Taking the Democratic Way; Cold War Europe

By Kaldor, Mary | The Nation, April 22, 1991 | Go to article overview

Taking the Democratic Way; Cold War Europe


Kaldor, Mary, The Nation


During the 1980s I had three wishes. I wished for the end of the cold war, for democracy in Eastern Europe and for a disarmament process to begin. I wished for them every time I stirred a Christmas pudding, caught an autumn leaf or shared a chicken wishbone. And all my wishes came true. But just as in the fairy stories, what I got was quite different from what I expected.

Instead of entering an era of peace, harmony and cooperation, we seem to be sliding into an era of chaos, violence and division. The Western military machine thundered away in the Persian Gulf. The economies and environments of Eastern Europe are devastated, and a new "golden curtain" is dropping to protect the rich West from Eastern economic refugees. New nationalist, religious and ethnic fundamentalisms-what Jacques Delors, president of the European Commission, calls " ideologies of exclusion" -are growing everywhere. Bloody civil wars in the Soviet Union seem increasingly likely. Meanwhile, the West is still doing business as usual. Arms cuts have been minor. NATO not only still exists but has expanded to include a united Germany, even though the Warsaw Pact has disintegrated. There is no commitment to solving any of the deep-rooted global problems we face. For the most part, the West has not shed its cold war conditioning. Only in Eastern Europe has the cold war ended.

There were two main Western reactions to last year's events in Eastern Europe. Both stem from long-held assumptions about the nature of the cold war, and both have very dangerous consequences. One is the mood of triumphalism and self-congratulation. This was alleged to be a victory for the West, for American as opposed to European values. The West, said Margaret Thatcher, held out a "beacon of freedom" to the peoples of the East. This is the "end of history," said Francis Fukuyama, the victory for the "universal homogeneous state " which combines political freedom and consumerism. Western triumphalism is an expression of the orthodox view of the cold war as an epic struggle between freedom and totalitarianism. The West was identified with freedom and the East with totalitarianism. It was Western military strength that was supposed to have kept totalitarianism at bay. For some thinkers, freedom is inextricably linked to free markets and a neoliberal ideology.

The problem is that the West cannot be equated with freedom. Certainly, Western countries are democratic countries and Eastern Europeans lusted after Western democracy. But the West did little to support struggles for freedom either in the Third World or in Eastern Europe. On the contrary, Western governments supported brutal military dictatorships in the Third World. And the creation in the late 1940s of a West German state and a Western military alliance entailed the abandonment of the peoples of Eastern Europe.

Far from countering a Soviet military threat to Western Europe, NATO legitimized the Soviet presence in Eastern Europe. In the 1970s, during the detente period, there seemed to be a possibility of some evolution toward more open societies in Eastern Europe. Then came the emergence of Solidarity in 1980. The crackdown on Solidarity occurred at the height of the new cold war, in 1981, and was rationalized in terms of aggressive Western postures. The renunciation of the Brezhnev Doctrine triggered the wave of revolutions in Central Europe in 1989. That would have been impossible without the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) treaty and the new detente mood engendered after 1985 by the arms control process.

The Western triumphalists see little necessity for big reductions in military spending or for increased economic cooperation with Eastern Europe or the Third World. Conservatives argue that if Western military strength brought Communism to its knees, then the same approach can be applied in other parts of the world-to tin-pot dictators actually created by the West. Hence, the gung-ho attitude in the gulf. …

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