It is nearly a quarter of a century since the Berlin Wall fell, bringing the Cold War to a close. The triumph of liberal democracy briefly seemed to herald “the end of history” before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, triggered what the Pentagon called GWOT — the global war on terrorism — and a clash of civilisations between the West and militant Islam.
Just over a decade later, this conflict is drawing to a close. Much of al-Qaeda has been dismantled; President Barack Obama has declared that “the tide of war is receding” and it is time to conduct nation-building at home.
America’s imperial ambitions are over, for the foreseeable future at least. The world is no longer uni-polar.
Although chastened by its “hot” wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington is anxious to limit the spread of the al-Qaeda franchise and is alarmed by the rise of its strategic rival and banker, China, whose economy is growing four times as fast as America’s and is on track to overtake the former hegemon in terms of GDP by 2017.
Welcome to what is being called “the cool war”: a conflict in which death is delivered by distant drones and the undeclared battlefield with China is cyberspace, where every virtual thrust is met with a counterthrust as the two nations probe and pierce each other’s defences.