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The Chernoybl disaster of 1986 may not have been the event that brought down the Iron Curtain, but it certainly symbolized the spirit of the time and expedited the inevitable. The accident at the nuclear power plant near the Soviet Ukrainian city of Pripyat was the result of a combination of technical failures and a culture of lies and cover-ups in an empire that forbade itself from showing weakness. Nevertheless, the heat from the No. 4 reactor and the blast expedited the process that melted the Cold War.

Then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had tried to prevent the Soviet Union’s collapse and led a series of reforms to introduce elements of the free market. He also sought to lead a more open policy that allowed for freedom of expression, but it was too late. The Soviet Union collapsed under the pressure of nationalist movements. Even the attempted putsch by conservative members of the Communist party, in coordination with the KGB Soviet intelligence agency, was not enough to halt the process. Gorbachev survived, but he lost influence and became irrelevant, similar to the fate of the Soviet Union itself, which disappeared from the face of the world, making way for a new Russia.

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In a certain sense, the world before the Soviet Union’s collapse was a far simpler one. It was the US against the Soviet Union, capitalism versus socialism, democracies against dictatorships, freedom versus its limitation. Almost all of the world’s countries were divided along these lines. Each of these camps also had its own culture and ideology. While the Soviet Union manufactured flamboyant tools like missiles and tanks, its planned economy found it difficult to provide such basic items as toilet paper and sausages. The US, meanwhile, focused on sophistication and developed microchips.

Nevertheless, one must give the Soviet Union credit: It continues to have an influence around the world, and beyond the 1990s, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 did not create a bipolar world. The US did achieve hegemony in the West, but domestic processes have led to instability there. The September 11 attacks symbolized the end of an era.

There are those who say the Soviet Union’s disappearance and the victory of the West was the worst thing to happen to the US, as they ironically expedited America’s downfall. True, the US remains the world’s greatest superpower and has no competition in the military field. Economically, though, it is no longer alone as another red giant has grown, with the assistance of the US itself, and has been growing since the Cold War: Are we at the forefront of another bipolar era – one that pits Washington against Beijing? This certainly seems to be the case.

During the Cold War, two players played a game along very clearly drawn lines. When one side appeared ready to escalate the situation, the relationship served as a balancing force because ultimately, this was a battle between two rational players. This is the conclusion that must be drawn from that difficult, formative period: Stick to the rules of play even when enemies are involved.

Internal processes are transpiring inside China as well. Just as in the US, unexpected events could also take place there.  Empires fall, and that is the way of the world.

{Written by Daniel Pachter and reposted from the Israel Hayom site}

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