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The probability of war among all countries from to was 0. Not just from history but also in light of the foreseeable future, we see scant possibility of full-scale war between great powers, to the extent that many experts now argue that wars between great powers are a thing of the past. The evolution of international politics is one essential reason. Recurrent and persistent conquests among countries over history have led to a steady increase of war costs, and the catastrophic repercussions of two world wars, moreover, changed the erstwhile ever-positive view estimation of warfare.

In addition, the industrial revolution contributed to a fundamental transformation of the socio-political and economic structure.


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All of these developments were instrumental in bringing about the gradual demise of major wars after The interconnectedness and interdependence of the global economy since has significantly diminished the relative utility of war as a tool for grabbing profits. In addition, due to the exorbitant costs that would be entailed in great powers going to war against one another, the slightest intimation in any one of their signals of the use of force would set alarm bells ringing for all concerned, a factor that considerably lowers the probability of a war triggered by asymmetric information.

There are undoubtedly various reasons for the dearth of wars between great powers since WWII, and the most fundamental reason is, unsurprisingly, still controversial. However, how scholars explain the phenomenon is one thing, while how they anticipate the prospect of it is another. That war among great powers will be increasingly rare has been becoming a mainstream consensus in academic circles. Having benefited from the lessons of modern European history, traditional International Relations IR theories do not recognize the feasibility of coexistence of the two poles that the two most powerful countries in the international system constitute.

In their view, when the rising power rises and threatens the hegemonic position of the ruling power, the outcome is either war waged by the rising power with a view to territorial expansion, or pre-emptive war that the ruling power launches to defend its hegemony. In short, power transition through a hegemonic war is the most likely outcome for the two superpowers. In fact, academics have taken note of this intermediate state between war and peace. After the end of WWII, the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, the two superpowers that survived the war, quickly degenerated from one of allies to that of enemies locked in constant strife.

The Cold War, which the United States and the Soviet Union fought for hegemony through utilizing all means other than world war, thereafter swept the globe for almost half a century. The world thus became divided into two mutually-isolated camps that fought against each other for decades. We call a system bipolar if it consists in two superpowers over the entire international system that have not, for some reason, been involved in a hegemonic war, and thus stand a chance of co-existence.

In other words, is the risk that a bipolar structure might cause a cold war sufficient to trigger precautionary measures? On the one hand, the Cold War system was divided into two hostile spheres of influence that experienced the most violent and prolonged confrontation, other than war, in modern history. Each side regarded the other as a major threat to its survival, to the extent that both ploughed huge resources into developing and producing weapons of mass-destruction sufficient to destroy the entire planet.

One of the immediate consequences of the Cold War was the loss of millions of lives in many parts of the Third World due to superpower confrontations. Although the antagonism between the two was intense, neither engaged in direct war against the other. On the one hand, this bipolarity appears able to explain why the two superpowers, although in sharp opposition to each other, maintain peace.

The classic explanation of the theory of bipolar stability is: Firstly, which of the two poles has greater potential to become the hegemonic power and is hence more likely to become a threat to other members of the system are far more evident under the bipolar structure than the multipolar structure. Under a bipolar structure great powers have no place to hide their capacities and behaviours, and it is difficult for them to lay blame on other countries.

Secondly, which actor should take major responsibility for balancing potential hegemony is also much less ambiguous, and so inhibits buck-passing. Last but not least, because of the hierarchical gap between the superpowers and other countries, the significance of any particular ally to either of the two superpowers is negligible. Superpowers under the bipolar structure are thus far less likely to be entrapped into a war than if they were under the multipolar structure where they are unable to ignore the will of their allies.

On the other hand, bipolarity also seems able to explain why the two superpowers fight against each other and form antagonistic camps. Waltz, there is no periphery under the bipolar system, and either of the two superpowers is alert to events occurring even in remote areas. Therefore, maintenance of tension and recurrence of crises are prominent features of the bipolar system, 30 and also strikingly reminiscent of the Cold War. At the same time, many scholars believe that the emergence of two confrontational alliance camps is a natural—even inevitable—consequence of bipolarity, to the extent of perceiving it as an inherent feature of the bipolar system.

As mentioned earlier, due to nuclear weapons and other factors, the absence of wars between great powers is becoming a feature of our era wherein, irrespective of the current international structure, the probability of direct war between great powers is extremely low. Therefore, the question that now arises is whether or not these two poles will lead to a system of division and confrontation. If the new bipolar structure indeed emerges, will the result be two discrete clusters of distinct and rigidly demarcated camps, as occurred during the Cold War, thus once again splitting the world into two mutually antagonistic factions?

Since the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century it has been increasingly perceived that China has or is about to become the second superpower since the end of the Cold War, that China and the United States are now the two most important countries in the current global system, and that China is the country most likely to threaten or even replace US hegemony in the near future. Subjective judgment, however, is insufficient to convince us of the significant change in international structure that is taking place; we need more objective standards and data.

Having reached It is on account of these three trends that the unipolar system, which arose after the collapse of the USSR, indeed appears now to be transitioning towards a US—China bipolar system, rather than a multipolar one.


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It would thus appear that a new bipolar system is close at hand. Will it repeat the mistakes of the Soviet-American bipolar system, and drag the world back to the Cold War? In fact, there are valid grounds for this concern. On this basis, I then explore the co-ruling mechanism as applicable to superpowers and its implications.

I find that two crucial conditions determine the realization and maintenance of co-ruling: i the foreign functions of the two superpowers are differentiated, and ii neither of the two powers desires to wage war against the other for exclusive dominance over small countries.

According to Waltz, countries in the international system fall into the two categories. Countries that become great powers are obviously those who are eligible to vie for dominant power in the international system. Power as a relational concept 51 refers to the ability to make others do what they otherwise would not do, 52 which is reflected in the relationship between domination and subordination. Similarly, the power of the superpowers must be materialized through their control of and impact on small states. It is unusual in the real world for a superpower voluntarily to give up the contest and hand over hegemony of the entire system to its rival.

But this odd-looking situation whereby hegemony of the whole world belongs almost exclusively to a single country can indeed happen, due to certain domestic reasons over particular periods.

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From the perspective of the Balance of Power Theory, this is an inevitable outcome of the bipolar structure. According to the Divided-ruling Mode, if a small country is an ally of a pole, then it is necessarily not the ally of the other pole. Similarly, a region belonging to the sphere of influence of one superpower means that it does not belong to the sphere of influence of the other.

In a nutshell, it may be supposed that most small countries are simultaneously the allies of both superpowers. Recently, however, a scholar pointed out that the inference whereby the two superpowers necessarily balance each other cannot be theoretically deducted from Structural Realism. The reasoning of structural realism relies heavily on analogies with microeconomic models.

In fact, their gains through collusion are generally higher than the profits of vicious competition. Provided that the bipolar system of international politics can be analogous to the duopoly market, the behaviour of the two poles of a bipolar system is not necessarily the same as what Neo-realism claims that they balance each other, and accordingly different from Cold War history. It is reasonable for them to collude strategically with each other for the sake of greater gains. This being the case, co-ruling emerges. Among the four modes of domination—subordination relationship, the most common one is undoubtedly the third, which explains why so many believe that divided-ruling under bipolarity is an inevitable law.

By contrast, the Mode of Co-ruling is so rare that there are almost no existing theories accounting for it. Since this mode is theoretically feasible and not unprecedented, however, why is it so rare? This is explained by the fact that the state of co-ruling is in most cases unstable. There are three main reasons for this: Firstly, both great power A and great power B have the opportunistic motivation to monopolize all small states. This motive stems from the desire for power and accompanying status. Offensive Realism argues that states are sensitive to their relative power, always maximizing their power and constantly seeking the chance to weaken their opponents.

If so, that pole will decide to wage war against its rival to gain higher status. IR scholars have noted the negative impact of geographical distance on military projection capability. Last but not least, small states are motivated to escape the state of co-ruling because the cost of surrendering to one power rather than two great powers is significantly lower. In the case of positive guarantees, ones to do with security guarantees are most common, and also those most needed for small states.

As to negative assurance, this is generally also a kind of security guarantee. On the other hand, obtaining the guarantee of another new great power would double the burden of submission on small states. In the tributary system of ancient East Asia, this means that small countries must simultaneously pay tribute to the two great powers. In the modern international system, this amounts to small states militarily assuming the alliance obligations for the two great powers while politically supporting and subordinating to both of them.

This would undoubtedly increase the burden on small countries. In addition, simultaneous surrender to the two major powers also increases the difficulty of implementation. Exploring the reasons for the rarity of co-ruling is conducive to seeking the conditions and mechanisms of its emergence.

As noted above, a critical factor among the difficulties imbued in the emergence and maintenance of co-ruling is that the costs to small states of accepting co-ruling far outweigh the benefits. Why would a small country willingly accept the leadership of two great powers at the same time? This would depend on whether or not the two poles are functionally differentiated.

That nations are functionally undifferentiated is a bedrock assumption of Structural Realism. Waltz argued that, under anarchy, each country must defend its own security while coordinating the governance of its domestic affairs. They argue that there were indeed countries in international systems that had distinct functions. The domestic function of all countries is to defend their own security, yet this does not mean that all countries in the international community play the same roles relative to others.

As far as foreign function is concerned, that of each country is obviously different. Functions included maintaining the balance of power in Europe, and protecting small countries from the threat of others. They thus demonstrated and expanded their international influence and authorities. As earlier mentioned, the main reason why small states are reluctant to surrender to two great powers at the same time is that doing so doubles their obligations but does not significantly improve their utility compared with subordinating to a single great power.

From the supply and demand perspective, there are two conditions for great power functional differentiation under the bipolar system: Condition I: Small countries, as the demand side, generally have other fundamental needs in addition to that of survival. Condition II: Each of the two great powers as the supply side can only meet one of the needs of small countries, and the types of needs the two great powers can respectively satisfy are different from each other. Once the two conditions are simultaneously met, the two poles enact different roles over small countries which carry considerable importance.

At this time, small states may accept the leadership of the related great powers in each specific fields, in order to ensure both of their different needs are met. It is because China and the United States have been playing their own comparative advantages in the economic and security fields respectively that other East Asian countries are willing to accept the leadership of China and the United States in these two areas at the same time.

Assuming satisfaction of the two conditions mentioned above, i. Driven by the desire for power, the two superpowers still have the incentive to wage and win wars against their opponent and bring all small states under its exclusive rule.

Formation of the United Nations and Western outlook - COLD WAR

In such a case, the domination—subordination mode of relationship will transform from co-ruling into monopoly or divided-ruling. Therefore, another necessary condition for the emergence and maintenance of co-ruling is that the two great powers are bound by the cost of war or normative factors, and do not try to compel the other power to withdraw from hegemonic competition or deprive it of competitive capability through war and violence.

In an anarchic world without a central authority, this condition is generally difficult to meet. The potential cost of a war between the superpowers has risen beyond the pale because of some important factors such as nuclear deterrence and economic interdependence. Based on the above analysis, I draw the mechanism through which the superpowers in the bipolar structure achieve differential competition and conduct co-ruling over small countries.

Superpower Rivalry and Conflict: The Long Shadow of the Cold War on the Twenty-First Century

Compared with the divided-ruling of the Cold War, co-ruling through differential competition has obvious positive implications. Firstly, a lesser degree of conflict and antagonism will be entailed in differential competition than in homogeneity competition. Compare the competition between two businessmen in a market, one who sells vegetables and the other fruits. The intensity of competition between them is bound to be less than that between two sellers of vegetables. This contributes to abating the geopolitical colour of great power politics.

That is, small countries may benefit from the competition between the two poles. The three implications above show that the situations of both the great powers and the small countries will improve due to co-ruling; the realization of co-ruling is hence a kind of Pareto improvement on the divided-ruling mode. This section analyses four cases of great power competition under the bipolar system to test the conditions and mechanism of co-ruling as proposed in the third section.

The case studies demonstrate that the co-ruling mode will be stably maintained only when the foreign functions of the two superpowers are differentiated, and inter-great-power war is no longer a viable strategic option. Relations between the two great powers constitutes the backbone of Spring and Autumn history.

Almost all the major wars during this period, including the War of Chengpu, the War of Bi, and the War of Yanling, were triggered by the rivalry between Jin and Chu for suzerainty over Central Plains states such as Song and Zheng. As the two superpowers of the system, Jin and Chu wanted as many countries as possible in their respective hierarchical camps. This was the core contradiction between the two powers. Continuing and recurrent conflicts over hegemony placed enormous pressure on all countries.

Statistics show that more than 20 wars involving the Jin and Chu broke out in the interim between the War of Chengpu and the Xiangxu War-ceasing Conference. Led by courageous dissidents, they refused to submit further.

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Efforts by reformers such as Mikhail Gorbachev to shore up a failing system served only to expose its loss of legitimacy. If I read Westad correctly, he largely agrees with that interpretation. Ultimately, the side scoring fewer goals against itself prevailed.

Crucially, the vast arsenals accumulated by the chief protagonists were incidental to the eventual outcome, even if policy elites in Washington have yet to absorb that fact. Thus does the Cold War continue to cast a very long shadow. Yet in the present moment, shadows are not helpful. The times call for new sources of illumination, which historians ought to provide. The problem begins with the term itself.

With the passage of time, it no longer adequately describes the period to which it is commonly applied. To perpetuate its use constitutes a failure of historical imagination. We need to remember differently. Its transitory nature suggests that the rivalry between the two so-called superpowers was only one factor among many shaping the present-day global order.

Rather than cementing American dominion, as Westad claims, the postwar decades actually served to redistribute and disperse power. It also inaugurated new forms of competition involving a different roster of competitors, not all of them traditional nation-states.

ISBN 10: 0415550254

Westad gives us an old story. We deserve a new one. The time is ripe for some enterprising young historian to write a book called Cold War: Not. My earnest hope is that it will be shorter than this one. Please email comments to letters commonwealmagazine. Hardly a Triumph. By Andrew J. Foreign Affairs. Share Share Twitter Print. John F.


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    By Anuradha M. Chenoy Translated from the Telugu by C. The concept of national security is about the means that states use for the maintenance of territorial integrity, internal cohesion and political order. The protection and enhancement of individual and communal human rights is the starting point in the alternative paradigm of the human security concept.

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    Alongside this insular provincial world there is the world of Agra and the imperial court, which are the space of political expediency and sexual license, of wealth, power, cunning and worldly sophistication. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the attack on the World Trade Center shook up the international system which had been in place for four decades after the Second World War. The emergence of the United States as the sole superpower, and the unilateralist propensities in its actions in the international arena, have given rise to a debate on the nature of hegemony and the need to work towards a more equitable international order in the twenty-first century.

    This book focuses on how the US could adapt its foreign-policy initiatives to fit in with the growing aspirations of a multipolar world for a more balanced international order. Part I presents analyses of global perspectives on war, peace and hegemony, and the role of the United States. Superpower Rivalry and Conflict examines the trajectory of the Cold War and the fallouts for the rest of the world to seek lessons for the twenty-first century to manage international relations today and avoid conflict.