The ‘Cold War’ as We Know it is a Myth, yet Its Underlying Conflict Never Ended

Americans believe that they “Won the Cold War” — that is, that the U.S. defeated the Soviet Union’s bid for global dominance. Washington outlasted Moscow, leading to the USSR’s imperial collapse.

Yet the Cold War itself was not a singular, isolated event. It is more properly understood as one period in a much longer struggle for Eurasian mastery. The trouble with U.S. strategy today is its assumption that the U.S. was victorious in a singular, unique contest for global leadership. Unless America breaks free from such thinking, it will be incapable of articulating, let alone prosecuting, a strategy for Eurasian competition.

Two major inflection points dominate American strategic thought: 1945 and 1991. The former marked the end of America’s isolationist tradition in international politics, the latter the unexpected triumph over Marxism-Leninism.  Yet neither is placed in its proper context.

Allied victory in 1945 is cast as a moment that generated a tragic necessity — at the apex of triumph, democracies suddenly faced a new threat on the Eurasian landmass. By 1950, the scale of the challenge was apparent, as was the American response, a strategy of “containment” that prevented the expansion of Soviet influence and deterred an armed attack in Western Europe.

Meanwhile, 1991 is viewed retrospectively as a missed opportunity to generate a new world order (to use the terminology of the George H. W. Bush administration), in which a security architecture encompassed the entire northern hemisphere from Vancouver to Vladivostok (in Mikhail Gorbachev’s words).

We mistakenly view both moments as unique historic moments, not as changes within a continuous Eurasian competition. Indeed, Eurasia is the overarching lens through which international politics should be viewed from at least the 17th century.

The Eurasian landmass, encompassing the European Peninsula, the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, and East Asia, and including Central Asia and Siberia, has been economically interconnected since the Greeks first resisted Persian attempts at Mediterranean domination.  Economic contact continues today, with Eurasia remaining home to most of the world’s population, resources, and markets. This economic connectivity, however, has increasingly transformed into a political connectivity. Strategic events on one side of the Eurasian landmass, because of the scale of political actors and alliance structures upon it, have a direct effect on political and strategic questions on the other side.

The alliance of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan posed an existential threat to the U.S. If either could dominate western or eastern Eurasia, the U.S. would face a multi-continental threat capable of barring the U.S. from major overseas markets and, in time, accumulating enough power to act in the Western Hemisphere.


Read the rest at The Hill.

Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute.

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