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No unity 30 years after end of the Cold War

Germany is set to mark 30 years of reunification this weekend. The end of the Cold War also marked the beginning of a new era of international relations. What began with high hopes ultimately led to a Cold Peace.

No unity 30 years after end of the Cold War


In 1989, the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama declared the ultimate triumph of liberal democracy given the upheaval in Eastern and Central Europe — and hence “The End of History” as his much-quoted book is titled. 

Three decades later at this year’s Munich Security Conference, he openly admitted that not all his prognoses had been accurate. Today, relations between Europa and the US are strained; relations between the West and Russia are in tatters and characterised by mutual distrust. Meanwhile, relations between the US and China are already being described as a new Cold War. Anyone in any doubt that the world is a long way away from “The End of History” needs to look no further than global defense spending. 

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), last year saw the biggest increase in ten years. The US continues to lead the way, followed by its new geo-strategic foe, China. Russia is fourth, a good distance behind. 

High hopes 

In the face of these numbers, it is difficult to imagine the “great sense of optimism” described by the historian when he looks back on the — temporary — end of the Cold War 30 years ago. 

“You could shape the future again. And great new opportunities seemed to open up in reunified Germany and also in its neighboring countries,” Konrad Jarausch, the former director of the Center for Contemporary History in Potsdam said. “And one aspect came true. 

In the form of the democratisation of Eastern Europe and the economic development there.” The atmosphere was heavy with hopes and expectations. Bold plans were laid at international conferences. The President of the Soviet Union at the time, Mikhail Gorbachev outlined his vision of a “common European home,” in which all inhabitants would share the same sense of security. 

In November 1990, 34 heads of state attended a special summit of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, CSCE, signing the Paris Charter and ceremoniously declaring the division of Europe a thing of the past. Horst Teltschik was at the conference in Paris as a close advisor of the last West German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl. 

In an interview with DW, Teltschik recalled the moment after the signing ceremony: “Gorbachev stood up and said ‘Our task is to move from dictatorship to democracy and from the planned economy to the market economy.’ These principles are enshrined in the charter.” Little remains of this early enthusiasm. 

The West German Foreign Minister at the time, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, observed in a guest column thirty years later: “It would appear that some people are not interested in overcoming division, but merely want the lines of division moved east from central Europe.” “For a certain period, the US was the only remaining superpower,” said historian Jarausch. 

“The Russians had their own problems to deal with and communism appeared to belong to history.” Leaders, explained Jarausch, had failed to anticipate the modernization of the Asian form of communism, especially in China. 

For many years, the country was viewed solely as a huge market and a cheap workshop for the West. Not only China has benefited greatly from its economic surge in the last 30 years. German firms have profited too. The argument was that when a middle class finally emerged in China, it would demand the rule of law and democracy — and get them. It was not to be. Since Xi Jinping became President of China and Chairman of its communist party, China has become increasingly repressive domestically and increasingly aggressive on the international front. 

Take for example Xinjiang or Hong Kong, the South China Sea or Taiwan. The Berlin-based political scientist Eberhard Sandschneider is not optimistic: “If a country with a population of 1.4 billion achieves an average growth rate of more than 10% for 38 years, it follows that this country will eventually be in a position to translate its economic power into political influence and ultimately, into military prowess.” 

— This article has been provided by Deutsche Welle 

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