Cold War or “Zeitenwende”?


The German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has been active in the field of journalism for some time, the leader of the otherwise strongest European state with global aspirations, this time in the prestigious international magazine “Foreign Affairs” (previously published on the Politico portal and in the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”) defined the current international situation as “Zeitenewende” (turning point). It is worth taking a look at how our western neighbor sees the world and how his view differs from the American one.
Scholz: I don’t agree to a world of two blocks
What does the German Chancellor write about the current international order? In the article “The Global Zeitenwende” (“World Turning Point”), in addition to showing the growing, active role of Germany in the world and increasing support for Ukraine, he warns of a new Cold War “by dividing the world into blocks.” “This means making every effort to build new partnerships, pragmatically and without ideological blinders,” he emphasizes. Scholz sees the world as multipolar, and he sees the main threat to it in Russia, the defeat of which requires stronger European and transatlantic unity. Germany wants – as he emphasizes – “to become a guarantor of European security that our allies expect from us, a builder of bridges within the European Union and an advocate of multilateral solutions to global problems.” “Many believe that we are at the dawn of a new era of bipolarity in the international order. They see a new Cold War looming, with the United States and China as adversaries. I do not share this view. Rather, I believe we are now witnessing the end of an extraordinary period of globalization and historic change, accelerated but not triggered by external shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine. It also refers directly to China. In his opinion, the country’s development does not justify isolating Beijing or limiting cooperation with it, but at the same time China’s growing power does not justify its claims to hegemony in Asia and beyond.
In Poland, the Cold War narrative dominates
What prompts such considerations by the chancellor and many commentators? Certainly, the issue of defining the current international situation as a state of cold war, which often appears in the public debate. It is also a matter of answering the question whether the current world system, in which there are many significant players, can be called a state of cold war? Where did this term even come from? The Cold War was the name given to the state of international relations in the years 1947-1990, i.e. the confrontation of two blocs of states – the capitalist bloc under the leadership of the USA and the communist bloc under the leadership of the USSR. Among them there was a group of countries called non-aligned (in practice, some were less non-aligned, others more, and still others were “non-aligned” on different sides at different times). Therefore, the question is how to define the current state in which two dominant powers – the USA and China compete on the international arena in almost every area, and many global decisions are the result of this competition, but there are other significant global players, and the influence of the non-European world in the last 30 years increased significantly. Scholz, like the French and many other non-European countries (China, India, Brazil and Turkey) sees the world as multipolar. Meanwhile, in Poland the situation seems to be much clearer and fits into the American perspective, which divides the world into a democratic and authoritarian area. We see it rather in black and white, in terms of friend-foe. We see politics as a struggle between good and evil. For Poles, international (but also domestic) politics is the sphere of permanent alliances (NATO, relations with the USA, the European Union) and coalitions, which is largely due to the geopolitical location and often historical mission, as it was historically. This is reflected in national politics, and perhaps even results from it. The greater part of Polish society identifies with one of the political “tribes” – some from PiS, others from PO, which only serves the two party apparatuses that use the Polish – emotional and personal, and not substantive or project – approach of Poles to politics and economy . The voice of people and the environment with an independent way of thinking, being among the “tribes”, is less audible in the media turmoil of parties and has a weaker impact on the Polish public debate. Therefore, the vision of Cold War blocs, which is created by the Americans instead of the politics of networks and relations, is closer to the Polish way of thinking and makes it easier for us to assess the world. In this area, Polish and American views meet. Poles perceive international and increasingly domestic politics similarly to Americans (although the understanding of the national interest there is still more cross-party). For the Americans as a global, dominant power, the vision of moral superiority is, however, an expression of real politics and the pursuit of their own imperial interests. It remains for us to play the role of the American spitz in politics with Russia, which brings real geopolitical benefits (although also threats), but may lead to the limitation of subjectivity. The American vision and political strategy is actually building a shell for strategic rivalry with China, and temporarily with Russia (China is considered by the Americans to be a greater strategic threat than Russia). The American strategy is, after all, effective, especially in its approach to Russia. The Americans managed to unite the West and strengthen their leading position. The question is whether the American vision corresponds to Polish interests. It seems that in a large area and in the current situation of the Russian threat – yes. However, this is rather due to the increasing American involvement and the delay in their leaving Europe. In the long run, it may reveal the weaknesses of the independence of Polish politics rather than its strength and subjectivity. Contrary to Germany, for example, we simply don’t have much to lose because our relations with the non-European world are unfortunately quite limited. We feel safer under the American umbrella.
The division into democracies and autocracies is crucial?
The division of the world into democracies and autocracies, created by the United States, is a fact, but does it determine international politics? Where should we place democratic India, censoring the media and flirting with Russia, or authoritarian Turkey, which is a member of NATO? Where to place Germany, which is part of the West and whose main economic partner is China? The axis of dividing the world indicated by the Americans is not in the interests of Europe, not only for Germany, but also for France, which, no one can deny, are part of the West. They do not see the world as the arena of the Cold War between democracies and autocracies announced by President Biden during his visit to Warsaw this year, and which is reflected in subsequent American security and space policy strategies that point to Russia, and in particular China, as a threat to American security. Countries like France and Germany have strong economies with a strong international business presence all over the world. For them, and especially for Germany, limiting relations with eastern autocracies means diminishing their international status. This also applies to the approach to the Ukrainian conflict. Recently, Macron spoke about the need to ensure Russia’s security interests in the context of a future peace treaty with Ukraine. Scholz, like Macron, sees the world as multipolar with different players with their own interests and warns, as I mentioned earlier, of bloc competition and a new Cold War. These words come out of the mouth of Xi Jinping, who uses the same rhetoric as most Asian countries except Japan and Australia, which have the strongest military ties with the US. This does not change the fact that the Chinese apply their “imperial” policy. However, it has nothing to do with creating your own bloc of allies that they don’t really have. It is rather a policy of encouraging other countries to be neutral in their rivalry with the US (because the fact that rivalry takes place is indisputable, the question is what caused and shaped it), as well as the development of economic relations that favors dependence. Asia does not see itself in a state of cold war. Except for Russia, which the American rhetoric of the Cold War even serves. Russian propaganda, returning to historical comparisons, empowers the role of Russia, which, as before, bravely fights against the entire West.
Macron says Scholz
Scholz is also spoken of by Marcon, who recently criticized Australia for buying multi-billion dollar nuclear-powered ships from the US and UK at the expense of the French order. The ships are to increase Australia’s security against China. Macron emphasized that the French offer was less “competitive” to China, because his ships were not nuclear-powered. In turn, recently during a visit to the US, the French president strongly criticized President Biden for adopting a program to support American industry under the Inflation Reduction Act, which guarantees, among others, American producers of electric cars subsidies from American taxpayers’ money. Macron accused Biden of not consulting these solutions with European allies. Like Scholz, he also warns against confrontation within blocks. Meanwhile, the Americans have been escalating the chip war with China in recent months. They impose restrictions on them, motivated by the country’s use of technology for military purposes. They banned US companies from exporting technology to China for the production of cutting-edge chips, previously banned US companies from investing in China in this sector, and recently imposed import restrictions on dozens of Chinese technology companies dealing with chips and artificial intelligence. They are pressing allies, in particular Taiwan, the Netherlands, Japan and Korea, to join the restrictions. Since the administration of Trump, who started a trade war with China, dozens of Chinese companies from technology sectors have been blacklisted in America, accused of collaborating with the Chinese government. The latest restrictions will hit the Chinese chip industry hard, which is growing extremely fast despite being several years behind Taiwan and the US. In response, China announced the launch of a $140 billion national chip industry development program. Americans perceive China as their main global competitor, but also as a threat to American security (which they associate with the global one). The United States has already come to the conclusion in the Trump era that globalization in its current form does not serve it, so China must now be stopped. China, in turn, wants a gradual modification of the world order, in which the United States plays an unquestionably dominant role, ensuring full self-sufficiency and making the world dependent on itself – that is, creating a system in which it is not worth being an opponent of China. The country has become more assertive in the last 10 years. So do we have a cold war?
Weakness of the Polish debate
Foreign policy is, above all, the pursuit of political and economic interests, which means that various alliances should be concluded with various partners on various matters, which is reflected in the policy within the European Union. Relations, for example, between Poland and Germany, depending on the thematic areas, may have several different shades of grey. We are partners on one issue, adversaries on another. Similarly in world politics. However, the complexity of international relations is difficult to visualize and show in such a polarized, personalized and bipolar Polish public debate, e.g. in the context of Poland’s relations with Germany, the USA or China. The question is why is that so? Is it due to the weakness of the public debate in Poland, the immaturity of Polish society and the low quality of the political class? Our geopolitical location, what determines our policy in its entirety? Or maybe because of Poland’s lack of global ambitions and the weakness of our international business? Or maybe it’s good that our policy is perceived as based on values, fully predictable and with a clearly crystallized mission, thanks to which we gain some respect in the world? Or, simply, it just pays off for us: we supplement the deficit in strategic, real and business thinking in politics with thinking in moral categories – good and evil, which brings us measurable benefits?

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