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American politicians repeatedly warn of the dangerous and unsafe world that we inhabit. Moreover, didn't the Cold War prevent large-scale wars between great powers and keep ethnic and national tension suppressed? The threat of nuclear conflict certainly helped to prevent World War III, but it hardly stopped dozens of countries from waging horribly violent wars. Many of these conflicts were exacerbated by the machinations of the competing super powers. Would millions have died in Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan if these three countries had not been considered the frontlines in the conflict between Cold War rivals?

In fact, the Soviet Union's demise sped up rather than slowed down the global movement toward a safer and more secure world. The reality is that today, wars are rarer than ever before. And when wars occur, they are less deadly for both combatants and civilians. The average war so far in the 21st century kills 90 percent fewer people than the average conflict in the s. The last ten years have seen fewer war deaths than any decade of the past century. The world has not seen a major power conflict in more than six decades -- the longest period of sustained peace between great powers in centuries.

Finally, insurgent groups, rather than governments, are the greatest cause of civilian deaths today -- a worrisome trend for sure, but one that stands in sharp contrast to much of the 20th century, in which nations devised new and ingenious methods for slaughtering millions of their own citizens. But there is a larger reality of the post-Cold War world -- the threat of nuclear conflict has declined dramatically. From the late s to the fall of the Berlin Wall in , the potential for a devastating nuclear exchange that would destroy the globe and wipe out mankind was a distinct and real possibility.

As Micah Zenko, a Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told me, the period from roughly to was "the least safe time to live on earth. The number of deployed nuclear weapons was obscene overkill, and potential flashpoints for a U. While the threat of nuclear war may have always been a low possibility, it was still real; distorting and disrupting international affairs for much of the 20th century.

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While there remains the extremely slim risk of accidental launches or nuclear terrorism, ridding ourselves of this existential burden has been a boon rather than a detriment to the conduct of international affairs. For all the challenges to global security we face today, they pale in comparison to the threat of superpower war and the proxy battles that defined the four decades of ideological and geopolitical conflict between East and West.

The fall of Soviet Russia, for all of its many positive ramifications, helped to end the constant danger of a war that would truly and catastrophically "end all wars. We want to hear what you think about this article. Nothing is as it was in Europe primarily defined itself as an economic power, with sovereignty largely retained by its members but shaped by the rule of the European Union. Europe tried to have it all: economic integration and individual states.

But now this untenable idea has reached its end and Europe is fragmenting. One region, including Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, has low unemployment. Germany wants to retain the European Union to protect German trade interests and because Berlin properly fears the political consequences of a fragmented Europe. But as the creditor of last resort, Germany also wants to control the economic behavior of the EU nation-states. Berlin does not want to let off the European states by simply bailing them out.

The United States and the Post-Cold War International System | SpringerLink

If it bails them out, it must control their budgets. But the member states do not want to cede sovereignty to a German-dominated EU apparatus in exchange for a bailout. In the indebted peripheral region, Cyprus has been treated with particular economic savagery as part of the bailout process. Certainly, the Cypriots acted irresponsibly. But that label applies to all of the EU members, including Germany, who created an economic plant so vast that it could not begin to consume what it produces — making the country utterly dependent on the willingness of others to buy German goods.

There are thus many kinds of irresponsibility. How the European Union treats irresponsibility depends upon the power of the nation in question. It has been said by many Europeans that Cyprus should never have been admitted to the European Union. That might be true, but it was admitted — during the time of European hubris when it was felt that mere EU membership would redeem any nation.

Now, Europe can no longer afford pride, and it is every nation for itself.


  • Choosing Primacy: U.S. Strategy and Global Order at the Dawn of the Post-Cold War Era.
  • Beyond the Post-Cold War World.
  • The Logic of Regional Security in the Post-Cold War World.

It serves as a lesson to other weakening nations, a lesson that over time will transform the European idea of integration and sovereignty. The price of integration for the weak is high, and all of Europe is weak in some way. In such an environment, sovereignty becomes sanctuary. It is interesting to watch Hungary ignore the European Union as Budapest reconstructs its political system to be more sovereign — and more authoritarian — in the wider storm raging around it.

Authoritarian nationalism is an old European cure-all, one that is re-emerging, since no one wants to be the next Cyprus. I have already said much about China, having argued for several years that China's economy couldn't possibly continue to expand at the same rate.

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Leaving aside all the specific arguments, extraordinarily rapid growth in an export-oriented economy requires economic health among its customers. China has tried this many times.

It has never worked, and in any case China certainly couldn't make it work in the time needed. Instead, Beijing is maintaining growth by slashing profit margins on exports. What growth exists is neither what it used to be nor anywhere near as profitable. That sort of growth in Japan undermined financial viability as money was lent to companies to continue exporting and employing people — money that would never be repaid. It is interesting to recall the extravagant claims about the future of Japan in the s. Awestruck by growth rates, Westerners did not see the hollowing out of the financial system as growth rates were sustained by cutting prices and profits.

Japan's miracle seemed to be eternal. It wasn't, and neither is China's. And China has a problem that Japan didn't: a billion impoverished people. Japan exists, but behaves differently than it did before; the same is happening to China. The United States has emerged into this new period with what is still the largest economy in the world with the fewest economic problems of the three pillars of the post-Cold War world.

Both Europe and China thought about the world in the post-Cold War period similarly. Each believed that geopolitical questions and even questions of domestic politics could be suppressed and sometimes even ignored.

After the Post–Cold War

They believed this because they both thought they had entered a period of permanent prosperity. Periods of prosperity, of course, always alternate with periods of austerity, and now history has caught up with Europe and China. Europe, which had wanted union and sovereignty, is confronting the political realities of EU unwillingness to make the fundamental and difficult decisions on what union really meant. For its part, China wanted to have a free market and a communist regime in a region it would dominate economically.

Its economic climax has left it with the question of whether the regime can survive in an uncontrolled economy, and what its regional power would look like if it weren't prosperous.

And the United States has emerged from the post-Cold War period with one towering lesson: However attractive military intervention is, it always looks easier at the beginning than at the end. The greatest military power in the world has the ability to defeat armies.

But it is far more difficult to reshape societies in America's image. The issue is not that America is in decline. And that is a high price to pay for Afghan democracy. The United States had combined power — economic, political and military — and that allowed it to maintain its overall power when economic power faltered.

It has also emerged with the greatest military power. But it has emerged far more mature and cautious than it entered the period. There are new phases in history, but not new world orders. Economies rise and fall, there are limits to the greatest military power and a Great Power needs prudence in both lending and invading. Eras unfold in strange ways until you suddenly realize they are over. For example, the Cold War era meandered for decades, during which U.

Now, we are at a point where the post-Cold War model no longer explains the behavior of the world. We are thus entering a new era. The interwar period, for example, got a name only after there was another war to bracket it.