The Cold War is back in the news again, thanks to president Trump’s tariffs and economic moves against China.
Honestly, I’m more than a little skeptical that we’re entering a new Cold War.
Like World War II and Nazi Germany, the Cold War is something that the pundit class rather enjoys hyperbolically comparing current events to. China is typically seen as one of America’s primary rivals in the 21st century. That position is more or less correct.
But to compare rising tensions with China to the Cold War is more than fantasy; it’s hyperbole.
The Cold War was an ideological and geopolitical conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. Proxy wars, like those in Cuba and Vietnam, were a staple of the Cold War. So was nuclear buildup, the Space Race, and the threat of nuclear annihilation.
Other countries basically had to pick a side. Western Europe was with the US, Eastern Europe with the Soviets. It was a bimodal world, with two superpowers, both intent on spreading their ideological and economic structures globally. In the case of the Soviets, it was almost cult-like. Our new conflicts are different. We have entered a period of regionalization, in a sense. China is not in an ideological struggle with the United States; it’s in a struggle for hegemony over East Asia, a region that China believes it ought to dominate. Russia is much the same, regarding Eastern Europe as its own.
China’s rise is something that needs to be contended with. But hyperbolic ravings about a new Cold War will do no good. For the US, policy must be done with an eye towards the future, not replays of the past.