Ideas Have Consequences: The Cold War and Today

International Politics Vol. 48, 4/5, 460-481, July/August 2011

23 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2012

See all articles by Henry R. Nau

Henry R. Nau

George Washington University - Elliott School of International Affairs (ESIA)

Date Written: 2011

Abstract

In this essay, I make the case that the Cold War was caused by a competition of ideas rather than by a struggle for power or a failure of international institutions. The Cold War started when two sets of ideas diverged sufficiently – capitalism and communism – that they precluded either a realist – spheres of influence – or liberal – United Nations – solution to postwar differences in Europe. It ended when one set of ideas prevailed, and democracy and markets spread throughout the whole of Europe, eclipsing realist and liberal outcomes. The Soviet Union disappeared, which realists never expected; whereas the United Nations, which functioned briefly as a classic liberal collective security operation in the first Persian Gulf War, was quickly replaced by a democratic NATO in Bosnia and Kosovo. The competition of ideas did not end in the 1990s, however. It continues today in other forms and will shape the contours of military conflict and international cooperation in tomorrow’s world, no less that it did during the Cold War.

Keywords: ideology, Cold War, Reagan, Gorbachev, de'tente, arms race

Suggested Citation

Nau, Henry R., Ideas Have Consequences: The Cold War and Today (2011). International Politics Vol. 48, 4/5, 460-481, July/August 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2125439

Henry R. Nau (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Elliott School of International Affairs (ESIA) ( email )

2201 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States
202-994-3167 (Phone)
202-994-5477 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.gwu.edu/~elliott/faculty/nau.

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