After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars

By G. John Ikenberry | Go to book overview

Chapter Seven
AFTER THE COLD WAR

THE END of the Cold War has evoked comparisons with 1815, 1919, and 1945. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later brought to a sudden end four decades of superpower conflict. The old bipolar international order disappeared, and a new distri/ bution of power took shape. The United States and its allies claimed vic/ tory, while the Soviet Union and its allies either slipped into oblivion or political and economic disarray. In the search for historical comparisons and lessons, scholars have good reasons to look back at earlier postwar settlements.1

But the end of the Cold War was also different. The destruction of socie/ ties and political regimes resulted from the collapse of the Soviet empire and not from the violence of war. Armies did not march across borders and occupy territory. In the years that followed in the end of the Cold War, more than a few Russians remarked—only half jokingly—that reform and reconstruction in the former Soviet Union would have been more success/ ful if Russia had actually been invaded and defeated by the West; the United States and its allies might have been more generous in extending assistance. The Cold War ended “not with military victory, demobilization, and celebration but with the unexpected capitulation of the other side with/ out a shot being fired.”2

Only part of the post-World War II order—the bipolar order—was de/ stroyed by the dramatic events of 1989–1991. The order among the demo/ cratic industrial powers was still intact. Indeed, many American and Euro/ pean observers were quick to argue that the Soviet collapse amounted to a triumph of Western institutions and policies. After past great wars, the old

____________________
1
For discussions of the end of the Cold War as a postwar juncture, see K. J. Holsti, “The Post-Cold War ‘Settlement’ in Comparative Perspective,” in Douglas T. Stuart and Stephen F. Szabo, eds., Discord and Collaboration in a New Europe: Essays in Honor of Arnold Wolfers (Washington, D.C.: Foreign Policy Institute, Johns Hopkins University, 1994), pp. 37–69; John Gerard Ruggie, “Third Try at World Order? America and Multilateralism after the Cold War,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 109, No. 4 (1994), pp. 553–70; Ronald Steel, “Pro/ logue: 1919–1945–1989,” in Manfred F. Boemeke, Gerald D. Feldman, and Elisabeth Glaser, eds., The Treaty of Versailles: A Reassessment after 75 Years (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 21–34; and John Lewis Gaddis, “History, Grand Strategy and NATO En/ largement,” Survival, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Spring 1998), pp. 145–51.
2
Robert Hutchings, American Diplomacy and the End of the Cold War: An Insider's Account of U.S. Policy in Europe, 1989–1992 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), p. 343.

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