Obama says the continued existence of so many nukes amounts to “the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War.” I’m not so sure. Yes, nukes are dangerous, and I would certainly love to see Russia have a lot fewer of them and better control over the ones they have left. Indeed, when you think about it, the main reason Russia’s nukes are scary is that they might not stay Russian for too long. Meanwhile, I don’t feel threatened at all by America’s nukes (I guess I’m in Derb’s you can never have too many nukes camp on that score). I don’t feel threatened by France or Britain’s nukes at all either. I’m more worried about China’s but not that much, for the moment. I’m very, very, worried about Pakistan’s given the troubles over there. Iran’s plans to get one and North Korea’s mischief are also very worrisome. In short, my attitude toward nukes is the geostrategic version of my attitude toward guns. I don’t like super-crazy and/or criminal people owning guns and I don’t like super-crazy and/or criminal regimes owning nukes. If Russia became as stable, prosperous, and democratic as Switzerland, I wouldn’t care one bit if they had a lot of nukes so long as they safeguarded them properly.
Anyway, what really interests me is the question of what the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War really was, if it wasn’t the existence of nukes.
Some might say the military-industrial complex or the national-security state. But not me. To me, the most obvious dangerous legacy of the Cold War would have to be the damage the Soviets did to the world. I don’t mean the millions they murdered; those dead do not threaten us now, even if they should haunt us.
I mean the relentless distortion of the truth, the psychological violence they visited on the West and the World via their useful idiots and their agents. I’m thinking not merely of the intellectual corruption of the American Left (which even folks like Richard Rorty had to concede), but the corruption of reformers and their movements around the globe. Soviet propaganda still contaminates, while nuclear fallout does not. Lies about America, the West, and the nature of democratic capitalism live on throughout the third world and in radioactive pockets on American campuses.
The Soviet effort to foster wars of national liberation, to poison the minds of the “Bandung Generation,” to deracinate cultures from their own indigenous building blocks of democracy, to destroy non-Marxist competitors interested in reform, to create evil and despotic regimes that are seen as “authentic” because they represent the “true will” of their subjugated and beaten down peoples: these seem to me to amount to the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War. Not least because it was those sorts of efforts that gave birth to North Korea in the first place.