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Cold War logic outdated


In his book The Economic Consequences of the Peace published in 1919, John Maynard Keynes, a UK economist and father of Keynesian economics, compared the stance of the victors of World War I to that of the Romans toward the Carthaginians after the end of the Punic Wars (264-146 BC). At that time, Rome dealt Carthage an extremely cruel defeat, virtually eliminating the Mediterranean influence of that ancient Phoenician city in North Africa.

Keynes took part in the Paris Conference that negotiated the terms of the Central Powers' surrender and witnessed the revanchism of France and Britain against Germany and former US president Woodrow Wilson's weakness in containing the vengeful fury of the two allies. In practice, the main objective of the Treaty of Versailles was to completely liquidate Germany's industrial capacity and impose on it a heavy war debt that would serve as an iron ball for many years. The treaty also created the League of Nations, but it was born dead, as the United States refused to participate in the organization.

The famous economist foresaw that the treaty's terms would harm the winning nations themselves. He analyzed the level of interconnection between the European economies before the war, of which Germany was the leading trading partner of many of them, including France and Britain. He also predicted that the collapse of Germany would be the economic collapse of the entire continent, as happened in the 1920s and, more drastically, after the New York Stock Exchange Crash in 1929. Another prediction made by Keynes was that Germany would take revenge the moment it managed to rebalance itself economically, as happened after the rise of the Third Reich.

When World War II ended in 1945, the attitude of the victorious powers was different. The Tehran (1943), Bretton Woods (1944), Yalta, Potsdam, and San Francisco (1945) conferences served as an institutional framework for the new order that emerged in the postwar period. The beginning of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union did not shake the central structures, even though the socialist countries organized an economic system apart from the West.

Specifically, concerning the two defeated powers, the US' treatment was different from before. It supported the reconstruction of Japan and Germany and incorporated them into the economic system it led. The Marshall Plan served not only for reconstruction but also for the modernization of European economies.

Bretton Woods institutions and the new monetary system, based on the gold standard, allowed the return to convertibility of several European currencies and the formation of the European Monetary System, which decades later would be the basis for the euro. The overcoming of rivalries between Germany and France also contributed to creating the foundations of the European Union. Finally, the adoption of Keynesian economic policies enabled economic development and the incorporation of the working masses into the consumer market.

When looking at the policy of the US and Europe at the end of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the posture of the victors, it again resembled that of the Romans in imposing the Carthaginian peace.

The adoption of the "Shock Therapy" and the ideas of the Washington Consensus served as a means for a minority to appropriate a wide range of public-owned assets and businesses in Eastern European countries, including Russia, and led to the breakdown of the social assistance structure of states, and an unprecedented increase in unemployment and misery. The main indication of this tragedy is the decrease in the population's life expectancy. Specifically, concerning Russia, this indicator decreased from 70 years in 1990 to 65 years in 2000.

Another aspect of the draconian treatment of the defeated Russia occurred with the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization toward the East. In the negotiations between Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush, and later, between Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton, there was a commitment that NATO would not expand the bloc toward Russia's borders.

Between 1999 and 2005, many countries from the former socialist bloc joined NATO, including Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. There were attempts to incorporate Georgia, but Moscow acted energetically to prevent this process. There have also been attempts to destabilize various countries through the so-called color revolutions, most recently in Belarus in 2020 and in Kazakhstan last January.

Considering the context related to the current crisis, the great powers must learn from history: the "Carthaginian peace" strategy is extremely dangerous, because should a humiliated country manage to regain its strength, it will seek to reestablish its former power condition and claim the rights that have been suppressed.

In this regard, it is important to recall a new type of relations between major powers, which seeks to create a more cooperative international environment through a multilateral order that contemplates the vital interests of each stakeholder of the international community.

It is necessary to overcome the logic of the Cold War to build a world that responds to the real challenges facing human societies, such as the climate crisis, hunger and poverty.

The author is a professor of international political economy at Sao Paulo State University. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn