The new cold war?


The Taliban’s reconquest of Kabul following Washington’s meek withdrawal has triggered speculation amongst progressives that the latter plans to halt China’s economic and geopolitical advance through the age-old method of war by proxy.

After 20 years of stalemate in Afghanistan, is it possible that the US could gleefully watch idly as a Taliban regime in Kabul bleeds a competitor with aspirations for global power? Additionally, even if through different means, does Washington plan to contain China in Latin America, Africa and other parts of Asia too — all regions where Beijing has enhanced its influence over the past two decades?

It was in these same regions that the original Cold War played out between the Soviet Union and the US. Despite reaching the brink of direct conflict on a handful of occasions, the two superpowers never did attack each other’s territory, but proxy wars dotted the globe. Angola, Vietnam and Nicaragua, Afghanistan, were just some of the major theatres of the Cold War.

China is the first and only country that has, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, emerged to compete with the US for global dominance. Depending on what measures one chooses to employ, China is now arguably the world’s biggest economy (albeit only in the realm of production; the US still remains the world’s preeminent financial power). Through the Belt & Road Initiative, Beijing has signalled that it intends to extend its economic influence through a plethora of infrastructural investments. The $65 billion slated for CPEC is but a fraction of the $1 trillion that Beijing is expected to invest in BRI projects across the globe.

Freedom, dignity and equity are at greater risk.

The US experience in Afghanistan makes clear that that even if Washington retains the option to bomb a country to pulp and occupy it with reckless abandon, such imperial adventures do not necessarily advance even a superpower’s overall global standing.

This lesson is what explains Washington’s shift inward. The Biden administration’s first order of serious business was the announcement of a $1tr domestic investment package to rehabilitate America’s crumbling infrastructure. By following through on Trump’s decision to pull out of Afghanistan, Biden has also confirmed that Washington is effectively shifting focus away from the so-called ‘war on terror’ towards strategic containment of China.

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