The catastrophe of unipolarity

The catastrophe of unipolarity

At a time of great geopolitical turmoil, it is tempting to feel nostalgia for the Cold War — the long period following World War II when the United States and the Soviet Union held guns to one another’s heads. That neither side dared deploy their nuclear arsenal made for a kind of stability, a queasy stability, to be sure, founded on the fear of “mutually assured destruction.”
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev speaks of a “new Cold War.” Such a turn of events seemed unthinkable after the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991. Proclaiming the “end of history,” the US historian, Francis Fukuyama, heralded an era in which mankind would be united in embracing the American model: Liberal democracy plus free market capitalism. Few glimpsed the nasty future portended by a “unipolar” world dominated by the United States.
Today’s world is in desperate need of a new balance of power. During the cold war, western capitalism and Soviet communism placed a check on the other side’s worst tendencies. If the US curbed Soviet expansionism, the Soviet Union obliged the US to be ever mindful of the danger of handing a propaganda coup to its ideological foe, a chance for Moscow to trumpet the evils of capitalism.
Had the Soviet Union survived, would the US have vaunted its “hyper-power” status, invading Afghanistan and Iraq, in the latter instance riding roughshod over the United Nations and world opinion? Would it have established Guantanamo Bay? Would Israel have become increasingly indifferent to international opprobrium? One might wonder, too, if the world would have been plunged into financial crisis in 2008, precipitated as the crisis was by bankers who came to believe themselves infallible, “masters of the universe”?
The American economist, Jeffrey Sachs, believes the world is paying a heavy price for the triumphalism of US conduct toward post-Soviet Russia. In his view, a magnanimous US ought to have assisted in nurturing democracy in Russia. Instead, it displayed the counterproductive vindictiveness that the victor powers displayed toward Germany after the First World War, treating Russia as a defeated enemy while stretching out a helping hand to former Soviet satellites with a view to absorbing them into its sphere of influence.
Denied help, Russia was subjected to capitalist shock therapy. During the 1990s, the country witnessed rampant “privatization,” with the United States turning a blind eye as the Wild West came to Russia and the country fell prey to gangsterism. Out of the ruins of the Soviet state emerged the Russian oligarchs, capitalists red in tooth and claw. Much of the booty amassed by this new breed of profiteers ended up in western capitals, not least London. Barely understood, the story of the malign impact on the United Kingdom and wider western economy of the rape of the Soviet state is still unfolding.
The post-Soviet epoch has been defined by gung-ho western foreign policy and capitalist excess. It has also been marked in western societies by the so-called “culture of impunity,” the extraordinary untouchable status enjoyed by leading figures in politics and finance, no matter how palpable their malfeasance. Nobody has personified this impunity more than the sometime British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
A warmonger who has acquired vast wealth, Blair has become a sort of British oligarch — even as the country he ruled has grown rife with inequalities and social ills of every description.
In his endless pronouncements on the menace of radicalization, Blair never admits that it could be even remotely connected with the failings of a system that has hugely enriched the few at the expense of the many. What sort of moral example does this professed Christian imagine he himself has set? If truth be told, the self-seeking of the western elite has done more than a little to engender the alienation and disaffection that can lead to the radicalization of Muslim youth.
Unsleeping enemy of the West that it was, Soviet Communism spared western society the embarrassment of addressing its own behavior. The same might be said now of “radical Islam,” the successor to communism in western demonology. In the event of a new Cold War, the West will have two enemies to relieve it of the burden of self-examination.
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