The end of the Cold War was a big relief for many of the parties involved. It brought with it great peace within Europe and outside, for the source of the main tension had been eradicated. However, not all was so peachy keen after the Iron Curtain fell. The downfall of major European political power had severe consequences in terms of creating instability both in and outside of Europe. In Europe itself, the loss of a bipolar system opened up the potential for old rivalries and conflicts; before the creation of the European Union, this lead to uncertainty in the continuation of peace within the region. Outside of Europe, regions like the Middle East exploded without the backings of previous major powers like the Soviet Union, leading to some of the conflicts which are still continuing on today.
The decline of the bipolar system, essentially the huge rivalry between East and West, led to the assurance of peace in Europe after almost a century of seemingly endless warfare and fighting. The Cold War had created great tension and the constant threat of war. However, with the end of the Cold War that constant threat vanished. There was a lesser need and fear of nuclear weapons and a general sense of peace in the region. As peace reigned, the need for European superpowers gradually fell into decline. This lead to a decline in the hyper-nationalism which has gotten Europe into trouble so many times before, “hyper-nationalism helped cause the two world wars, and the decline of nationalism in Europe since 1945 has contributed to the peacefulness of the postwar world,” (Mearsheimer “Back to the Future: Instability in Europe After the Cold War”1993:143). Also, even after the need was seemingly gone, the organization NATO continued on to focus its attention elsewhere in the globe. Without the threat of defending Europe, the organization has been active in policing and containing other conflicts around the globe, leading to Europe’s declining power having some positive influence on the rest of the international community.
However, not all was positive when Europe saw its power decreasing after the fall of the Soviet Union. First and foremost, the declining need for extreme security meant that tons of military personnel were not longer needed. This meant massive lay offs in the military departments and general insecurity based on rising unemployment, “For most of European history, the end of war has meant the demobilization of most of the standing military and the loss of many jobs in the military officer corps,” (Norman 2002:1). Also, the move from a bipolar structure to a multipolar, or controlled by a multitude of different and smaller powers, had the potential to through Europe back into instability, “The departure of the superpowers from Central Europe would transform Europe from a bipolar to a multipolar system,” (Mearsheimer “Back to the Future: Instability in Europe After the Cold War”1993:143). The end of the Cold War broke the main super powers into fractions which have more conflict and are harder to maneuver around; this is in comparison to only a few super powers in control of the region. With such fragmentation in a previously united region, there was the high risk of instability, “The resulting system would suffer the problems common to multipolar systems, and would therefore be more prone to instability,” (Mearsheimer “Back to the Future: Instability in Europe After the Cold War” 1993:143). War is more likely to occur in a system that is more fragmented, as in a multipolar system, than in a bipolar system. This is in fact what drove most European wars in the past. By reverting back to that system, Europe placed itself in the path of potential skirmishes as seen in previous generations, “Europe is reverting to a state system that created powerful incentives for aggression in the past,” (Mearsheimer “Why We Will Soon Miss the Cold War” 1990:1). Smaller powers, now with a stronger more independent voice, have a greater potential of starting conflicts on their own, both within Europe and outside the region. Without the strong united front against the Easter Soviet powers, the smaller powers within Europe itself are free to break away and potentially start their own troubles elsewhere; “Without a common Soviet threat or an American night watchman, Western European states will do what they did for centuries before the onset of the Col War — look upon one another with abiding suspicion,” (Mearsheimer “Why We Will Soon Miss the Cold War” 1990:1). Yet, fortunately this has not been the case so far in post-war Europe. Years after the end of the Cold War, the European Union has once again replaced a sense of unity and common goal within the multitude of European powers, hopefully keeping the region stable.
However, other regions have not been so lucky. One region which has seen great instability since the decline of major European power after the end of the Cold War has been the Middle East. During the Cold War, much of the Middle East was pitted against one side or the other, serving as pawns within the larger struggle that really had little to do with them. In Afghanistan, American forces helped the local government fight off the Soviets and vice versa occurred in Iraq. However, when the Cold War ended, that stable source of protection, arms, and money was no longer pushed into the region by Eastern and Western forces. For instance, Saddam Hussein had continuously relied on the Soviet Union to bail him out of trouble, for the Soviets had great interest in protecting their interests in the oil rich region. However, Saddam “made a major miscalculation in annexing Kuwait; he placed Iraq on a collision course with the West at a time when the Soviet Union was no longer able or willing to bail out Iraq,” (Sayigh & Shlaim 1997:286). Thus, thanks to the lack of backing European power, the Middle East has also seen instability thanks to mulitpolarity.
Despite the peace the end of the Cold War brought, it also came with great instability both inside Europe and elsewhere. Even after the wall was torn down and the Iron Curtain dismantled, there are still remnants of the war which continue to cause conflict and instability all over the world. Like most major past conflicts, the international community will be dealing with these remnants for generations to come.
Mearsheimer, John J. (1993). “Back to the Future: Instability in Europe After the Cold War.” The Cold War and After: Prospects for Peace. Ed. Lynn-Jones, Sean M. & Miller, Steven E. MIT Press.
Mearsheimer, John J. (1990). “Why We Will Soon Miss the Cold War.” The Atlantic Online. August 1990. Retrieved August 19, 2009 at http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/foreign/mearsh.htm
Norman, R.L. (2002). “The Cold War and the Middle East from 1945 to 2001, 911 in a Historical Perspective.” Southern Domains. Retrieved August 19, 2009 at http://www.southerndomains.com/SouthernBanks/cwar.html
Sayigh, Yazid & Shlaim, Avi. (1997). The Cold War and the Middle East. Oxford University Press.