We recently just saw the 25th anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the symbol of the Cold War, the quarrel that defined the second half of the 20th century. Though the Soviet Union has ceased to exist for over two decades and communism is no longer viewed as the world’s biggest threat, it is safe to say the Cold War is far from over.
Yes, we may not necessarily live day-to-day never being certain if a nuclear exchange could happen at any given moment, but that doesn’t mean the threat has vaporized.
Last week, the Russian military announced that long-range Russian bombers will be patrolling from the Arctic Ocean to the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. That’s just a few hundred miles from a large span of U.S. coastline. Why there? Why now?
I’m afraid the events of the Cold War have been forgotten as the generations who lived through it begin to disappear and those who grew up after 1989 don’t know how important it was. The situation between Russia and Ukraine is the hallmark of the modern conflict between the former Stalinist state and the West. It’s a complex relationship between the two, but hopefully it is a reminder that the world is not “safe” just because the U.S. no longer has a challenger superpower.
Nuclear warfare is not just an obsolete threat to humanity, or a good topic for a science fiction movie. It’s real. And it’s probably more likely now than ever. There are still thousands of nuclear weapons stockpiled, many which are ready to launch within 15 minutes. There are also more countries that possess nuclear weapons. In the age of terrorism, I don’t see why there wouldn’t be a catastrophic event involving nuclear terrorism in some American city sometime in the next 50 years.
Maybe communism isn’t the huge focus it was, but there are new threats now: the influence of ISIS fighters, terrorist groups, religious conflicts in the Middle East, aggression against American troop placement in Asia, among others.
There are many chapters of the Cold War that may have ended prior to 1991, but the book is still being written. NATO is still an organization with the same ambitions, nuclear weapons, biological and chemical warfare are not out of the picture, North and South Korea are still divided and still technically at war, groups in Afghanistan still possess the weapons the U.S. supplied them in 1979 to fight the Soviets, the U.S. still has an enormous military budget, China is a growing economic superpower, Cold War emergency response plans are still in place and have been used in some cases, like 9/11, and now Russian planes will revive Cold War-age patrols over the Gulf.
We still need to be concerned about these things. We’ve been lucky, really. We, as a race, have been able to prevent a world-wide conflict since World War II, but will we be able to preserve that luck when a lot of the same threats exist today? The war is not over. It’s been “over” for 25 years but it’s going to be a very long time, maybe longer than we will live to see, before the Berlin Wall really comes down.