After the long stand-off against communism, victory seemed as total as it was sudden. But the west has since fractured and is now losing prestige and influence—does the reversal expose a moral defeat?by Anatol Lieven / August 31, 2020 / Leave a comment
As the US prepares to plunge into a new cold war with China in which its chances do not look good, it’s an appropriate time to examine how we went so badly wrong after “victory” in the last Cold War. Looking back 30 years from the grim perspective of 2020, it is a challenge even for those who were adults at the time to remember just how triumphant the west appeared in the wake of the collapse of Soviet communism and the break-up of the USSR itself.
Today, of the rich fruits promised by that great victory, only wretched fragments remain. The much-vaunted “peace dividend,” savings from military spending, was squandered. The opportunity to use the resources freed up to spread prosperity and deal with urgent social problems was wasted, and—even worse—the US military budget is today higher than ever. Attempts to mitigate the apocalyptic threat of climate change have fallen far short of what the scientific consensus deems to be urgently necessary. The chance to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and stabilise the Middle East was thrown away even before 9/11 and the disastrous US response. The lauded “new world order” of international harmony and co-operation—heralded by the elder George Bush after the first Gulf War—is a tragic joke. Britain’s European dream has been destroyed, and geopolitical stability on the European continent has been lost due chiefly to new and mostly unnecessary tension with Moscow. The one previously solid-seeming achievement, the democratisation of Eastern Europe, is looking questionable, as Poland and Hungary (see Samira Shackle, p20) sink into semi-authoritarian nationalism.
Russia after the Cold War was a shambles and today it remains a weak economy with a limited role on the world stage, concerned mainly with retaining some of its traditional areas of influence. China is a vastly more formidable competitor. If the US (and the UK, if as usual we tag along) approach the relationship with Beijing with anything like the combination of arrogance, ignorance, greed, criminality, bigotry, hypocrisy and incompetence with which western elites managed the period after the Cold War, then we risk losing the competition and endangering the world.
One of the most malign effects of western victory in 1989-91 was to drown out…