Fatal Thaws

MOSCOW – During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and, in a milder way, the United States imposed external limits on the activities of states and societies, causing longstanding conflicts among smaller countries to be “frozen.” Following the Soviet Union’s collapse in the 1990’s, those conflicts began to “unfreeze.”

With interethnic tensions already on the rise, Yugoslavia was the first country to dissolve into conflict. Soon after, war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan, followed by fighting in Transdniestria and Chechnya. While some conflicts were addressed – the West finally intervened militarily in the former Yugoslavia; and Russia fought in Chechnya for almost a decade, and imposed peace in Transdniestria – others, such as that between Armenia and Azerbaijan, were simply frozen again.

Fortunately, not all potential conflicts erupted. The Soviet Union did not dissolve into violence, as most other empires have – an outcome for which no explanation short of divine intervention or sheer luck seems to suffice. Despite rising nationalist sentiments and mutual suspicions, Central and Eastern European countries also managed to avoid conflict, thanks to their rapid acceptance into NATO and the European Union.

At that point, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. But, in the early 2000’s, globalization triggered the “second unfreezing” by facilitating rapid economic growth in Asian countries that, for two centuries, had been constrained by Western dominance, Cold War rules and institutions, and rampant poverty.