The distinction between realism and optimism which we have discussed over the past few posts becomes manifest and immediately pertinent when we assess our relationship here in the West with Russia. Although it would have been ideal to integrate Russia into a novel European order post-American hegemony given that there is a sort of mutual dependence between the West and Russia as a result of economics and energy, the fact of the matter, and as I have mentioned before, is that the conflict or war between Russia and the West is a “forever war” or a perpetual war for reasons beyond many people’s comprehension and for reasons which certain folks would simply not accept if given to them. As Richard Nixon once said: “The Cold War isn’t thawing; it is burning with a deadly heat. Communism isn’t sleeping; it is, as always, plotting, scheming, working, fighting.”
Another fact or reality of life as a result of our relationship with Russia is that although war is obsolete in certain regards, we are still not done with the issue of war and revolution as a result of our relationship with Russia. And as Hannah Arendt wrote, the only thing which can justify war and revolution in this day and age is freedom. Thus, if we are seeking a justification for our conflict or war with Russia, then we must use freedom and the defense of freedom as the main justification for such a conflict or war, even though the reasons for such a conflict or war run deeper than just the issue of freedom as mentioned before. And in a sense, undergirding the conflict or war with this moral purpose of freedom and its defense will reduce the preponderance of chance and personal factors as the main determinants of the result and outcome of this conflict or war.
John Lewis Gaddis also brought up the important point about the incompatibility of the basic systems in the West and Russia. While the issue of the incompatibility of the Western and Russian systems was an issue that was put aside in the 20th century Allied war against Nazism, this incompatibility rose to the fore yet again as soon as the war with Hitler ended, bringing with it an end to the wartime alliance between the West and Russia. The psychological undercurrents of anxiety and fear ran through the 20th century Cold War in the deepest sense throughout the Western world, as Gaddis noted. Coincidentally and ironically, the renewal of anxiety and fear is something with which we are directly and immediately reckoning with as a result of the renewal of our Cold War with Russia in recent months, and this renewal took place immediately after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine almost a year ago as many people are aware.
But it is perhaps the social dimension of this conflict or war which requires a greater spotlight than the aforementioned economic, political, and psychological considerations. And it is this social dimension of the Cold War which makes the Cold War something bigger than just a conflict between the West and Russia. As Odd Arne Westad wrote:
“Before, during, and after the Cold War, everyone wants their place in the sun. A chance to be counted. Respect for what they consider as theirs, whether in religion, lifestyle, or territory. Often people, and especially young people, need to be part of something bigger than themselves or even their families, some immense idea to devote one’s life to. The Cold War shows what happens when such notions get perverted for the sake of power, influence, and control.”
Thus, if the Cold War is more about the issue of identity and its recognition by others, then it makes sense as to why this war is a ‘forever war’ per se, and that there is no end in sight for such a war at this point in time.