Cold War Then and Now

by The Insights

Thirty years after the end of the cold war, and with a new bipolarity looming, the Algerian review NAQD examines the overall impact of the struggle. Authors from seventeen countries and four continents explore how Cold War tensions pervaded countries beyond spheres of influence, shaping conflicts and the political and social formations of states, old and new. The question is also forward-looking, given the repercussions of a return to bloc politics in the context of the war in Ukraine and the escalation of Sino-American rivalry.

Middle East

How did allies become adversaries? Esmaeil Zeiny finds answers in the secession of the People’s Government of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Mahabad from Iran in 1945. Although these states lasted barely a year, they caused an international crisis that “set the tone of the nascent Cold War”.

Historians disagree on the origins of the US-Soviet conflict in Iran, variously blaming the Soviets, Americans and British. But, writes Zeiny, these schools of thought overlook a key factor: “the conditions in Iran that gave rise to this confrontation.” It presents the historical context of the rivalry, beginning with Iran’s declaration of neutrality in 1939, which failed to prevent the Allied invasion in 1941. Over the next few years, Iran turned to the United States to protect it from the “imperialist ambitions of the British and the Soviets, sought the aid of American military and civilian advisers, and offered the United States an oil concession, in displays of patronage that enraged the Soviets.

Fearing growing US influence, the Soviets sowed the seeds of rebellion in northern Iran. The soil was fertile, says Zeiny. Under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Iranian government had mistreated minority populations, trampling on their civil liberties and imposing economic policies that produced poverty, unemployment and inflation in the region. The “sum of these elements made Azerbaijan an ideal place for Soviet propaganda and political penetration”.

Convinced that the uprisings were part of a plan to establish a pro-Soviet regime in Iran, and as the Iranian government again asked for its help, the United States opted for a policy of “toughness”, which eventually moved towards its strategy of containment.

Latin America

What impact did the Cold War have beyond spheres of influence? Murilo Leal Pereira Neto describes a phenomenon of “Cold War internalization” that shaped the political and social landscape of Latin America, stunting the rise of labor and leftist movements and undermining democracy.

Focusing on Brazil, the author examines developments – which threatened to upend the status quo: the emergence of an urban working class, growing nationalism, a booming economy, demands for civil liberties. The country’s dominant classes and systems resisted these changes, exploiting the political logic of the Western bloc which characterized the opposition as disloyal and confused labor movements and unions with the communist threat, describing them as the “enemy within”. .

This perspective sheds light on the return of a Cold War climate today, with “Communist threats in Latin America… and imperialism in Eastern Europe”. Bolsonaro’s campaign “draw heavily on the political imagination of the Cold War”, writes Leal Pereira Neto, demonizing Venezuela by tracing the regime’s ties to communism and the Workers’ Party in Brazil. As a “powerful symbolic system for ‘organizing’ the world and categorizing friend and foe, with the aim of reinforcing power structures within each of the blocs”, Cold War ideology remains a useful policy tool. who seek to justify repression.

A New Cold War?

Looking to the future, Wojtek Lamentowicz advocates long-term strategic thinking, saying leaders can set the course even in rough seas. In his article on the Sino-American rivalry, he analyzes four possible scenarios as we approach 2049 – China’s deadline to achieve “global supremacy”.

These are cooperation, turbulent competition, a new cold war and an open war. The first, argues Lamentowicz, is unlikely: each power will continue to fight for hegemony, cooperating only when it is in its interest. A turbulent competition is more likely: a bipolarity will emerge, but “there will be no coordination in this process and no common agreement on the fundamental rules of the game”.

Elements of a new Cold War will also appear, giving a “more ideological…and militaristic flavor” to the competition. Finally, open war is likely to be avoided – “Xi is smart enough not to repeat Putin’s costly mistake”, and defending Taiwan could be “mission impossible”. This, however, will depend on whether the United States is willing to cede its dominance in East Asia.

Lamentowicz concludes with some suggestions: the United States should broaden and strengthen its alliances, particularly in the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean; develop closer military ties with Vietnam; and, as Biden predicts, “arrange a security cordon around mainland China.” Meanwhile, China must avoid the middle-income trap and domestic and external political reactions. In both countries, beyond population and GDP, other factors will be decisive: productivity, standard of living, quality of growth.

Lamentowicz points to a “danger inherent in a reversal of the balance of power”: the Kindleberger trap. As the United States weakens, China’s ability and willingness to provide global goods “will frame the power struggle between the Eagle and the Dragon.”

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This item is published in cooperation with CAIRN International Edition, translated and edited by Cadenza Academic Translations.

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