Come the 9th of November and the world – and I mean the world – will be celebrating the Fall of the Berlin Wall (note the caps). Not that countries haven’t been commemorating for weeks now; they have.
The Fall of the Wall wasn’t so much the ushering in of a reunified Germany as the end of the bipolarized world that the Cold War divided into two fiercely antagonistic blocs (East v. West).
The Wall fell when it did because Gorbachev let it go; because the Soviet Union was by then mortally exhausted by the financial cost of the nuclear arms race. America’s SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative), presented by Ronald Reagan in 1983, changed the fundamental rule of the war in which nuclear holocaust was deterred by strategic offense nuclear armaments. Once America unilaterally shifted the focus from offense to defense weapon, it was all over for Moscow. The SDI would intercept Soviet missiles before they reached the US, thereby “obsolescing” (a CIA lingo) the bloated Soviet nuclear stockpile. Suddenly those weapons had been rendered useless.
Whereas in the pre-SDI days the prevailing concept that had prevented the Cold War from boiling over to “hot” was Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), with SDI America had become invulnerable to nuclear annihilation while the Soviet Union remained vulnerable, not having a defense weapon.
Of course the SDI hasn’t proven viable – even today the United States is nowhere near manufacturing any reasonable facsimile of the thing. Maybe someday?
But the Soviet Union – for all the cloak and dagger espionage on both sides of the Iron Curtain – could scarcely tell how unsubstantial the SDI propaganda was. A panicky and agitated Moscow would understandably have wanted to call America’s bluff. But it couldn’t tell if it was indeed just a bluff. Besides, it just wasn’t in the position to do it. At that late stage of the Cold War – after the billions upon billions of dollars and rubbles (in 1989 there was 0.6059 to the dollar) the superpowers spent on the arms race – Moscow had literally spent itself out. Technologically and financially, it could not credibly match SDI.
An inspired answer to the SDI challenge was glasnost and perestroika which Gorbachev introduced in the Soviet Union and its outer empire in the mid 1980s. But the Soviet system was so rigid a reform of that kind could only send it imploding. It was only a matter of time then before the Berlin Wall, the most powerful symbol of the East-West bipolarization, would collapse. It did on 9 November 1989.
The world that was divided by two fiercely antagonistic superpowers brandishing mind-boggling armaments that could have put paid to the human race had been spared.
So that’s what the celebrations these days are all about.
GUIDEPOST went and watched the magnificent video-mapping that the Madrid city government, in collaboration with the German Embassy, projected the night of 6 November on the Puerta de Alcala which the show turned into the Brandenburg Gate at the end. The show was a powerful audio-visual narrative of the Wall. Believe it or not, the Madrileños, all too prone to convert any public event into a festive occasion, were for once quite solemn about it. We joined them.
The awesome historical meaning of the event 25 years ago was palpable that Thursday night in the heart of Madrid.
What is regrettable is that, following the victory of freedom over armed repression when the Cold War ended, there now is chaos in the world that’s more splintered than ever notwithstanding the 28-member European Union. (But isn’t it a political scientist’s truism that after the collapse of an established world order, there can only be chaos? Small comfort!)
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