Ghassan Salamé is a Lebanese diplomat and academic. He has held several positions of responsibility at the United Nations, including that of head of the mission for Libya, from 2017 to 2020. Director of the School of International Affairs of Sciences Po Paris between 2010 and 2015, he was Minister of the culture of the Lebanese government of Rafic Hariri (2000-2003). He is notably the author ofEmpire calls. Interference and resistance in the age of globalization (Fayard, 1996) and When America remakes the world (Fayard, 2005).
Should we fear a return to the cold war between the West and Russia?
Some analysts, including my academic colleagues, speak of a return to the Cold War. Much was taught in the 1970s and 1980s about the famous neorealist thesis of international relations developed by the American political scientist Kenneth Waltz [1924-2013]. According to this, a great power whose status is deteriorating does not allow itself to be done without reacting militarily. However, the Cold War ended in 1989, without the Russia of Mikhail Gorbachev, and even less of Boris Yeltsin, reacting militarily – first to its territorial contraction, and then to its degradation in the international system. Everyone concluded: “The thesis was false, we were wrong. A great power could therefore see its status deteriorate without reacting militarily. When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, the same people reconsidered their position : “No, after all, the theory was good, but it took thirty years to come true. We would thus have returned to the Cold War.
And this is not the case?
No. First, because the Cold War opposed two states in particular, surrounded by two blocs, both of which were proselytizing in the rest of the world, the scene of an ideological struggle. But there is none of that today. There are no two religions – a free world and a socialist world – that clash anywhere on the planet.
But most importantly, the principle of bipolarity was implicit in the Cold War. The world aligned, or split, according to this division. However, we are no longer in a system of ideological cleavage in two parts. We can clearly see this with the war in Ukraine. States did not align themselves directly around a central issue as they would have done during the Cold War. Look at the attitude of Eastern European and Latin American countries. Look at the positions of India, Israel, Morocco, South Africa… These states observe the war in Ukraine and express themselves through the prism of their national interests – borders, economy, regional tensions – that they feel more or less well taken into account by the West.
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