For my generation, growing up, the Cold war was a fact. There was “us”: the Americans, and the Atlantic Alliance, and there were the Soviets. And there was a line through Europe that was called the Iron Curtain.
I was born in 1977. I remember the Gerontocrats of the Soviet Union dying off. Breznhev, Andropov and Chernenko. I mainly remember it in the form of a Spitting Image skit, in which a queue of elderly men on gurneys with drips in, waiting their turn to be soviet leader. I remember my Father’s plan for WW3, which given we lived close to the Radio masts used to control Britain’s Polaris, later, Trident fleet, was to grab the best brandy and whatever wine we thought suitable from the Cellar, go to the top of Honey Hill, and watch the fireworks.
Then, As a young teenager, I remember the Berlin Wall coming down, and feeling optimistic about the world. We, the free west, had defeated tyranny. Again. This was a time of Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history”, in which a liberal, free-market democracy became the universal form of Government.
Buoyed by confidence of the times, I remember devouring the news of the first Gulf war. Having seen even their top-flight kit swept aside with contemptuous ease in the desert by the United States, UK, France and others, the Soviet Union had a crisis of will. Or rather the Crisis of will that was the logic of Gorbachev’s Perestroika and Glasnost came to a head with the realisation that they no longer had conventional superiority in the European theatre. They’d long lost nuclear supremacy. It was over, the Soviet Empire crumbled, and their enslaved peoples of Central and Eastern Europe clamoured to be free. They joined NATO, and they Joined the EU. Thanks to the former they were safe from the Russians, and thanks to the latter they got rich and comfortable, From Estonia to the Black sea.
Finland shares an Iron Curtain Border with Russia, as do Lithuania and Poland (with Kaliningrad), but the rest of the Iron Curtain consists of undefended and unpoliced borders. Some people think the EU is useless, but it has entrenched and enforced democratic norms in central Europe, and set people free to move about Europe for trade and cultural exchange at will. While we need NATO to provide a credible defence against a wounded Russian Bear, it will be the EU’s soft power that finally brings the conflict to a close.
Kiev will be an EU city within a decade. Putin will not last much longer as Russian leader, so completely has he flown the plane into the god-damn mountain. And whoever succeeds him will need to deliver prosperity to the Russian people. And the best way for a Russian leader to deliver prosperity will be closer economic co-operation with the rich countries to the West. Perhaps Francis Fukuyama was right, but just a bit early.
Some people think the world isn’t getting better. What was the Iron Curtain, is now a cycle path.