Twenty five years ago yesterday the Cold War official ended. With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the West, led by America, triumphed over the murderous ideology of Communism. Two Gulf wars, the 9/11 attacks and the invasion of Afghanistan are some the post-1989 events that prove we have yet to replace the old bi-polar stand-off with a safer and more stable system.
Everyone has a history that goes beyond just themselves. Mine is indelibly tied to the conflict that was the Cold War, given that both my parents found themselves on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain after World War II. My father would be sentenced to life imprisonment by the Communists for resisting the takeover of his country following 1945 and, only later, as a result of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, would he and his future wife – and my mother – escape the totalitarianism that controlled all of Central and Eastern Europe from 1945-1989.
But then on November 9th, 1989, it all ended. Just feet from where Ronald Reagan had called for Premier Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” two an a half years earlier, the long-suffering people of East Germany breached the divide – formally called the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart – dismantling it piece by piece and then flooding into the free society that was West Berlin.
The event took many by surprise. In fact, the detente policy put in place by the Nixon and Ford administrations represented a tacit recognition that the forces of Communism could not be vanquished and that co-existence was inevitable. Not so for the California governor who would become president. When meeting his new National Security Advisor, Richard V. Allen, Reagan was clear. It would be morally indefensible to surrender to the idea that Communist dictatorships could reign forever. Asked what his plan was, Reagan was clear: “We win. They lose.” As so it was.
But what came next? Ex-neoconservative author and academic Francis Fukuyama would declare that the victory of the West was equivalent to the “End of History” and that the future would simply consist of fine-tuning “market-democracy” around the world. Reagan’s former VP, the next Commander-in-Chief, George Snr, famously spoke of the creation of a New World Order. Neither men were correct.
Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the bipolar stand-off that had been wittily labelled “Mutually Assure Destruction,” or just M.A.D., the world did not become a safer or more stable place. The 1990s saw Saddam Hussein invade Kuwait and the Balkans explode into a series of wars that would take 100,000s of lives. Then there was Rwanda. Finally, there was 9/11.
Those that had put their hope in a new multilateralism, on international organizations such as the United Nations or the European Union being able to make the world a safer place, were proved wrong. Where does that leave us today, as we remember the 90 million-plus who died as a result of Communism, and one day before we remember all the veterans that have sacrificed themselves to protect the Republic?
Ironically the bipolar system, for all the threat of a nuclear war, was inherently stable, or at least balanced. Today, we lack the simplicity of having one major antagonist who can be deterred by the size of our military. Today’s list of threats is long and not subject to such balancing. It includes:
A resurgent Russia prepared to use force to redraw borders in Europe
ISIS, the new jihadist group in the Middle East that appears to be even more capable than Al Qaeda
A nuclear and unpredictable North Korea
A communist China prepared to militarily intimidate its neighbors and assault America in the cyber domain
A Teheran still bent on exporting its version of Islamic extremism, and
A southern border open to all and sundry.
And let’s not forget Ebola.
Did we really, therefore, win the Cold War? Or have we just endangered ourselves by believing that America could just quietly retreat after vanquishing Messrs. Marx and Lenin? Clearly the world isn’t a self-regulating system that favors nice people. One is therefore left asking the obvious question: who will make it work properly: China? Russia? The UN? Or……?
Sebastian Gorka PhD. is the Major General Matthew C. Horner Chair of Military Theory at the Marine Corps University and National Security and Foreign Affairs Editor at Breitbart.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SebGorka.