerful counterforce to the United States and its western allies and helped anti-colonial and anti-imperial struggles throughout the developing world. The US-led West, on the contrary, buttressed governments battling communist rebellions and rebel groups trying to topple socialist governments.
The Cold War that existed for forty long years after the end of the Second World War divided the world into two ideologically opposed camps with even Non-Aligned Movement countries loosely aligned with one camp or the other to gain economic benefits. The hands-on approach adopted by the two superpowers with regard to global conflicts brought about a balance of power that assured relative peace, although wars in the Korean peninsula and Indochina may indicate otherwise.
The end of the Cold War shattered this balance of power system which ensured that no one country was militarily strong enough to dominate the others. A new world order – a unipolar system -- emerged without a balance of power system to check a sole superpower’s excesses.
The Cold War’s demise, which began with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, was so dramatic and so rapid that the United States which emerged as the sole superpower was in a quandary as to how to play its new global role. The role of a sole superpower entails duties and responsibilities, with the ultimate objective being global peace and order.
But in hindsight, it appears that the US, the leader of the so-called free world -- had no such vision or intention to play that role. The US by its own failings and hubris let the baton of global leadership slip away from its grip. Instead of taking steps to reform the UN system and promoting global justice and human rights in a display of its soft power, the United States embarked on a mission to demonstrate its hard power in a vulgar display of its brutal force, invading or bombing country after country on the pretext of promoting democracy, eliminating weapons of mass destruction or fighting terrorism.
But with the communist enemy no more, the US wanted a new enemy to pursue its policy of militarily dominating the globe for economic ends – for the benefit of transnational corporations, which run the US government. The new enemy was and is the so-called Islamic terror. During the Cold War, the Islamists were America’s friends – a bulwark to check the expansion of Communism in the Islamic world and freedom fighters in Afghanistan. But after the Cold War, the Islamists in whatever form are monsters. Whether the Islamists are handled by US or US-friendly intelligence outfits or whether they act alone, groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS simply serve the US purpose or play into the US hands.
The sole superpower also took steps to eliminate whatever challenges there were to its unbridled power. The US forced its European allies to shelve moves in the direction of European defence integration outside of NATO.
With the Cold War ended, there was little need for a Cold War relic like NATO. But the US had other plans. The NATO cloak helped the US undertake bombing missions and interpret them as collective action. Such missions included the bombing of former Yugoslavia (1998), the invasion of Afghanistan (2001) and the air attacks on Libya (2012).
If the US and its western allies had disbanded NATO when the Cold War ended, it would have been a confidence building measure aimed at wooing Russia, which emerged as the state to honour the international obligations of the Soviet Union after its collapse in 1991. Instead, the United States did not disband NATO, but took steps to expand it, shifting its borders close to Russia, taking undue advantage of economically weak newly independent countries of the former Soviet bloc. Russia’s apprehension of NATO expansion was one of the reasons why Moscow launched a war on Georgia in 2008 and directly intervened in the Ukrainian crisis, fuelling fears of a fully fledged Cold War.
Of course, after the Cold War, NATO and the EU initiated a series of dialogues with Russia on arms control, nuclear disarmament, European security, the global war on terror and economic cooperation. However noble these moves are claimed to be, Russia saw them as a pincer movement to encircle it not only from the European side but also from the Central Asian side -- with the US setting up bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Russian countermeasures have evicted the US from Central Asia, but similar measures on the European front have brought only limited success and a conflict in Ukraine.
Far from confining the Cold War in the museum of world politics for it to become a lesson not to be repeated by succeeding generations, the US ably assisted by its European allies behaved in such a way that it dragged the world towards a new cold war. No less a person than Henry Kissinger, one of the chief architects of the US foreign policy during the height of the Cold War warned this week of a possible new Cold War, calling the West’s approach to the crisis in Ukraine a “fatal mistake.”
“This danger does exist and we can’t ignore it,” Kissinger, 91, told Germany’s Der Spiegel, adding that ignoring this danger any further might result in a “tragedy”.
The veteran US diplomat was not alone. Even Mikhail Gorbachev, 83, attending the ceremonies to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany last Sunday, said the world was on the brink of a new Cold War, and trust should be restored by dialogue with Russia.
Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, blamed the US for succumbing to triumphalism after the collapse of the Communist bloc and said this attitude had led to a situation where global powers had been unable to cope with conflicts in Yugoslavia, the Middle East and now Ukraine.
“Bloodshed in Europe and the Middle East against the backdrop of a breakdown in dialogue between the major powers is of enormous concern. The world is on the brink of a new Cold War. Some are even saying that it’s already begun,” he said.
This new cold war, unlike the previous one, is not a contest between two ideologically different camps in a bipolar setup or between two opposing military alliances. The new cold war is fought in a multipolar setup, where power centres are defined not only in terms of one’s military power but also one’s economic power. What is interesting to note is that China’s rise and ambitions have given rise to another cold war like situation amid fears of military confrontations between the US and China over territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. However, on a positive note, we see the emergence of a balance of power system where no power centre will be able to dominate another.