Opinion: The world is in the midst of a Cold War

Written By: Wajahat Qazi
Delhi, India Published: Aug 27, 2018, 09:56 AM(IST)

File photo of Donald Trump (R) and Vladimir Putin. Photograph:( Reuters )

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Despite the stupendous changes induced by and in the realm of capitalist economics, world politics remains and is defined by the arena of states

The cliché that “there are no permanent friends or enemies in international politics” holds a searing resonance and echo in the contemporary times. Even though not very significant , from and the “ grand chessboard” view and perspective of politics, the impermanence of friends and enemies in politics might be best encapsulated in the Taliban’s turn , or more accurately , its acceptance of Russia’s invite for peace talks. It may be recalled that the Taliban emerged from the conglomerate of the Afghan mujahideen that  fought against the erstwhile Soviet Union, as part of a wider “rollback” strategy of the United States, during and in the Cold War.  

This development is overlaid by Vladimir Putin’s sparring with the NATO, the Western alliance, that despite its posturing , appears to be in some form and sort of disorderly bedlam. 

That times have obviously changed means and entails stating the obvious. The real question is: what has changed?

While change is the perhaps the only constant in life, but there is also a certain permanence to the affairs of human kind, speaking philosophically. This assertion appears to hold true with respect to world politics and international relations.   There is change and there are ”constant constants”. What appears to have changed is the form of politics but the substance seems to remain the same. 

Consider a factual. Despite the stupendous changes induced by and in the realm of capitalist economics, world politics remains and is defined by the arena of states. These entities compete with each other ( viciously so), and their raison d’etre is security, interest and power maximisation. In pursuit of these goals, states balance or bandwagon. The fundamental reality is that states compete with each other.

The rather digressive set of remarks has a bearing on the discussion here.

As the post Cold War , United States’ driven and led unipolar world, drew to a close , sometime in the first decade of the 21st century, far reaching changes under the surface, came to the fore, gradually but inexorably. These included a reaction to United States’ inspired globalisation with searing political and economic consequences, the concomitant return of the state and sovereignty, and an interstate competition where United States’ primacy was and is contended by the (re)arrival of China and Russia on the power political domains of world politics. Russia inserted itself into world and regional politics through  hybrid approaches, akin to a judo player’s techniques , by punching above its weight and succeeded. 

China, without ruffling feathers, employed the world system to its advantage and is well on its way to become a power of reckoning, if not a Great Power.  Given these trends and developments, world politics and international relations, even passing through a phase of intense fluidity, appears to defined by a tripolar system polarity. 

But, this polarity  suggests or augurs a “new” Cold War. The major difference from the post Second Great War phase of the Cold war is that there is a troika of players that jockey and jostle for power and influence. Another rather salient difference is that , while in the previous phase of the Cold War, territory was significant in the calculus of great powers, this time around, it will lose much of its salience.  The domains and planes of contestation and power will be different , largely , on account of the changes induced by the Information, Technology and Communications(ICT) revolution. So, while the world is in the midst of a Cold War, but this is a war with different characteristics and attributes. Moreover, there are conceptual and structural dissimilarities that define the new Cold War.

First, the West is in disarray. From the rise of populism to “illiberal politics”, to the “insurgent” attacks to undermine the post Second Great War order and regimes thereof and protectionist mercantilism , among other things, the West is a pale shadow of its erstwhile, confident and cohesive avatar.  The previous avatar of the Cold War accorded cohesion to the West. But, with new players and themes in play, the West is in need of a new animating idea.

Second, the United States is in relative decline. Much of this decline is self induced and accrues from the hubris of power. The country did itself harm by, first embarking on a “war of choice” in the Middle East, and domestically by allowing policy and politics to drift to the self serving elite, at the expense of most of its people. The cumulative impact of these ill conceived policies, within and without, was the depletion of the United States’ soft and even structural power.

Third,  the “new” Cold War , is different because of structural and even systemic aspects. The previous avatar of this war, was defined by structural bipolarity. That is, the “tug of war” was between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Now, there is China and Russia to contend with.

The larger theme that can be culled from the analysis here is that the Cold War, which was deemed to be buried and over was not aberrant interlude in world politics. To the contrary, it might be unipolarity and United States’ dominance of world politics that was ephemeral. The Cold War might have ended or come to a close, in form, but not in substance. It was incubating all the while the United States was celebrating “ the End of History”( a fraudulent claim and thesis in retrospect).

Now, as the world is in disarray and even disorder, a “new” Cold War is emerging as the dominant theme of world politics and international relations. It is new in the sense of certain modalities, techniques and approaches but is “old” because it corresponds to the fundamental axioms of world politics. What alignments the “new old” Cold war will beget remains to be seen. But, what is certain is that there are no certainties in the world politics, a truth that powers that be would do well in taking to heart!

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

Wajahat Qazi

Wajahat Qazi is particularly interested in politics, global security and political economy. He is a wanderer and fancies himself to be a wannabe writer.
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