World War II Anniversary Serves Warning for Future
1995 commemorations bring concern that nationalism was not buried by war
AT the end of World War II, the victorious Western powers set out to prevent nationalism and totalitarianism from ever again precipitating a global conflict.Skip to next paragraph
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They were probably more successful than anyone could have imagined in 1945, although the cold war saw its fair share of fighting between the Western powers and the Soviet Union, along with proxies on both sides.
Past success, however, doesn't necessarily translate into future peace, and nationalism can be seen at work in post-cold-war Europe again. At the same time, the multilateral security organizations that kept the lid on conflict for the last five decades no longer seem as cohesive and invincible.
As the 50th anniversary of World War II's end approaches, some political scientists suggest the possibility of a major conflict, especially in Europe, could be greater now than at any point since the capitulations of Nazi Germany and militarist Japan.
``What we see in Europe is that the structures are insufficient for the times. European powers are just muddling through,'' says Tassos Kokkinides, a political scientist at the British-American Security Information Council. ``They haven't learned their [World War II] lessons very well.''
Numerous events are scheduled this year to mark the final stages of the world war in Europe.
They include the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp Jan. 26 to 27; the Feb. 13 firebombing of Dresden; and Germany's May 8 surrender. But rather than underscoring the success of five decades of relative stability, the commemorations may do more to highlight the precariousness of current geopolitics.
That Western Europe recovered so quickly from World War II's destruction is a tribute to the Allied governments of the United States, Britain, and France.
In stark contrast, today's Western leaders seem visionless, unable to formulate a security blueprint after the fall of the Soviet empire. Russia, meanwhile, more and more appears to be in a state of ongoing turmoil, similiar to that in Ottoman Turkey at the beginning of this century.
``We must establish a framework [in the post-cold-war era] to eliminate local wars and total, global wars. On both counts the Western powers have failed,'' Mr. Kokkinides says. ``States don't have the political will to implement principles.''
Troublesome demise of MAD
The two key concepts that assured postwar peace were multilateralism and mutually assured destruction, or MAD. The latter kept the East-bloc Communists in check by threatening the massive use of nuclear weapons, while the former led to the creation of the United Nations and contained traditional rivalries among Western powers.
But the threat of MAD has been undermined, at least temporarily, by the Soviet Union's collapse, followed by Russia's internal turmoil. In turn, the West has experienced an erosion of the spirit of multilateralism.
Lacking the binding influence of the Soviet threat, Western powers have shown more willingness to reassert their national interests over those of multilateral security organizations, including the UN and NATO.
``We're going back to a world where bilateral relations mean more than multilateral relations,'' says Paul Goble, a senior analyst at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The former Yugoslavia is the best example of resurgent bilateralism and the failure of multilateralism to keep the peace. The UN and NATO have often seemed powerless to stop the fighting, while major powers maneuver in ways that are reminiscent of the Great Power games in the Balkans at the beginning of the century.