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Defending Democracy Without a Cold War

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Message Jason Sibert

The Cold War with Soviet Russia was a decades-long exercise that ended the in collapse of the old Soviet Union in 1991.

Our country lost around 100,000 in the conflict in hot spots in Korea and Vietnam. I think much can be said for the policy of containment we followed, as it yielded little in the way of casualties and ended in the triumph of western democracy, although the triumph is being put to the test with the rise of authoritarian movements around the globe.

Although casualties in the Cold War were not high, the Cold War was really a terrible time in world history. The two superpowers had huge nuclear arsenals pointed at each other, the United States supported hideous dictators around the world (if they were in the American orbit and not the Soviet orbit), millions died worldwide in Cold War conflicts that didn't directly involve the U.S., and millions died in Soviet purges.

We don't need a contemporary replay of the Cold War with the People's Republic of China. Senator Bernie Sanders tells us why in his story "Washington's Dangerous New Consensus on China." The security challenges we face today - absolute poverty in parts of the world, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and the rise of authoritarian democracy - are problems that require an internationalist mindset.

Although the People's Republic of China is a hard authoritarian state (more than Vladimir Putin's Russia) that's acting belligerent on the world stage, there are still problems where the international community must cooperate - the greenhouse effect, pandemics, and nuclear proliferation. The most dangerous trend that has emerged in United States political dialog as of late is the idea that the U.S./China relationship is just a military struggle, as stated by Sanders.

For decades, America's foreign policy chased the idea that by trading with China it would become more democratic and like western nation states in time. The PRC is no longer Communist like it was years ago, partially due to trade and contact with the outside world. However, it's hard to argue that the country has become more democratic.

U.S./China trade has resulted in many factories, home to jobs with union-level wages, to relocate to China where unions are weak. When our government handed the PRC "permanent normal trade relations status," it was supported by the Republican and Democratic parties and business lobbies like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. These policies are wrong if one looks at them in hindsight, but so is today's demand that our country engage in a cold war, like the one with Soviet Russia. Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, recently compared our geopolitical conflict with China with the previous Cold War against Soviet Russia.

Sanders gives a laundry list of objectionable Chinese behavior: "the Chinese government is surely guilty of many policies and practices that I oppose and that all Americans should oppose: the theft of technology, the suppression of workers' rights and the press, the repression taking place in Tibet and Hong Kong, Beijing's threatening behavior toward Taiwan, and the Chinese government's atrocious policies toward the Uyghur people."

We should confront Chinese ambitions through the United Nations Human Rights Council, an approach that would be credible if we held our allies to a strong standard on human rights. Senator Sanders said the current language on China is like the language on the war on terror following the terrorist attacks on New York City in 2001. This brought us several expensive and long wars. He also pointed to the hate crimes against Arab and Muslim Americans in those years. Our country is experiencing a rerun with recent crimes against Asian Americans.

The Vermont senator also made the relevant point that the democratic life must pay off for Americans for this way of life to win out over authoritarianism. Senator Sanders made the case for creating good-paying jobs by repairing our infrastructure and fighting climate change. The senator advocated working with other nations to combat poverty around the world and make democracy more stable. He supported President Biden's global minimum corporate tax but also a global minimum wage to raise the living standards of working people around the world.

Senator Sanders said a real approach to security emphasizes "human needs over corporate greed and militarism." He finished with saying that our country must strengthen global norms and international law around the world, both for ourselves and for China. Sanders also mentioned China's unacceptable behavior and warned against the dangers of ultra-nationalist forces in both countries, and he acknowledged a beneficial relationship with China will not be easy but better than new cold war.

Jason Sibert is the executive director of the Peace Economy Project

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Jason Sibert worked for the Suburban Journals in the St. Louis area as a staff writer for a decade. His work has been published in a variety of publications since then and he is currently the executive director of the Peace Economy Project.
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