The greatest danger is not in the repetition of a prolonged confrontation between two superpowers, but in the ability of both parties to avoid sliding toward a hot war due to the careless attitude of their leaders.
And let us hope it does not become a hot war. Many do not even want to utter the word to prevent it from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, as if mentioning it could summon it. Although it does not resemble the first Cold War, the feud between Washington and Beijing, the military and verbal escalation around hegemony in Asia, and the polarization between democracy and authoritarianism have already established the notion among us.
John Lewis Gaddis, a history professor at Yale University and probably the greatest scholar of that period in history, has no doubts: “It’s no longer debatable that the United States and China, tacit allies during the last half of the last Cold War, are entering their own new cold war.”* He talks about this in Foreign Affairs, the most senior publication about international relations, which devotes its November issue to this new divided world, more dominated by gloom than by the relief of finally having located the enemy for the new era.
Henry Kissinger, the architect of the four-decade-long alliance with China, already warned about this danger 10 years ago, when he pointed out that “A cold war between the two countries would arrest progress for a generation on both sides of the Pacific”* (On China). For the time being, while relations between the two superpowers are about to become a zero-sum game, just as Kissinger feared, this is not the case yet for the supply chain, despite the tariffs that were imposed by Donald Trump and kept by Joe Biden.
Washington is not willing to abandon its interests and allies in Asia only to kindly surrender global hegemony to Beijing. Meanwhile, the Chinese regime has a clear strategy to become a superpower on par with the mid-century United States, with armed forces at the same level and a globalization project with a Chinese mold, distinct from Western civilization.
The greatest danger is not in the repetition of a prolonged confrontation between two superpowers with their own value systems and social patterns — as occurred between the United States and the Soviet Union — but in the ability of both parties to avoid sliding toward a hot war due to the careless attitude of leaders, as in World War I.
The arms race in Asia, China’s progress in artificial intelligence, the expansion of its nuclear arsenal, hypersonic missile testing and the growing scope of its armed forces — particularly the maritime wing — together with the prickly dispute regarding Taiwan’s status, are far from reassuring data.
It may not be a hot war exactly, but all that remains now is that somebody stumble across the label it deserves, as when George Orwell used it for the first time to refer to “a peace that is no peace” established between Washington and Moscow after 1945.
*Editor’s Note: These quotes, though accurately translated, could not be verified.