I found Robert D. Kaplan’s latest essay in The National Interest on the “second Cold War”, a bewildering and frustrating combination of insight and absurdity:
This second cold war, conducted on a teeming planet whose anxiety is intensified by the passions and rages of social media, is only in its beginning stages. The aim, like in the first Cold War, is negative victory: not defeating the Chinese, but waiting them out, just as we waited the Soviets out: because at some point, as its middle class matures and continues to expand, mainland China may face its own equivalent of the internal upheavals that have roiled Hong Kong, Latin America, and the Middle East.
There are fundamental differences between the two cold wars. But in order to prevail we must concentrate on the similarities: the need for open-ended dialogue and focusing on our strong suit – liberal values in the face of increasingly intrusive technologies. For this cold war could end with echoes of 1989: with one side’s domestic order proving more resilient than the other’s.
I could not disagree with his conclusion more. We didn’t win the Cold War by tenaciously waiting out the Soviets. We won with soft power. The people living under Soviet rule wanted the same things we had and the Soviet regime was not delivering it. The Soviet position became untenable.
The examples of absurdity are not difficult to find:
The benefit of a wide-ranging and confidence-building dialogue with China, of the kind pursued by Washington throughout the middle and latter parts of the Cold War with both Beijing and Moscow, is that a human rights issue like the treatment of the Uigurs can be brought up and discussed, with the possibility of some improvement in the situation that will not be seen as a concession by the Chinese, and not trumpeted as such by us.
To what end? All that run-on sentence illustrates is that Mr. Kaplan is still clinging bitterly to the belief that liberalization of trade and open discourse will impel the Chinese Communist Party to soften its hardline policies. We now know with a confidence born of experience that will not be the case.
IMO the best insight in the piece is this:
After all, globalization was never a conflict-free security order, as originally advertised, but merely a value-neutral, temporary stage of economic development.
but he fails to ask the follow-up question: if we had known globalization would be “a value-neutral, temporary stage of economic development” would it have taken the form it took? That isn’t how it was sold. It was sold not merely as a money-making scheme but as a means of democratizing and liberalizing China.
I always recognized the absurdity of that position which is why I advocated for an interaction based on reciprocity in which we maintained a discreet distance from China, considering it with a skeptical eye.
The only way we will win this second Cold War is the same way we won the first—by maintaining the vigor of our own economy and reinforcing liberal values at home. I think that will be a harder task than the first time around because so many people owe enormous fortunes to maintaining things as they are.