By the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, intellectuals and politicians championed the concept of "soft power," advocating for an end to the "clash of civilisations" and a departure from the arms race, with the notion that the robust American model had triumphed over the feeble Soviet one.
During this time, US President George H. Bush preached to both allies and opponents that reducing defence spending would contribute to social welfare and economic prosperity.
In the early 1990s, he claimed that humanity could reap the benefits of peace by downsizing defence budgets. Consequently, the United States shifted from allocating 6 percent to 3 percent of its GDP towards defence throughout the 1990s.
It seemed only natural for this shift to occur. After all, the American model had prevailed over "Sovietisation," resulting in the worldwide diffusion of prosperity. Everyone desired to consume McDonald's sandwiches and drink Starbucks coffee, symbolising the end of the "evil" Soviet Union and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, achieved without a single shot being fired. This, in part, fuelled investments in technology, the economy, and the virtual world.
However, September 11 presented a severe challenge to these ideas. The concepts and proclamations of soft power quickly faded away with the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, as it proved to be a litmus test.
The person who dealt a blow to this theory was none other than the son of US President George Bush, who had initially advocated for it. The excess of American power propelled the nation to turn against itself and its own theories.
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For years, the world witnessed a fluctuation between the theories of "soft power," which focused on economics and markets, and "smart power," which combined military strength with diplomacy.
Ukraine war triggers arms race
However, this equilibrium was disrupted when Russia decided to invade Ukraine in 2022. The war in Ukraine quickly escalated, fuelled by the tensions between the United States and China, as well as various regional conflicts.
This escalation elevated the reliance on "hard power" and triggered an unprecedented arms race among major and regional powers. In terms of numbers, global defence spending increased by approximately 4 percent last year, reaching a staggering $2 trillion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.