‘Jaw jaw better than war war’ — lessons from the Cold War

'Jaw jaw better than war war' — lessons from the Cold War | INFBusiness.com

To be clear, talking does not automatically lead to giving up eastern Ukraine or Crimea. It is mainly about trying to find out what the intentions are, rather than just assuming (Photo: Image Bank of War in Ukraine)

A new documentary series on Netflix, The Turning Point, shows how nuclear weapons have completely changed the nature of war. Since the use of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, and the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, the world and therefore humanity can be destroyed at the push of a button.

We already knew that, at least for anyone who lived through the Cold War. What may surprise most viewers more is the fact that on several occasions we have been very close to such an all-destructive war.

  • 'Jaw jaw better than war war' — lessons from the Cold War | INFBusiness.com

    It was Sir Winston Churchill who coined the phrase 'jaw jaw is better than war war' – despite eventually having to overcome appeasement of Hitler and the 1938 Munich peace talks (Photo: Wikimedia)

On at least two occasions, the button was almost pushed — mainly because a computer gave the wrong signals.

A whole series of nuclear bombs were thought to be on the way when they were not. Only because of the intervention of one person each time who doubted the veracity of that information, are we all alive. A crazy thought, especially when you consider how much more we rely on artificial intelligence and computers in general today.

Even more interesting, however, is the overview of the misunderstandings between the two superpowers. Both Moscow and Washington were convinced that the other wanted world domination as its ultimate goal. This was wrong in both cases.

Moreover, political and military signals were misunderstood. Washington also thought Moscow was out for the destruction of the US and Europe, while Russia thought the same of the West. At times, these misunderstandings and misinterpretations led to within a hair’s breadth of all-out nuclear war.

The lessons for today are obvious. The first is based on what social psychology calls “ingroup-outgroup bias”, a kind of spontaneous bias towards another group.

It is because of this bias that we almost automatically attribute bad intentions to groups. We try to see into the mind of the ‘opponent’ and are convinced that they are seeking conflict, supremacy or even world domination. This is the way we look at Russia and China today, but it is also the way they look at the US and Europe.

Have gun, will shoot?

A second lesson from the Cold War is that the proliferation of weapons makes people and governments think more in war terms anyway. Anyone who buys a shotgun and hangs it over the fireplace is more likely to shoot a burglar.

Unlike in the Cold War, the US will not or no longer supply Europe with weapons. We now have to pay for them ourselves. Given that the war industry is mainly based in America, Europe will end up investing hundreds of billions of euros in the US “military-industrial complex”, to use the term coined by former president Dwight Eisenhower.

In other words, with a new rearmament, Europe is funding the US economy. Speaking of transfers.

War rhetoric is a big step towards war. It is a discourse that takes us into a downward spiral, where in the end there is only violence and destruction. But who remembers what war actually means? Sure, we see the misery in Ukraine or Gaza every day, but experiencing it ourselves is something else.

It is dull misery, fear of falling bombs flying by and unexpected shells exploding nearby. War is fleeing to camps where there is nothing but a canvas tent: no food, no toilets, no medication and no electricity. War is not knowing how it will end, whether any of your family will survive, or who will win in the end. If we have learnt anything over the past decades, it is that no one wins a war. In a war, in the end, everyone loses.

There were crucial moments during the Cold War when the sworn enemies, the president of the capitalist United States and the secretary-general of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, nevertheless, decided to talk to each other: Kennedy with Khrushchev, Nixon with Brezhnev, Reagan with Gorbachev. That always led to more peace and less war.

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Again, the question arises whether we should not talk again. It is true that talking has not always helped. The best example is the so-called peace conference in Munich in 1938, after which many European leaders were convinced that Hitler would quit.

To be clear, talking does not mean that this should automatically lead to giving up eastern Ukraine or Crimea. It is mainly about trying to find out what the intentions are, rather than just assuming.

Historical traumas

In 2019, I published the book Tribalisation. Why War is Coming, in which I defended the thesis that war is waged mainly for psychological reasons, often based on historical traumas. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the war in Gaza have opened a new kind of big Pandora’s box of historic traumas and fears.

Again there are cries that Moscow will invade the heartland of Europe, and that Brussels, Paris, Berlin and London are Russian targets. Again, there are warnings of the “Yellow Peril” and of a Chinese hostile takeover of the global economy. And again it is claimed that everyone should get ready for another world war.

The only question is whether fear is a good counsellor, and whether war rhetoric does not achieve the opposite of what we actually want, which is peace and security? Nuclear proliferation during the Cold War brought not more but less security. Doesn’t it make sense to learn something from this?

So does this mean that Europe should do nothing? Certainly not.

One obvious option is to align the European armies and bring some of them into a European army. These armies together are a lot bigger than what Russia will ever be able to field.

Another, perhaps much more important option is to focus heavily on more dialogue, more diplomacy, and more understanding of the fears and traumas of countries and cultures on other continents.

After all, these are the principles on which the European Union was built. No doubt this sounds like a weakness to many, but anything is better than plunging us into another major war.

Source: euobserver.com

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