Cold War redux? The high price of old habits – Part I

I have spent the past 10 days in Austria, delivering a short course on science, technology, diplomacy and international policy at the  Diplomatic Academy of Vienna.

Unsurprisingly, the rapid pace of developments in the immediate neighbourhood – Kyiv and points east – has produced a particularly strong sense of unease in central Europe.

Much of the commentary generated by the crisis in Ukraine has focussed on the potential for localized violence spinning out of control and spreading. While that possibility cannot be ruled out, it is the prospect of a geostrategic reversion to patterns of thought and action once associated with the Cold War that probably represents a more profound challenge to international security over the longer term.

The preoccupation on all sides with military gestures is worrisome. That such machinations are underpinned ultimately by the stultifying, terrifying calculus of mutually assured destruction stirs dark memories of days which until recently appeared long past.

If stability must once again be achieved through reliance upon a Cold War-style stand-off, mankind will have taken a giant step backwards.

Correct? Could Dr. Strangelove ride again?


But it is also possible that at the most fundamental level of world order analysis there is actually rather less going on here than meets the eye.

Behind the headlines, and beneath the frantic manoeuvring for advantage, there may be more continuity than change in the prognosis. In the end it is that implication which may prove the most costly.

More on all of this in the next post.