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HomeExpertsA rivalry more intense than the America-Soviet Cold War is emerging

A rivalry more intense than the America-Soviet Cold War is emerging

Fear, a force that drives countries to seek protective alliances, has at least two common denominators; perceived weakness and concern for the unknown intentions of other entities.

Alliance building starts with the identification of common interests that are presumably threatened by potential common enemies.

It calls for identifying the ‘team leader’ to rally the others and for members to minimize differences in order to focus on the identified ‘enemy.’ Fear of losing to rival predators in territory grabbing in Africa in the 19th Century, for instance, led to two competing alliance systems that produced the Great War.

After World War II, fear produced Cold War alliances featuring power rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. Fear is also the driving force behind the brewing emerging rival alliances, competing for global dominance, between the declining Conceptual West and the rising BRICS system.

The United States won that Cold War and, in its triumphalist endeavour to bully the rest of the world into compliance with the conceptual West’s wishes, created global sense of resentment. It bombed countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya into stone age.

By destroying Libya’s socio-economic infrastructure, for seemingly proposing an African currency to compete with the dollar, it turned that prosperous North African state into dependency. Subsequently, the American led conceptual West became a source of fear that generates the BRICS system as a counterweight.

That emerging rivalry threatens to suck in the world intensely, similar to the US-Soviet Cold War rivalry. It is so intense that it threatens to outdo the Cold War in doing the previously unthinkable.

As long as the Cold War lasted, so argued Cold War guru John Lewis Gaddis, there was the ‘long peace’ because the major powers did not fight. Although they might have engaged through proxies, they did not directly confront each other, not even in Korea, Vietnam or Afghanistan. That is not necessarily the case in the emerging rival alliance systems.

There are two clear differences between the Cold War rivalries and the emerging one. The Cold War nerve centres, Washington DC for the American side and Moscow for the Soviet side, were of whitish European stock that had dominated the world for roughly over 500 years.

Being a power struggle on who should dictate to the world, they clothed their global reach with missionary zeal that ignored the concerns of the Global South. This generated and generates global resentment. There are, however, disappointed countries in the conceptual West who seek to assert themselves and create their own geopolitical identity in a reconfiguring world. These include Japan, France, and may be Australia.

The alternative is in the emerging rival alliance system whose centre is in China, an Asiatic country which is not white and was previously victim of Conceptual West imperialism. Together with other victims such as India, Brazil, and South Africa, China responds by ganging up in BRICS whose policies allow members to escape Washington’s predatory inclinations.

In addition, the turning of the SWIFT global financial system into a geopolitical weapon against those differing with Washington, encouraged many countries to look for alternative financial systems; the growing BRICS system seems to provide that alternative. Moscow, with its Ukraine crisis, finds solace largely in the Global South which questions NATO/EU logic.

As a target of Western pressures, Russia is part of the Beijing led BRICS alliance.

Since not all countries are rushing to join the new BRICS alliance, even if they are unhappy with the conceptual West, there is the possibility of another option, as in the Cold War.

A fresh Non-Aligned arrangement, argues former AU official Erastus Mwencha, could arise. It would comprise those who fit neither in the Conceptual West nor in the BRICS system. Its organising centre, however, has yet to emerge although mid-level powers might try doing it.

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Prof Munene teaches History and International Relations at USIU

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