The Cold War wasn’t solely about ideology. It was also about geopolitics, in the true meaning of the word.
Last week during the Washington Ideas Forum, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the Cold War had been easy when compared to the current conflicts. Such a statement only serves to show a deep ignorance, or maybe the statement was designed in such a way to excuse the ineptly named strategy of “leading from behind.”
Really, believing that everything was just the ideological battle between East and West means ignoring the staggering amount of conflict waged indirectly by both superpowers, the wars in which an innumerable amount of life was lost, and the pointless conflicts in several countries. It means forgetting that during that time, as well as during this last decade, the U.S. was an ally of some, and enemy of others, and so, too, were the USSR and then Russia.
This phenomenon seems be necessary for the formation of a leading country. The U.S. pledged itself to help rebuild a large part of the world after the World War II, especially by providing funds to several countries. However, the U.S. was also accused of interventionism. When it didn’t act, it was accused of neglect. But such reaction comes with the territory: When a country becomes a superpower, it gains some prerogatives as well as responsibilities, and it has to take both on.
There’s something fundamental we have to remember that many don’t seem to grasp yet: Countries do not have friends, they have interests. It’s an age old truth, and it will never change. History has proven a thousand times that man is capable of both wonderful and brutal work. Are armed conflicts not now sparked by economic interests? Have countries forsaken their main objective of ensuring the safety and welfare of their people? Only those with righteous governments, or those that take their duties seriously. In reality, the Cold War wasn’t solely about ideology; it was also about geopolitics, in the true meaning of the word.
When one fails to understand the world, several disasters can happen. The fact that Russia made the decision to annex Crimea — which was once part of the empire’s territory as well as a fertile piece of land — is due to two things. On one hand, it is the result of the little respect given to the U.S. president’s strategies. On the other, it is due to the fact that the world simply isn’t the way idealists want to see it. The world is the way it is.
The aforementioned view is reminiscent of the period following World War I. There was an effort to create an idealist order with the understanding that everyone in the world wanted peace. The same thing is going on today. There are still fundamentalists, as the Islamic State surely shows; there are also dictators, warlords, and pirates.
The world is not more complicated. But it does require leadership and strategy. The “inaction instead of action” strategies have created more problems and don’t solve the existing ones. We should stop hoping every country in the world will become democratic; measures should be taken at every level and the intent of the actions of each country should be clear. Unfortunately, international law does not allow that as long as countries remain sovereign and have their own interests. We will have to accept the world however it is and work to avoid conflict. The U.S. is still the most powerful country by a large margin, but if it doesn’t take itself seriously, the problems won’t stop. They’ll get worse.