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BIPR | The Triumph of Broken Promises. The End of the Cold War and the Rise of Neoliberalism
The Triumph of Broken Promises. The End of the Cold War and the Rise of Neoliberalism

October 10, 2022 - 18:30

Fritz Bartel, The Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University, US

Event Recap

After a brief introduction from Professor Sergey Radchenko, Professor Fritz Bartel proceeded to present the outline and basic arguments laid out in his book. By recognizing that previous scholars have not combined the history of Neoliberalism and the end of the Cold War, the book sets out to answer four questions through the lens of historical sovereign debt: (1) why did the Cold War end? (2) why did it end relatively peacefully? (3) what role did Western actors play? and finally, (4) what connection did these events have with the rise of neoliberalism?

Bartel started by offering a revitalized definition of the Cold War. He explains that the Cold War began as a race between capitalist and communist governments to expand the social contracts that prevailed in their societies – to offer their people more economic and social security and to provide for rising living standards. Although, it ended as a competition to discipline those social contracts – a competition of which side could impose various forms of economic discipline on their populations, while preventing significant destabilizing social backlash. Simply put, the Cold War began as a race to make promises, but it ended as a race to break promises.

Bartel's argument begins with global capital and energy markets, which exploded in size and importance in the 1970s. These markets, in turn, pressured governments to impose economic discipline on their populations. Broadly speaking, the variety of policies that were pursued, such as fiscal austerity, disciplining trade unions, or liberalizing trade and capital flows, all trended in the direction of economic discipline. Therefore, governments that could impose discipline on their people were the ones that survived, while governments that could not collapsed.

From this, he crucially argues that electoral democracy and neoliberalism gave Western states the political and ideological tools to impose this discipline. He defines neoliberalism as political ideology that uses markets to increase the free flow of goods and capital across state borders, increase inequality within nation-states, and limit the nation's role in the provision of economic and social security for its citizens. Western officials, therefore, demonize the government, thereby shifting perceived responsibility of social and economic outcomes from the state to the markets, and resulting in the so-called "look, no hands" doctrine.

On the other hand, Communist states in the Eastern bloc had no recourse to electoral legitimacy or to an ideology that would embrace free markets, so they sought to democratize themselves in the 1980s as a means of imposing the necessary economic discipline. Therefore, the end of the Cold War is in fact the triumph of broken promises. It was the pressure to impose discipline – to break promises – that ultimately drove the events that we now consider to be the end of the Cold War.

Among the lessons from this, Bartel concluded by arguing that future Great Power conflicts, like that of the US and China, will likely be determined by how these states manage the relationship with their own people, rather than with each other.

Full Audio:

The Triumph of Broken Promises. The End of the Cold War and the Rise of Neoliberalism
International Relations Series

hosted by Professor Sergey Radchenko

Fritz Bartel
The Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University, US

SAIS Europe students, faculty, staff, and guests are allowed to attend in person at SAIS Europe, via B. Andreatta 3, Bologna. To participate online, please register for the webinar.

Fritz Bartel is Assistant Professor at The Bush School of Government and Public Service of Texas A&M University.

He came to the School in 2019 from Yale University, where he was Associate Director of International Security Studies and also held a postdoctoral fellowship. Bartel received his PhD in history from Cornell University, where his research was funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. His dissertation, "The Privatization of the Cold War: Oil, Finance and the Fall of Communism," won the 2018 Oxford University Press USA Dissertation Prize in International History from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR), and is under contract to be published by Harvard University Press. Along with Nuno Monteiro, he is also the co-editor of the edited volume, Before and After the Fall: World Politics and the End of the Cold War (Cambridge University Press, 2022). His work has been published in Enterprise & Society and Diplomatic History.

Bartel's research interests lie in US foreign relations, the global Cold War, grand strategy, and the history of capitalism.
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