When the Berlin Wall collapsed twenty years ago, idealism seemed to have vanquished realism as the reigning political philosophy. Because an artificial border had fallen in the heart of Germany, it was thought that all borders between men had similarly disintegrated, and we were all destined to be free and empowered individuals in a global meeting place.
Such dreams were soon shattered. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, and the following year, Yugoslavia began to disintegrate, as divisive ethnic nationalisms long thought dormant exploded violently. Indeed, even in Europe, the fall of the Berlin Wall had not liberated people from their own histories and geographies. The road forward from communism for the northern countries of the former Warsaw Pact – East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia – heirs to the relatively prosperous and liberal influences of Prussia and Habsburg Austria, proved far less onerous than for such countries as Bulgaria and Albania, of the poorer and less liberal former Ottoman Empire. And the eastern part of the Ottoman domain in Mesopotamia was poorer and less developed still. Which meant that democratizing Iraq proved far more difficult than democratizing Eastern Europe had been.
The Berlin Wall: A Lesson in Change
"Twenty years after the Berlin Wall fell, Germany is still struggling to fulfill the promise of that event." By Lane Wallace
And so, twenty years after the end of the Cold War, classical geography continues to shape the terms of global politics – as evidenced by our predicaments in Iraq and Afghanistan. And while the Soviet Union may have disintegrated, Russia is still Eurasia’s preeminent land power. Indeed, once again – thanks to its plans to build natural gas pipelines directly to Western Europe—it holds the ability to split Eastern Europe off from the West and hold the former Warsaw Pact nations captive. Meanwhile, Germany is torn between east and west, and may become dangerously neutral vis-à-vis Western Europe and Russia as a result. And the Near East once again is announced by a series of developmental gradations, rather than by a hard and fixed border, beginning, as in Ottoman days, in the middle of the former Yugoslavia, and ending somewhere in Central Asia.