- The last decades of the Cold War:Structural Forces, Social Movements, and High Diplomacy
Hal Brands has created a framework to appreciate U.S. foreign policy in the last two decades of the Cold War which is both intellectually satisfying and provocative. His thesis places the policies of successive U.S. governments during the 1980s and early 1990s at the confluence of international structural phenomena. This interplay of U.S. policy with structural trends results in the emergence of a unipolar world with the United States as the dominant power. To arrive at this point, Brands notes three principal structural phenomena: growing demand for liberal democracy and human rights; a broad acceptance of open markets and competitive free trade; and third, the weakening of the Soviet system. To differing degrees, these trends are indigenous but each was encouraged by deliberate and focused U.S. government policy. Where intentional policy correlated with these structures, goals were accomplished and American power and influence grew to the point of unipolarity. This is not to say that push-back and mistakes did not exist: there were sufficient number of incidents across two decades to demonstrate that pursuit of strategic objectives was "a tortuous and imprecise affair" (p. 345).
Brands identifies a clear example of synchronized and successful policy in President Ronald Reagan's understanding of Soviet economic and military weakness. In his first administration, Reagan combined presidential rhetoric with aggressive expansion of U.S. military capabilities to raise the cost of Soviet militarization. Consequently, U.S. global power and influence grew in the 1980s. However, NATO allies pushed back forcefully against potentially dangerous American rhetoric and actions, which had created serious anxiety, [End Page 324] if not tangible fear, among western Europeans. Recognizing these alarm bells in the run up to the 1984 mid-term elections, Reagan's advisers urged a calibrated shift to dialogue and negotiation with Moscow.
A second area of intentional interplay between structure and strategy came in the recognition of a growing democratic trend in Latin America and East Asia. The post-colonial era sowed the seeds of liberal democracy with citizens seeking to choose their own political leaders. President Carter encouraged these indigenous democratic forces through his support for both democracy and human rights. After an initially regressive period, Reagan built upon that trend. However, his commitment to democratic elections and the rule of law was inconsistent. Brands points out Reagan's determination to both keep Marxists out of government in El Salvador and tolerate the Salvadoran military's abuses of human rights. Consequently, Reagan's pursuit of democracy was often disorderly and crisis-driven (p. 344).
The trend toward liberal democracy could have taken into account the structural phenomena of the anti-nuclear movement, which took roots in the 1950s and 60s with Ban the Bomb protests in the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The movement gained new followers in the 1980s in opposition to conservatives who won electoral victories in the USA, West Germany and Britain. Eckart Conze, Martin Klimke, and Jeremy Varon present fifteen chapters of serious scholarship to examine the distinct qualities of anti-nuclear activism, which became the most prominent social movement in the mid-1970s and 1980s.
This collection is unusual in combining studies of both anti-war and anti-commercial nuclear power across the U.S. and West Germany. The meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979 raised levels of fear in families far beyond Pennsylvania: it provoked opposition to building nuclear power plants from Seabrook, New Hampshire, to Diablo Canyon, California. In Germany, thousands occupied the proposed site of a nuclear power plant in Wyhl in 1975 and later protested the prospective nuclear re-processing site near Wackersdorf in Bavaria. Neither project went ahead because both had become politically unfeasible...