The Cold War (1947-1991) had a lasting effect on the international structure and power balance as it gave the world proof of the US hegemony on the international order. This period of International relations was called the ‘Unipolar Moment’, for one hegemony (i.e. USA) held the entire international politics in their own hands. We could see this immense power being put to use by USA through their unopposed interventions in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia-Kosovo and finally their introduced concept of Arab Spring.
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Cold War was said to be over. But, seeing the post-Cold War events and especially in the past few years, it is safe to say that we are stuck in yet another soft power ‘proxy’ war. So, is a Cold War rooted in the inherent nature of our current international order?
Various scholars of International Relations Theory disagree on their answer to the aforementioned question. There are two basic schools of thought attempting to answer this question- the Realist paradigm and the Liberal paradigm. The Liberal paradigm, mostly led by Neoliberalists and the Liberal Utopianists, believe in positive change and that states can develop their relations through institutions and procedures to peacefully co-exist. On the other hand, Realist paradigm, led by structural realists and classical realists, believe that the nature of the International Relations is unchangeable because of the static human nature.
Professor G. John Ikenberry (a liberal scholar) explained the start of the Cold War as a failure of postwar order due to the inability of major powers to build stable cooperative link. He goes on to say that US did lead the world to a more peaceful and democratic environment and thus, the international community supported the US hegemony. Consequently, an outright Cold War 2.0 would be near impossible for the Liberals. On the other hand, Kenneth Waltz and the other Structural Realists claimed that the Cold War would never end because it stabilised the power distribution in the international politics. They said that until the international structure does not change, the Cold War would not end. But, with the coming of the Unipolar moment, their predictions were discredited to be false.
In the current scenario, we can see the truth in their words. Although the US did lead the afflicted nations to peace and order through diplomacy or force, their unbridled power did cause a imbalance in the international order. Also, the Cold War originally ended with the coming of the Russian oligarchs (capitalists sympathising with the US for personal gains) and other internal political changes. But, under the leadership of President Putin, we can see the previous enmity between US and Russia rise again. Only this time, Russia is backed up by the world’s second largest power-China.
China is now an industrial superpower, an established ‘Industrial Communism’. Under the leadership of the CPC, China has exponentially grown as an economy and a military superpower. As of right now, China is such an influential international power that US has been focused on reducing Chinese influence in the world and their sovereign. This has led to disagreements, trade wars, and the inevitable development of China. In fact, their exponential growth can be attributed to USA’s aggressive domination policies, much like the case of Japan after the WWII.
Proxy wars and economic shakedowns have already begun between US and the Russia-China alliance. The Syrian civil war, trade war between China and US, the protracted Korean conflict, radical changes in the Chinese stock market etc. are evidences of the same. So, in a way, the Structural Realists were correct. The Cold War never ended, for it is an inherent feature in our international order. Power needs to be balanced internationally, no matter how ‘moral’ or ‘just’ the hegemony is.
This international unrest and balancing of power has been accentuated by the COVID-19 crisis. The virus, originated in the Wuhan province, has caused a fundamental shift in the international relations, where great economies transform from opportunistic to protectionist. Since this crisis has started, the world has witnessed quite an ugly altercation between the Chinese market and the US market, and a disastrous oil war between Russia and US-backed Saudi Arabia.
In a world where tensions run high between US bloc and the Eurasian ’emerging’ bloc and where nations like Iran and North Korea can counter international hegemonic powers so stoically, it is safe to say that we would face some close calls (like the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Berlin Wall). But finally, at the end of this soft power proxy war, we would come to the conclusion of a multipolar and well-balanced International Structure which would eradicate this unfortunate concept of an ‘Infinite Cold War’.