The Waning of the Cold War: A Turning Point in Modern History?

The Waning of the Cold War: A Turning Point in Modern History?

Over forty years have passed since the beginnings of the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union in the wake of the Second World War. By the standards of modern history, that is a fairly long time. We are often told that we live in a time of rapid social change and cautioned against taking for granted the permanence of anything. We are less often warned of the opposite error: a present-mindedness that ignores recurrent patterns of events within the framework of quite durable conditions. Forty years is a sufficiently long time and the world a sufficiently large and varied place for just about every possible hopeful or threatening event short of all-out war or total mutual disarmament to have occurred in the relations between the two superpowers. No one who, as they say, is not getting any younger can possibly have witnessed the hoopla over last year’s summit meeting without having felt that he or she had seen it all at least several times before. Gorbachev’s reforming spirit certainly has its unprecedented aspects, but so did Khrushchev’s more than thirty years ago. Anyone with a memory does not need to be warned not to expect too much from these developments nor to be reminded that they fall short of ushering in universal peace.

Gorbachev’s reformism has created reason- able expectations of far-reaching changes beyond a renewed and more lasting détente, even if visions of total nuclear disarmament are unrealistic. Yet preoccupation with hopeful possibilities within the Soviet Union should not distract attention from broader and less revers- ible changes in world politics that make a return to the cold war unlikely, even if


Wurgraft | University of California Press Lima