Debating the Origins of the “New Cold War"
There’s a new book out that’s been making the rounds in leftist circles. It’s called The New Cold War: The United States, Russia, and China, From Kosovo to Ukraine, by Gilbert Achcar.
I liked this book in many ways, but I’m not ready to co-sign it. In fact, if you’re not a historian or IR scholar, I might suggest looking elsewhere to understand geopolitics today.
The book consists of a series of essays that Achcar had penned since the ‘90s. The reason I think the book has gotten some traction is because of one very novel thing: we can take the writings of someone whose prognostications in the ‘90s were ignored and compared what they foresaw to what has emerged today.
Back then, Achcar was declaring a “new Cold War,” and since we are indeed in something like a new Cold War with China today, it looks like Achcar was prescient. His core argument is that this “new Cold War”—which he incorrectly extends to include Russia but whatever—dates back to the 1999 US bombing campaign in Kosovo.
Periodizing today’s confrontation to that specific date is attention-grabbing for the sole reason that it makes no sense on its face. It’s a jarringly non sequitur date, which is a great setup for a contrarian argument…if you’re able to convince the reader why your date for the start of a “new Cold War” makes sense.
So does Achcar deliver the goods? Meh, sort of, but only by way of an interpretation of the past that doesn’t at all grapple with some relevant bits of history. Some of what he argues is even demonstrably false.
Still, there are ways in which the book is profoundly insightful. Perhaps this post can help you take what you need from the book as well as avoid the intellectual landmines it contains.