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Fighting Existential Angst: Vainly Seeking “Therapy” On The Social Networks

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“The crowd is untruth.”-Sören Kierkegaard, Point of View, That Individual

Early philosophical explorations of anxiety are best traced to Sören Kierkegaard in the nineteenth century. For the seminal Danish thinker, this concept – often referred to colloquially as angst – has its core origins in existential dread; that is, a literal fear of  “not being.”[1] Whether or not such a primal view of anxiety ought still obtain (Freud, for example, introduced several important “modifications”), one corollary remains certain:

Therapeutic benefits are increasingly being sought on the computer, smart phone or some other crowd-oriented gadget.

This is hardly a mysterious or controversial corollary. These days, we can all casually witness the reassuringly deep pleasures bestowed by any shiny new communications “device.” Indeed, for seemingly uncountable souls, little can meaningfully compare to the palpable joys of some impending or imminentmessage. Reciprocally, however, nothing can produce a more pervasive private darkness or despair  than the  dreadful reverberations of extended machine silence.

“It is getting late,” remarks the poet W.H. Auden knowingly in The Age of Anxiety, “shall we ever be asked for? Are we simply not wanted at all?”

Explanations, though lamentable, are nonetheless obvious. Personal devices, expressly interlinked, promise us more than suitably efficient routings to enhanced personal safety or some accessible method to “stay in touch.”  However inconspicuous, conversing or messaging can grant the communicating individuals a satisfyingly easy and convenient “therapy.” Above all, they can permit both sender and recipient to feel needed, valuable, less anonymous, and  –  most importantly, always – less alone. 

If there has ever been reason not to doubt the perceived importance of avoiding aloneness, of being “asked for” or “wanted,” one need only consider American risk-taking behavior during the ongoing pandemic. Even now, when the high dangers of disease transmission have been well-publicized and the grievous consequences of Covid19 well-established, millions of our fellow citizens seek out glaringly unprotected public spaces. On both Memorial Day and July 4th, the urge to be “less alone” generated wide swaths of misplaced conviviality and corresponding fatalities.

Ultimately, a diminished sense of aloneness is what the social networks are all about. There are even certain “macro” or “cosmological” issues discoverable in every conceivable mix of plausible explanations. The known universe is probably  billions of light years “across.”  Yet, here, in a rapidly dissembling America and virtually everywhere else on this imperiled planet, most human beings lack the will[2] to become individuals.

Plainly lack this will.

“…it must be in every man’s power to become what he is, an individual….,” reminds Sören Kierkegaard in Point of View, That Individual. “From becoming an individual no one, no one at all, is excluded, except he who excludes himself by becoming a crowd.”

The ironies are several, and bitter. “Why bother?” the American crowd seems to reason. “Why even take the existential (or near-existential) risk of becoming a person?” Better just to “fit in” and do what is expected. And what is the most evident result of such cowardly thinking?

 In a distillation, it is the patently deranged presidency of Donald J. Trump.[3]

There is more. The cell phone and its related social networks have not actually “caused” users to suffer, exhibit or confront any “fear and trembling” (a mesmerizing conjunction earlier made famous by Kierkegaard).  These devices remain “just” tell-tale instruments of assessment, “diagnostic tools” that can – at least in principle -help one to identify and conquer any deeply primal angst. Without this prosaic but still-satisfying tool, such core apprehensions might otherwise lie undetected and infinitely dormant.

 In all pertinent instances of philosophic reflection, a revealing leitmotif must finally make itself known and understood. Most regrettably, there exists a more-or-less universal human wish to remain inconscient, unaware, not only of myriad external or “systemic” threats, but also of oneself. Minute by minute,  this very conspicuous wish leads millions of anxious souls[4] to stray dangerously far from the redemptive potential of authentic personhood,  toward the more easily cultivated but always-deceptive security of one or another “herd.”

Often, especially in generally affluent societies, we humans fear personal exclusion more than anything else, sometimes (as we can recall perilous personal behaviors on Memorial Day and July 4), more fearfully than personal death. This evanescent fear uncovers a critically important decisional calculus, one that may be responsible for manifestly assorted instances of war, terrorism and genocide.  Incontestably, the human need to belong can become so utterly overwhelming that many will literally killvarious others –at times, any others and many others – rather than face prolonged personal isolation or some presumed social ostracism.[5]

“Shall we ever be asked for….?” asks the poet Auden, knowingly.

The inner fear of loneliness so keenly expressed by social networking  gives rise to still another problem, one with a distinctly special significance for high school and university students. To begin to understand this special significance, one must first understand that nothing important in science or industry or art or music or literature or medicine or philosophy can ever take place without at least some already endured measure of personal loneliness. So as to exist apart from the mass – that is, to be tolerably extracted from what Freud had called the “primal horde” or what Nietzsche termed the “herd,” or Kierkegaard the “crowd” – is indispensable to any exceptional intellectual development.

If it were different, Americans would be getting their medical and scientific counsel from the all-too-numerous political hucksters, and not from the acclaimed epidemiologists. Recently the Lt. Governor of Texas urged Americans not to listen to Dr. Anthony Fauci about the pandemic, but instead to a president still shrieking at his incoherent “rallies” that  the virus will soon simply “disappear.”

I belong. Therefore I am. Turning philosopher René Descartes’ famous reasoning on its head, this now pitifully twisted mantra best expresses the sad credo common to all social network “addictions.” Among other things, it reveals a not-so-stirring manifesto that recognizable social acceptance is not merely vital, but immanent to one’s own personal survival.  

 Today, quite easily, the noisy and uneasy mass has infested our solitude.  Upon most of us, the telltale traces of “herd life” (the Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung would have called it a “mass” life) may have become indelible.  Accordingly, we have already prodded entire societies to nurture their own intellectual and ethical declensions.

There is more. Unambiguously, human life is always death’s prisoner.  Until we can face this ultimately overriding truth, we can never experience our carefully limited and  numbered moments with any sincere pleasure. Presently, despite our manifold efforts to stay connected with cellular telephone calls, tweets and texts, our bewildering personal doubts  have become cheerless and inexhaustible. In essence, this is because we continue to look “outside,” to others, to define (1) who we are; and (2) what we might still become.

 In part, at least, the immense attraction of cell phones and related social networking derives from our manifestly breathless and machine-like existence. Now, “We the people” typically celebrate any available expressions of a convenient push-button metaphysics.  Now, absolutely every hint of personal passion must expectedly follow a narrowly uniform pathway.

Always, we are expected to become each other, fully compliant and duly homogenized.

 Nonetheless, in glaring disregard for truth, we stubbornly insist that we can still remain in full control of our machines.

Credo quia absurdum! “I believe because it is absurd.”

Always, such insistence is shallow and unsupportable.

 Wherever we might choose to turn, we witness an implicit reciprocity between creator and creation, an elaborate pantomime between users and used.  Predictably, our multiple and intersecting techno-constructions are making a machine out of both Man and Woman. In what amounts to a prospectively unforgivable inversion of Genesis, we humans now generally behave as if we had been created in imago machina, in the image of the machine.

Could there be any greater “blasphemy?”

There is more. Preoccupation with personal devices and social networking is merely the most visible symptom of a much deeper pathology. Accordingly, the basic “disease” that we now suffer is a variously painful incapacity to be at peace with ourselves. In the United States, where this particular sort of corrosive primal illness can choke off the future as well as the present, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s earlier call for “high thinking” has gone unheeded; it has already been supplanted by the insufferably banal syllogisms of a barren national politics[6] and by an “everyone for himself” ethos of entrepreneurial or professional logic.

Any such ethos is inherently self-destructive and prospectively lethal. In the exact words of distinguished Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man.  this corrosive ethos must inevitably prove “false and against nature.” Today, as the United States shamelessly expresses an orientation much too casually described as “America First,” this country has become the reductio ad absurdum of what the seventeenth century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes had earlier called “a war of all against all.”

In any such war – which Jefferson and the American Founding Fathers had recognized as a bellum omnium contra omnes – there can be no tangible victories. To wit, under the crumbling Republic of Donald J. Trump, America’s status and power in the world have descended to once-unimaginable levels.

We live at a moment of genuine “plague,” of pestilence, of rapidly spreading viral disease that threatens each and every one of us with extinction, as individuals. It follows that angst may now have a new and less subjective source of justification.[7] It follows also that incrementally available therapies will stem not from any tangible locations on a beloved “device,” but from the more traditional drug-based remedies of contemporary medical science. This will hardly represent the long-term societal cure that is required, but it would at least allow us more time to cumulatively build back what we have so shamelessly neglected and dismantled. As Americans, the survival imperative is unambiguous. It is an overriding obligation to fight against existential angst not under the hypnotizing banners of any “crowd,” but as individuals accepting a common national obligation to think seriously.

This last point now needs to be made emphatic. In a nation where the current president made his 2016 Convention acceptance speech in conjunction  with Duck Dynasty, and who campaigned on the bewildering principle of “I love the poorly educated,” citizens have a fundamental obligation to combat the stubbornly complacent American ethos of anti-thought. Looking ahead, if we should continue to abide the instrumental notion of education as an adornment, or as narrowly vocational preparation, we will continue to be led by grotesque charlatans and fools. To halt such a lethal continuance is still in our residual power, but only if we can first finally reject the suffocating anti-intellectualism of a “crowd.”[8]

Always, we must recall the singular wisdom of Sören Kierkegaard, “The crowd is untruth.”


[1] Such fear is not necessarily analogous to death fear. It is more far-reaching because it precludes any “mitigating” forms of resurrection, eternality or re-birth.

[2] Modern philosophic origins of the term “will” lie in writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration (and by his own expressed acknowledgment), Schopenhauer drew freely upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later, Friedrich Nietzsche drew just as freely (and perhaps more importantly) upon Schopenhauer. Goethe. also served as a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, author of the prophetic work, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas (1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s very grand essay, “In Search of Goethe from Within” (1932), written for Die Neue Rundschau of Berlin on the occasion of the centenary of Goethe’s death. It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948) and is available from Princeton University Press (1968).

[3] Seem by this writer, Louis René Beres/https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2020/06/01/donald-trump-the-crowd-and-a-nations-bitter-despair/

[4] Both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the very essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provides a precise definition of the term, but clearly it was not intended by either in any ordinary religious sense. For both, it was a still-recognizable and critical seat of both mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present context, is that Freud explained his already-predicted decline of America by various express references to “soul.” Freud was plainly disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect and literature), and even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and material accomplishment at any cost would occasion sweeping psychological misery.

[5] This brings to mind Ernest Becker’s famous paraphrase of Elias Canetti: “Each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good.” See Ernest  Becker, Escape from Evil (1975).

[6] See, by this writer, at Princeton, Louis René Beres, https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/02/emptiness-and-consciousness

[7] In this connection, notes José Ortega y’ Gasset, the Spanish existentialist philosopher: “Each of us is both the subject and the protagonist of his own nontransferable life.” (Man and Crisis, 1958).

[8] In this connection, “Resistance to the organized mass,” says Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung in The Undiscovered Self, “can be effected only by the man (or woman) who is as well-organized in his individuality as the mass itself.” Plainly, Jung was intellectually indebted to Kierkegaard as well as to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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Trump Lost, Biden Won. Is Joe Biden’s presidency a signal towards Obama’s America?

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image source: obamalibrary.gov

Greek statesmen, Pericles once said, “Just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean the politics won’t take interest in you”. The same is the case of United States politics which knowingly or unknowingly has an impact on world politics. That is why the result of the US elections are of great interest to states across the world. Although, for the United States, the goal is to maintain American primacy, to see a world in which the United States can use its predominant power to get its way, regardless of what others want. However, it is a fact that the political landscape of the United States has mostly been dominated by two parties, Republicans and Democrats, who not only differ in their ideas, policies, priorities but also in their approaches towards addressing the key issues facing the country. 

Comparing the two, we see the Republicans are more conservative in their approach as compared to the liberal Democrats. Therefore, the recent election in the US (2020), with Biden (Democrat) won and trump (Republican) lost is also a signal towards a changed approach in many issue areas The focus is to see, whether the new President, Joe Biden who remained the 47th vice president during Obama’s administration for eight long years is going to follow the same lines as Barack Obama and whether he going to reverse the policies of Donald Trump?

Looking at first the climate change issues, President Joe Biden’s plans to tackle  it seems more ambitious than any of the US presidential candidates so far. Biden during his presidential campaign proposed $2trillion over four years to significantly escalate the use of clean energy in transportation, electricity and building sectors. His public health and environment platform planned the establishment of a climate and environmental justice division. He further intends to make the US electricity production carbon-free by 2035 with achieving net-zero emissions by middle of the century. Apart from all these, the most noticeable is President Joe Biden’s promise to reverse Trump’s plan to exit from the Paris climate agreement that was signed back in 2016 under Obama’s administration. 

As Joe Biden in response to the former President, Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement on 4th-Nov 2020, tweeted “Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it.” He further stated“Reversing the decision would be one of my first acts as president”. This is exactly what happened as Joe Biden’s first act in the Oval Office was his signing an executive order to have the United States rejoin the Paris climate agreement.  Thus, while Trump has taken a strident anti-climate approach, President Joe Biden decision shows his intentions to bring back the policies of Obama towards climate change. 

Considering the health sector, we again find difference in approaches of Joe Biden and Donald Trump, yet similarity between Biden and Obama. As, President Joe Biden in his presidential campaign speech in Lancaster on June 25, 2020 defended the first American healthcare law also known as the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare that was initiated by Obama’s administration. He stated, “I’m proud of the Affordable Care Act. In addition to helping people with pre-existing conditions, it delivered vital coverage for 20 million Americans who did not have health insurance”. This depicts President Joe Biden’s plans to restore Obama’s health care policies. 

America is known as the land for all, a land of cultural diversity, but we have seen with Donald Trump coming to power, the immigration rules became very strict as he imposed restrictions on foreigner’s visits to the US. An example of this is Trump’s first Muslim travel ban announced on January 27, 2017, whereby five Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, were banned from traveling to the United States. Trump stated, the act is needed for national security and to save the country from terrorism. However, this discriminatory act was opposed by ex-President Obama, who in 2016, stated: “America was a country founded on religious freedom. We don’t have religious tests here”. 

This is what President Joe Biden also believes in, as he called Trump’s actions on immigration a pitiless assault on American values. On November 8, 2020 during the presidential campaign, he said,“My administration will look like America with Muslim Americans serving at every level,” and “on my first day in office I’ll end Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim ban.”So, President Joe Biden did what he said, as on his first day in office he signed 17 executive orders, memorandums and proclamations, including orders to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and end the Muslim ban

Then racism that increased in the US under former President Donald Trump is now challenged by President Joe Biden as he came up with a very different idea just like Barack Obama’s notion of “A more perfect Union”. Example of which is Kamala Harris, who became the first black Asian America woman vice-president in American history. More can be seen by Joe Biden giving credit to African Americans for helping him win the election. So, his presidency is seen as a sign of hope to end racism in the country. 

Moving further, we know globalization has cut the long-distance short, it has made countries more interconnected in all aspects, especially economic. To name a champion of globalization, obviously no other than the USA comes into the mind of every single person. Under the administration of Obama, we have seen the US convening the G-20 summit, introduced macro-economic policies, signed Trans pacific partnership, and much more. However, the question is, whether the US is going to retain this all under Joe Biden’s presidency? What would be his approach towards the ongoing US-China trade war? 

President Joe Biden from the very start has focused on rebuilding the domestic economy, as the slogan ‘Build Back Better’. Therefore, he clearly stated that the US will not enter any international trade deals unless the domestic concerns of labor and the environment are fully addressed. Moreover, looking at the US-China trade war, which started back in 2018 when the Trump administration imposed tariffs on Chinese goods worth more than $360bn, we don’t find much difference except the tactics. As Joe Biden too in his presidential campaign accused China of violating international trade rules, subsidizing its companies, and stealing U.S. intellectual property. He promised to continue with Trump’s heavy tariffs on Chinese imports, but while Trump did this all unilaterally, Biden would continue it together with the allies.

On issues related to national security, we again find President Joe Biden’s approach a bit different from that of Donald Trump. Considering the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or p5+1 deal that was signed between Islamic Republic of Iran and 5 permanent members of UNSC along with Germany. It imposed several restrictions on Iran in exchange for sanction reliefs and was achieved by Obama’s administration under his “constructive engagement policy“in 2015 But Trump smashed it by calling it a historical blunder and in 2018 under his “Maximum pressure policy” pulled the USA out of the deal and reinstated sanctions. Iran too after the withdrawal of US from JCPOA and upon Iran Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) commander Qasim Sulemani killing by the US airstrike announced that it no longer adheres to the 2015 Nuclear Deal. 

Now, the hope is President Joe Biden, as he stated in his presidential campaign that the “maximum pressure” policy has failed, emphasizing that it led to a significant escalation in tensions, and that Iran is now closer to a nuclear weapon than it was when Trump came to office. Therefore, he pledged to rejoin the nuclear accord if Iran returns to strict compliance. Here again it shows President Joe Biden’s intention to follow Obama’s approach of constructive engagement towards Iran. 

When it comes to Afghanistan, Trump decided to end the endless war in Afghanistan by having a peace agreement with the Afghan Taliban, according to which the US will withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan. However, Joe Biden has not taken any clear decision on it yet. But he is under pressure as the Taliban wants the new president to follow the same peace accord achieved by the Trump administration. Yet, the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani has requested President Joe Biden to rethink the Afghan peace deal. Therefore, it is too early to say what Biden would do. 

To sum up, the 78 years old Joe Biden who has smashed the election records by securing more votes than any presidential candidate in the history of United States elections, he has not only raised high expectations, but there are numerous challenges on his way as well. This is because his policies would now be a center of focus for many. In most of the issue areas, we see President Joe Biden reversing the policies of Donald Trump and following the path of Obama’s Administration. Something which he promised during his presidential campaign as he said to take the country on a very different path from what it has been in the past four years under former President Donald Trump’s administration. However, it’s just the start of a new journey for America and the future decisions by President Joe Biden will uncover a lot more

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How Uncle Sam views the world by 2040

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How the US is seeing the future world is revealed in a recent report, Global Trends 2040: A More Contested World, published by the National Intelligence Council of the US. This report of political, social and economic estimates is prepared through an integrated process for every incoming President of the USA. For Biden, the report was published in March this year. The world, its politics, economics and societies, is going to change under the forces stemmed in changes in demographic modalities, environmental fluctuations, economic preferences and technological transformations. These together are going to impact on societies, states and international systems which would end in sketching five different futures of the world. Uncle Sam seems to be shaking the world, and this time even more intensely.

Starting off how the forces will interact and intersect, it all begins with the changes in demographics. The developed economies are aging bringing a global slow economic growth whereas the contracting working age will weigh on the economies of these developed countries as Japan and South Korea will reach the median age of 53 and Europe the median age of 47 by 2040. On the other side, in developing countries the converse will be happening as Sub Saharan Africa will reach median age of less than 15 years whereas Pakistan, Egypt and Afghanistan will reach the median age of 30 years. This seems opportunity but these economies will be challenged to meet the demands of the growing working age populace in their economies with the slow global economic growth remaining constant dragging the societies into  social volatilities while testing the performances of states too.

The forces of environment will leave no country unaffected especially the developing countries that lack in adaptations skills and technologies. The occurrence of heat waves, melting of Arctic, land degradation, water misuses, food insecurity, loss of biodiversity, rising sea levels and pollution will erode the ‘human security’ while affecting states and societies, politics and economics coequally. For curtailing environmental threats, countries may apply geoengineering by interacting with the natural system of earth to counteract threats of climate change like releasing the sun’s energy back into space through Solar Radiations Management or Stratospheric Aerosol Injection spraying to cause global dimming. The developed countries especially US and China will see suspicions on sincerely working on environmental threats as this would require economic sacrifices.

In the sphere of Economics, the national debt management will push countries to avoid funding on the issues of environment as they will already be pressed hard for matching the needs of the growing demands of their elderly and younger populations alike. Covid 19 has already left indelible imprints on the economies of the world especially the developing countries two fifths of which, according to 2019 IMF assessment, were at debt distress. Automation and rapidly growing AI will reduce 9 percent global jobs and transform one third by 2040 while at the same time creating massive new technology and automation stemmed jobs which will test the states adaptability to manoeuvring technology. This will have disproportionate effect across the countries and regions. The element of Superstar firms, the new multinationals, will critically affect world economies and make definitive inroads in the affairs of politics.

The technological forces will surpass all other forces in intensity especially with the significant rise of AI and Biotechnology. The US-China rivalry in this sphere will be rampant. AI will disrupt global current workforce while also creating new dimensions of labor compelling the countries to remodel their working force structures. The application of AI in warfare will be on the rise and will be adding a new element to the geopolitical dynamics. AI is well positioned to fly and reach space which will turn the space diplomacy in new form and bring the two global rivals face to face. AI will siphon out the human element of emotions in making decisions having social effects.

As these forces interact, world will see five possible scenarios in which the first three are the prominent.

In the first scenario, it will the US and allies led democracy which will manipulate the world. Being democratic, there will be more space for innovation and the rise of technology with robust public private partnerships will prosperously affect economic growth of the countries. This will enable the states to be responsive to their people’s needs while the same time making adaptations unlike in the repressive regimes of Russian and China whose policies will let them on steady decline.

In the second scenario, it will be China which will be mastering the world arena but not exactly acting like leading it due to its inherent repressive dynamics. This will happen on account of failure of international organizations with least interest paid to them by the major powers. The factors of high national debt, the costs of caring for aging populations, and hazardous environmental occurrences will havoc states’ budgets and keep them away from spending on education, infrastructure, and scientific research. In these circumstances due to the integrally centralist and controlled Chinese centralism will help China gain global attention through its global infrastructure packages and other initiatives. Many countries will thus tilt to the Chinese sidelines.

In the third effectual scenario, it will be a contested coexistence of US and China which will emerge. This will be based on shared economic and growth preferences and agreements.

Much of what is stated in the report must be happening in the world ahead but much of what is left unstated is more critical. Summed up, there will be more instability, pandemics, economic recessions, state conflicts and disorders in the five different worlds that lay ahead.

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Understanding Ronald Regan’s approach to the Cold War

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President and Mrs. Reagan at the 1981 inauguration parade. Image source: Wikipedia

President Ronald Reagan’s ascendency in the political hierarchy of the United States, ending in him becoming the President is often regarded as a triumphant victory by American conservatives. His conception of the world order, domestic and international relations show a reflection of a conservative understanding of issues. His legacy as president remains as having effectively brought down the Soviet Union and the threat of Communism. His policies towards the Soviet Union have a transformative nature, as his understanding and approach to US-Soviet relations changed radically after his first term. Though being a staunch Anti-communist and regarding the Soviet Union as an “evil empire”, he sought to ensure that America and its idea of a “Free World” prevailed and later on, that the two most significant military powers would reach common ground in order to make peace more sustainable.

In studying his approach to tackling the Soviet threat, it’s important to first understand the correlation between the policies adopted by previous administrations and Reagan’s own pursuit of defeating the Communist threat which at the height of the Cold War, threatened to spill into a full-scale conflict between the two regional hegemons. Previous administrations had traditionally approached the threat posed by the Soviet Union with a policy of preventing the collapse of European allies at the hands of the Soviet Union. This included stymieing the spread of Communism across the world and the consistent development of Ballistic missiles in order to deter a Soviet military advance into Europe by providing a “nuclear umbrella” to European Allies.  Before the Reagan administration this policy was in large part accepted as the means through which the Soviet threat could be effectively challenged. President Reagan followed a similar policy by pursuing aggressive military buildup and focusing on development of a vast range of ballistic missile platforms which would act as a comprehensive deterrent in preventing the Soviet decision-making elite to pursue a path unacceptable to US strategists (ARBATOV 2019). Being disillusioned with the far left, his opinions and campaign slogans had strong ideological underpinnings which would later on influence his dealings with the Soviet Union.

 The changes in Reagan’s policy weren’t without the influence of another very important personality, Mikhail Gorbachev. The Soviet leader’s role in Reagan’s change in policy from antagonism to rapprochement is widely claimed by academic scholars as a major contributing factor for the rethink in Reagans approach to Communist Soviet Union. Gorbachev’s revolutionary approach to International Relations was followed by America’s “reactionary response” in the shape of pursuance of arms control and softening of political rhetoric (Fischer 1997). Ronald Reagan second term in office was marked by a change in his policy of pursuing aggressive development of arms and making space-based missile defense systems having the capability of destroying incoming Soviet missiles. The Strategic Defense Initiative was seen by many in the Soviet ranks as a dangerous escalation of arms race which had the potential of transforming into military conflict. (Britannica, T.Editors of Encyclopaedia 2021). Seeing and acknowledging Gorbachev’s new approach as “revolutionary” President Reagan sought to rely on an intense sustained engagement with the Soviet leader in order to achieve what his previous approach had failed to do (Talbott 2004).

Mikhail Gorbachev’s approach to the subject of foreign policy was based on establishing relations with the west and a recalibration of ties with the United States. At the time of the Cold War a large part of the effort by the two nations was to prevent the other state from gaining a definitive edge in the area of technology, military and nuclear weapons. Apart from the ideological conflict the Cold War witnessed many states in the world becoming the conflict grounds in which the US and USSR sought to establish their control and influence. Mikhail Gorbachev’s arrival into the political spectrum and pursuing a policy of peace and prevention of creation of arms was in large part influenced by the domestic environment of his country. The Soviet Union after Brezhnev had a weakened economy due to extensive spending building and maintaining large military industries and sophisticated missile delivery and defense systems. The Russian political elite largely dominated by Russians. Gorbachev’s “restructuring” in order to improve the economic conditions of the state was also followed by a rethink at the foreign policy front. In his famous interview at Harvard University he described how the conditions of repression, arrests and suppression of critical voices against the state were silenced. This led to perestroika which gained support from the Russian masses. (The Harvard Gazette 2004).

The question as to the extent to which the effect of President Reagan and Gorbachev’s relationship caused “reversal” of US foreign policy with regards to the Soviet Union should be considered through different metrics. Firstly it’s important to study how the “Reagan doctrine” which formulated the plan of tackling soviet expansionism into countries across the globe evolved during the time of Reagan’s Presidential terms. Ronald Reagan’s doctrine was a shift from previous administrations approach to the Soviet threat. In what was previously termed as “containment” of Soviet expansionism, Reagan’s approach constituted of a “roll back” of Soviet expansionist forces across the world. From “Afghanistan to Nicaragua” Reagan’s approach was an active effort to subdue Soviet expansionist forces seeking to gain a foothold in important areas such as South Asia and Central Americas. (US Department of State archive 2001). While toning down the harsh rhetoric and signing important arms control treaties, US efforts to prevent Soviet expansionism continued despite a thaw in relations and a warm cordial relationship between the two world leaders. 

Reagan’s original agenda of an aggressive military buildup and development of ballistic missiles saw a reversal during his second term. Both leaders sought to control the arms race and roll back on the creation of such weapons. The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT-1) and other similar treaties was a ‘break away’ from Reagan’s original doctrinal approach. Gorbachev’s willingness to engage in talks was what initiated this change. What is also interesting to note is that despite belonging to radically different ideologies, both leaders shared a similar view on important matters. This is significant as both leaders expressed the desire to regulate arms control and to promote peace.

Another important element is the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan which saw an all-out Soviet effort to establish control over the region and reach the warm waters of the Arabian sea. The United States, eying an opportunity and realizing the threat of a possible soviet hold of South Asia, actively supported the Afghan Mujahedeen. Through Pakistan, the US pivotal role resulted in the Soviet forces failing to defeat the guerrilla forces despite huge numbers of troops and highly sophisticated weapon systems. This costly conflict was to prove detrimental to Soviet morale and the economy. After having effectively taken over, Gorbachev became heavily involved in restoring the economy and control over the production of arms between the United States and the Soviet Union. Gorbachev sought to move away from previous Soviet leaders doctrines and open diplomatic channels which would result in the final culmination of the Cold War.

President Ronald Reagan’s presidency was marked with a significant contrast in approaches to the Soviet threat. Having become president, his strong ideological standpoints were the driving forces behind his policies. With the Soviet Union, Reagan’s original approach was that of confronting, condemning and a protectionist mindset. Being a vocal proponent of American values of free speech, liberty and democracy his political campaigns to his televised addresses portrayed the Soviet Union as the principals threat to the very principals that America stood for. Like previous administrations, combating soviet expansionism and attaining global hegemony were prized objectives which defined much of US policies during the first term of President Reagan. His second term however saw a ‘shift’ in part of Reagan’s understanding of greater and more pressing issues at hand which demanded attention. Having originally promoted military spending and development of sophisticated missile weapon systems, Reagan’s view changed by the coming of Mikhail Gorbachev.

Both leaders, seeking initially to control production of arms, sought other means to create an environment more conducive for peace. While motivations differed, there was consensus between the two leaders on important matters which made diplomatic summits productive and resulted in many arms treaties. Both leaders established a relationship of trust and warmth which had largely been unseen since the start of the Cold War. These meetings were then followed by confidence building measures and trips to respective capitals which allowed a further thaw in the relations. Despite continued conflict in other states, both leaders relationship saw a significant reversal in the policies of US under the Reagan administration.

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