Article Review : Gaddis, John (1991) Toward the Post-Cold World

The following article is a review of the well known article of John Lewis Gaddis, published in Foreign Affairs in 1991. John Gaddis is probably the best known historian writing in English about the Cold War. His most famous work is perhaps the highly influential Strategies of Containment (1982), which analyzes in detail the theory and practice of containment that was employed against the Soviet Union by Cold War American presidents. Gaddis was a visiting professor of Strategy at the Naval War College, a visiting professor of American History at Oxford and a professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University.  He was awarded with several prizes including a Pulitzer prize, the National Humanities Medal and the American History Book Prize among many others. 

In his article : Toward the Post-Cold World, Gaddis points out how the post cold-war world is balanced between two trends: integration and fragmentation. On the one hand integration is a side effect of cold war whereas fragmentation has always been around. Gaddis argues that these two forces need to be balanced by each other in order to produce stability.

During the cold war, Gaddis suggests, the world was divided between the forces of democracy and those of totalitarianism. The end of the Cold war era is the end of a world driven by these two opposite forces and the emergence of new balances of power. According to Gaddis view, the forces of integration and fragmentation balance the post-Cold War world.

Gaddis argues that integration manifests itself in a variety of ways :

  1. Integration through the communications revolution: the spread of knowledge constitutes a new domino theory.
  2. Integration through economic inter-dependence:Individual nations depend, for their own prosperity, upon the prosperity of others to a far greater extend than in the past […] Transnational actors like multinational corporations, economic cartels, can have a powerful influence on what happens on national states.”
  3. Integration through security: the idea is to create a collective approach to security where nations can rely on international strength for their own safety ( United Nations)
  4. Integration through ideas: the combination of easy communications, prosperity and security constitutes the means for the spread of ideas.
  5. Integration through peace: the maximization of the flow of ideas, commodities, capital and people, according to liberal political philosophers, progressively undermine the causes of war between liberal democracies.

On the opposite side, there are two major sources of fragmentation :

  1. Nationalism:  the Cold War discouraged nationalism (the common need to contain the Soviet Union or on the other side to protect from capitalism discouraged nationalism, especially within Europe) but the end of Cold War renew those movements in Eastern Europe as well as in Western Europe

  2. Protectionism: economic manifestation of fragmentation

Therefore, the problems the post-Cold War world are and will be confronted to are the results of the competition processes between integration and fragmentation. But what is not clear is which of the two powers is the more likely to win over the other and which one is the more  likely to meet with American interests.

At a first glance, the forces of integration seem more benign, but Gaddis explain that as we look closer to the problem the answer is not clear. The forces of integration, indeed, brought the Cold War to an end but the American society is based on diversity, balance of power and not integrating power.

Despite classical liberal assumptions, we would be unwise in assuming that an ever-increasing flow of people, commodities and technology across international borders will necessarily, at least ecologically, make the world a safer place.”

The end of Cold War also brought new threats, in a more diffuse way. Conflicts have emerged all over the world and many countries (especially in eastern Europe) are subject to political instability. United-States, after Cold War, and as new threats rose, took the role of international peacemaker and are paying for that choice in various ways:

“As a result, a kind of division of labor has developed within the international community, in which the Unites-States contributes the troops and the weaponry needed to sustain the balance of power, while its allies finance the budgetary, energy and trade deficits Americans incur through their unwillingness to make even minimal sacrifice in living standards.”


If we consider the most extreme alternative, a fully integrated world or a fully fragmented world, we realize how neither of them is to be chosen over the other one. The former would put an end to national sovereignty and identity and the latter would lead the world to anarchy. Therefore, Gaddis suggest balancing the forces of integration and fragmentation against each other. He especially see five field where there is a need to restore equilibrium:

The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe:

Western countries need to care more about the eastern issue. Eastern European countries need help for reconstruction and reintegration in the international framework. They need to restore self-confidence.

New security and economic structure for Europe:

The United States were an integrationist during Cold War for Europe. With the end of Cold War, Europe needs to find a new integrative structure. It also needs to consider its extension to Eastern Europe.

Deterring aggression:

During Cold War, the great powers did not really fight; Cold War put an end to major conflicts between powerful countries. As the Cold War end, there is a need for a collective international action to deter aggression and put the framework of international law. This would also solve the problem of United States as the only peacemakers.

Finding appropriate limits of independence:

Economic integration produces political fragmentation:

“Are Americans really sure, for example, that they want to integrate their own economy into the world market if the result of doing that is to shut down industries they have historically relied upon for both jobs and national defence? When the effects of integration are to transform once-diversified industrial complexes into strings of fast-food outlets and shopping malls, with the reduction in wages that kind of employment usually brings, one can hardly expect people out in the streets cheering for them, however ingenious the rationalization of our professional economists.”

Therefore, United-States need to come up with better mechanism for balancing powers and make sure economical progress meet political and social needs.

Regaining solvency:

International security is vain without national stability, equilibrium. The powers need to be balanced on a national basis as well as on a global basis.

“The quest for security has overwhelmed concern for the vitality of fundamentals values and institutions. […] A return to solvency will discipline our conception of national interest; the result might well be less grandiose visions but more sustainable policies.”

At last Gaddis makes three important conclusions. First, the forces of integration are new in the world and they may not be as deeply roots as we like to think. The forces of integration are not doom to win, fragmentation has been around much longer. Second, the integration model is not perfect, especially, it needs to be regulated, we cannot leave everything to the invisible hand. Third, as we reject the extremes solutions we are left with finding our way in the middle ground.

“We need to maintain a healthy skepticism about integration: we also need to balance that skepticism with a keen sense of how unhealthy fragmentationist forces can be if allowed free rein.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s