Mikhail Gorbachev, general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, opened a small orange notebook and said: "Today, all of us feel we are at a historic watershed." Standing in front of him was President George H.W. Bush. The two leaders were having a summit meeting in Malta in December 1989.
In November of that year, the Berlin Wall collapsed, and West and East Germany headed toward reunification. The world was changing. Gorbachev said he was not suggesting a U.S.-Soviet condominium, "But there must be patterns of cooperation to take account of new realities."
These are the descriptions of the occasion from a book co-authored by President Bush and his national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, titled "A World Transformed." This Malta summit ended the Cold War, and the Soviet Union would collapse two years later, to be succeeded by the Russian Federation.
A touchstone of U.S.-Soviet "cooperation" soon emerged. In August 1990, Iraq, which was close to the Soviet Union, invaded Kuwait, but Gorbachev sided with Washington. Bush won a United Nations Security Council resolution to use force, defeated Iraq and liberated Kuwait, thanks to Soviet support.
--- Intensifying tension among major powers
The initial phase of the post-Cold War world order went smoothly. However, three decades after the Malta summit, the world is facing a very different landscape. Russia has occupied and declared the annexation of Crimea, which is Ukraine's territory, only to be hit by economic sanctions in a face-off with the United States. Nuclear disarmament is stalled, and the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump is poised to discard the historic Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed by Washington and Moscow in 1987.
But it's not only U.S.-Russian relations that are strained. The U.S. and China are at loggerheads mainly over trade issues, and tripartite tensions are rising among Washington, Moscow and Beijing in the military field. The "patterns of cooperation" called for by Gorbachev have now diminished; it has been a while since the world made a change from cooperation to confrontation.
One has to wonder about the meaning of the Cold War, and its closure.
As early as March 1945, a Japanese rear admiral predicted that the U.S. and the Soviet Union were on a collision course. This view was left in "A Note to Roosevelt" by Rinosuke Ichimaru, on Iwo Jima, during the last days of the collapsing Japanese defense of the Pacific island in the face of the fierce American offensive. Addressed to then U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ichimaru's note written in both Japanese and English -- retrieved by American troops after the Japanese admiral's death in the Battle of Iwo Jima -- said this in a nutshell: "It is beyond my imagination of how you can slander Hitler's program and at the same time cooperate with Stalin's 'Soviet Russia' which has as its principle aim the 'socialization' of the World at large. If only the brute force decides the ruler of the world, fighting will everlastingly be repeated, and never will the world know peace nor happiness." (From "Beikoku Daitoryo eno Tegami / Ichimaru Rinosuke Den (A Letter to U.S. President -- Memoir of Rinosuke Ichimaru)" by Sukehiro Hirakawa)
The note is colored in Imperialistic views of history, but Ichimaru presented a penetrating vision of the world shortly before his death.
In reality, less than one year after the battle, Joseph Stalin, the then leader of the Soviet Union, severely criticized the United States in a speech in February 1946. He argued that monopolistic capitalism seeks economic growth and political power, and thus has a built-in danger of triggering armed conflicts such as World War II. His remark emphasizing the superiority of socialism indicated that the Cold War had already begun.
--- Ideals causing fatigue
Looking back at history, one comes to understand the preciousness of the concessions made by the U.S. and the Soviet Union at the Malta summit. The two countries did have an ideal of leaving ideological confrontations behind them to seek coexistence and cooperation. The power of the ideal, however, receded during the nearly 30 years after the Cold War's end, and a tendency to seek realistic benefits has emerged ever stronger.
With the advent of the Trump administration, consideration for minorities or the needy has disappeared and behavior driven by naked desire has surged to the forefront. Some people, with no regard for the truth, began to push for "alternative facts," and assert that news reporting that is inconvenient to them is "fake news." They are apparently tired of ideals.
Meanwhile, people from the Middle East and Latin America continue to head for Europe or the United States, drawing a world picture of the poor seeking refuge in successful regions. As dictatorships collapsed, radical Islamic ideas spread in the Middle East. Answers to the issues of migrants and religious extremism can only be found through worldwide efforts to establish collective wisdom.
If the United States really steps down from its position as "the policeman of the world," and if Washington, Beijing and Moscow compete to seek hegemony, the world will be torn apart and deteriorate into a vicious cycle of confrontation and hatred. We seem to be facing a new "historic watershed."
Now is the time to recall the importance of "cooperation" confirmed by Gorbachev and Bush. We would like to reconfirm the ideal of coexistence, and find a way leading to reconciliation and cooperation.