Neither the United States nor Europe is locked in a deadly, apocalyptic competition with Russia, China or anyone else. We are not fighting proxy wars. The world has not been divided into two Orwellian halves, democrats vs. communists.
Anne Applebaum is right to see risk in the rise of China and Russia.
Yet, in her main assertion — that a renewed Cold War mentality would be an exaggerated overreaction — Applebaum could not be more wrong.
We face a world that’s just as dangerous as that of the Cold War era, and perhaps more so. Where the Cold War was constrained by the mutual threat of thermonuclear destruction, the combination of nuclear proliferation, disparate interests, and fear has made this moment fraught with danger.
To secure our better future, we must accept that the world is now dominated by three competing philosophies.
The first philosophy is that of the statist authoritarians. We often dismiss the threat posed by these regimes. Surely, we claim, China would never be so stupid as to challenge American military power. Similarly, we assure ourselves that modern Russia is a shadow of its past strength.
We’re being delusional.
In China, the Standing Committee of the Communist party continues to play a “pick and mix” approach toward international order. Where China’s leaders seek foreign investment, they churn out the language of mutually beneficial globalization. But there and elsewhere, threats of intimidation always lurk under and above the surface. We need to face up to their agenda: The Chinese dragons don’t seek unity with the West, they seek untrammeled power. In the restrictions they continue to impose on their own people, China’s leaders reveal their true agenda — subjugating individuals and individualism to the power of the state.
Then there’s Putin’s Russia, the world’s most powerful mafia state. Today’s Russia is a nation in which businessmen are props for Putin’s WWE-style masculinity and for his supposed magnanimity. His foreign policy is about unrepentant domination. With arrogant glee, Putin watches Syrians burn, then claims the mantle of peacemaker. Closer to home, the Russian leader bribes and bullies nations into submission. Russia has become the Soviet Union with a better suit.
The second philosophy is that of the ideological fascists.
From Baghdad to Nairobi to Sanaa, ideological fascists cut down all who dare to oppose them. Hiding behind a pretense of legitimacy and supported by their patrons in Tehran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah is strangling the diverse democracy that it claims to defend. Meanwhile, with a renewed flow of cash from the Sunni Arab kingdoms, the global Salafi jihad rampages across the planet, constantly stalking fresh blood for its “righteous” cause.
Whatever the competing agendas of these fanatics, Syria demonstrates the common outcome of their endeavor: a land of abject chaos and extraordinary human suffering. This is the price the ideological fascists are proud to pay for their power.
The stakes are apocalyptic: If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, their hate will find unrestrained expression
Then there are our states: the democratic states. Wearied by war and uninterested in a world of complexity, democracies are relinquishing their influence to others. Instead of applying our power, we hide behind the vapid notion of a self-sustaining international system. The costs of our new weakness are clear. Take Brazil’s flirtation with the “toilet paper” republics of Cuba and Venezuela. Where democracies fail to assert their principles, where they fail to condemn the injustice of kleptocracies, where they allow Chinese and Russian aggression without apology, where they equivocate in the face of fascists, they render themselves powerless.
In March 1946, facing the rise of the Soviet Iron Curtain in Europe, Winston Churchill urged caution against the desire to appease totalitarianism: “We cannot afford, if we can help it, to work on narrow margins, offering temptations to a trial of strength.” Sixty-seven years later, this again rings true.
As 2013 closes, the world is divided into three parts, competing for the future of humankind. If we care about our future, we cannot afford continued equivocation. Our freedom has given us both the inspiration and the power to oppose the encroachment of injustice. We must use it.