Not the end of history

Published by Yale University Press

Glyn Ford on the West’s “Victory”

The Lost Peace: How the West Failed to Prevent a Second Cold War – Richard Sakwa published by Yale University Press

Sakwa argues the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Empire in 1991 was not seen as an opportunity by the West, rather on the contrary as victory with all the spoils that follow and an imposed peace. Washington’s policy of constrain, contain, confront had delivered. The weaker Soviet economy, running in an arms race set by the West, had consequently starved civil society of coveted consumer goods and alienated its population. The edifice was hollowed out from below. The West’s governing elites paid a smaller price; that tithe needed to divert sufficient resources into the welfare state to attenuate any residual pull of Moscow’s revolutionary dreams. With the crumpling of that communist face of the future neo-liberalism was freed to reek its will. This it promptly did, with austerity, inequality and their bitter fruits that bedevil us today.

Gorbachev, in a search for settlement not surrender, argued for a future in a pluralistic and diverse “Common European Home”. Bush countered and squashed with “Europe Whole and Free”. Opportunities for reconciliation were rejected in favour of a victor’s peace.  Anti-communism smoothly slid over into being anti-Russian. The US usurped the rules, with NATO enlargement and military deployment both betrayal and provocation. Continental Europe ended complicit, coerced and cowed. Fateful errors turned a compliant Russia into a hostile power. Those who joined NATO saw increased individual security at the cost of collective security. After all NATO is America’s free pass to interfere in Europe. Here we find The Lost Peace. Washington loaded the gun and Putin pulled the trigger – and shot himself in the foot. There were fleeting attempts to find alternatives. In the European Parliament (EP) there were long negotiations, in the wake of Gorbachev’s overtures, regarding Ken Coates’ brainchild of a joint meeting of the EP and the Supreme Soviet. These died, alongside the Soviet Union, in the wake of August 1991’s failed coup. 

“Victory” in the Cold War gave a quarter century of US global hegemony, an armistice of cold peace. In winning the West they over-looked the East. Beijing’s policy of “hide and bide” served them well. They watched Washington’s full-spectrum trampling on the rules of the UN Charter with close attention. They saw the future and its works. Authoritarian capitalism in the Far East proved itself as efficient as America’s ultra free market. With China emerging from the economic and military shadows in the past decade Washington saw its unipolar world begin to fracture. Victors fight the last war. The US is repeating itself with constrain, contain and confront. Beijing’s trade, regional security and political influence need taming.  Yet house training China to American’s injunction will be far from easy. Any resemblance to the Soviet Union is fanciful. Beijing’s economy is booming as it manufactures for the world. Here it will pass the US’ on the inside lane in 2027/28. The West increasingly cannot compete, retreating behind protectionist barriers as it claims to be saving industry from Beijing dumping and subsidy, while in deep denial of competitive realities. Biden leans into a trade war, Trump will declare it. Unlike Moscow, Beijing can afford its military spending and simultaneously drive-up living standards. 

The drive to contain China has seen the widening of NATO’s area of operation to the South China Sea, with  London back east of Singapore in joint military exercises with Japan and the Republic of Korea, alongside for the first time since 2008 the Royal Navy in “freedom of navigation” sailings through the Taiwan strait. Two new security partnerships have been invented by Washington. In an attempt to contain China, we have the QUAD and AUKUS, the former mating Australia, India, Japan and the United States and the latter putting together Australia, the UK and US. While this demonising has worked with Europe, the global South is less impressed. Dual standards in Gaza and Ukraine do more to push them towards Beijing rather than away.

The British Empire ended, sold for victory over Germany – albeit twice, – Washington’s hot war defeated Japan and the Cold the Soviet Union. Now Anglo-Americanism and its European allies face a fifth challenge – China. So far, the omens are ill for a peaceful resetting of the global order from unipolar American command to a multilateral one where China stands tall, and Europe stands apart. Our job – as Sakwa would urge – is to make it so.

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