UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres declared last week that the Cold War was "back with a vengeance, but with a difference", though geopolitically speaking, many are wondering what really changed in the intervening two and a half decades since the old one. He qualified his statement by mentioning that the primary difference is that "the mechanisms and the safeguards to manage the risks of escalation that existed in the past no longer seem to be present", which implies that the New Cold War is much more disorderly and chaotic than the old one. That view correlates with what President Putin said around the same time in warning that further US-led strikes on Syria "would inevitably lead to chaos in International Relations", which is a remarkably bold statement for this characteristically mild-mannered world leader to make.
But as the saying goes, "the more things change, the more they stay the same", and there are many systemic parallels between the Old Cold War and the new one.
Just like the previous round of global competition was driven by the rivalry between capitalism and communism, this one is motivated by those who want to retain the fading unipolar structure of world affairs and the countries that are struggling to make it more multipolar. Instead of West vs. East, there are convincing overtones of what Russian philosopher Alexander Dugin has described as Atlantis vs. Eurasia, or the sea-faring powers against the continental ones. The first-mentioned unipolar category is led by the US, France, and the UK — not coincidentally the three countries that just bombed Syria — while the latter is comprised of Russia, China, and Iran — once again, not coincidentally the three Great Powers that opposed this illegal attack.
That said, it's impossible to overlook some of the glaring differences between how this global competition is being waged nowadays.
An interesting complex interdependency ties both so-called "sides" together, and about that, there's no longer a set-in-stone "bloc" mentality like before, with everything being much more flexible and fluid this time around. That explains why the mantra of "win-win" cooperation is beginning to take precedence over the "zero-sum" mentality. In addition, non-state actors such as transnational corporations, NGOs, and terrorist groups are more important than ever, and a lot of their and their state counterparts' activities are taking place in the online realm too, which didn't exist two and a half decades ago. Lastly, another key difference is the pivotal influence that civilizational factors are exerting on International Relations.
To discuss this topic in more detail, Andrew Korybko is joined by Tim Kirby, an award-winning American radio host and political analyst, based in Russia.
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