So how shall we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the demise of the objectively evil Soviet Union? I've got it! Let's "focus instead on what may have been lost." Such is the debased quality of moral thinking over at The Nation, where a commie-nostalgia symposium is kicked off by a lament from none other than the last emperor, Mikhail Gorbachev. Jumping straight to the authoritarian's conclusion:
In short, the world without the Soviet Union has not become safer, more just or more stable. Instead of a new world order—that is, enough global governance to prevent international affairs from becoming dangerously unpredictable—we have had global turmoil, a world drifting in uncharted waters. The global economic crisis that broke out in 2008 made that abundantly clear.
Has the world become less physically safe, more prone to, say, armed inter-state conflicts that produce 1,000 battle deaths in a given year? Here's what American University international relations professor Joshua S. Goldstein and Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker had to say about this on Christmas Eve:
These prototypical wars have become increasingly rare, and the world hasn't seen one since the three-week invasion of Iraq in 2003. The lopsided five-day clash between Russia and Georgia in 2008 misses the threshold, as do sporadic clashes between North and South Korea or Thailand and Cambodia. […]
What about other kinds of armed conflict, like civil wars and conflicts that miss the 1,000-death cutoff? Remarkably, they too have been in decline. Civil wars are fewer, smaller and more localised. Terrible flare-ups occur, and for those caught in the middle, the results are devastating - but far fewer people are caught in the middle.
The biggest continuing war, in Afghanistan, last year killed about 500 Americans, 100 other coalition troops and 5,000 Afghans including civilians. That toll, while deplorable, is a fraction of those in past wars like Vietnam, which killed 5,000 Americans and nearly 150,000 Vietnamese per year. Over all, the annual rate of battle deaths worldwide has fallen from almost 300 per 100,000 of world population during World War II, to almost 30 during Korea, to the low teens during Vietnam, to single digits in the late 1970s and 1980s, to fewer than one in the 21st century.
Gorby, who I had the pleasure of arguing with in 2006, turns in some marvelous timeline-revisionism and deployment of the passive voice here:
[T]he result [of various summit meetings] was mutual trust, which enabled me and President Bush to state at the Malta summit in December 1989 that our two nations no longer regarded each other as enemies. It meant that the cold war was over. This opened the way to cooperation in ending regional conflicts that had raged for decades in various parts of the world and in pushing back Saddam Hussein's aggression against Kuwait in 1990, and, most important, led to peaceful change in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989–91, based on the free choice of its people. This process culminated in the unification of Germany.
Why, it's as if Mikhail Gorbachev supported the reunification of a NATO-allied Germany (to say nothing of the independence of the since-thirving Baltic states) in real time! It will certainly come as news to the ghost of Loreta Asanavi?i?t? that the Soviet tank treads that crushed the life out of her body in January 1991 was because Gorbachev's statecraft "led to peaceful change in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989–91, based on the free choice of its people."
Reason on Gorbachev here. Thanks to commie-hater and Contributing Editor Michael C. Moynihan for the heads-up.