Because spoken words fly away, written words remain. 'verba volant scripta manent', you said.

The Cold War and (Maybe Not) The War on Islam

Student Paper for International Human Rights Topic


It was named as the Cold War for a reason. This epic rivalry between America and the Soviet Union, stretching as long as almost four decade from 1947–1991, refers to a state of silent conflict, whereas direct military action was avoided and objectives were pursued mainly by political and economic propagandas, with occasional war from the covert surrogates. Shortly after the end of the Cold War, the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2011 in the mainland America became another historical landmark of International politics, with the world order became once again overturned and The Global War on Terror (GWoT) was declared. However, the term of the Cold War itself not only represents the negligible use of bombs and bullets, but it also symbolise the averseness of both parties to admit the hidden war between each other. Or to borrow what George Orwell said : “a state of peace that is no peace” between the United States and the Soviet Union in the past, and with the Islamic world in the present GWoT. This essay will compare and contrast primary features of the former Cold War and the current GWoT in order to analyse the interconnectedness of both wars.

Not The New Cold War

It is exciting to see that yet once again, human rights lexicons is at the heart of GWoT as it had been in the Cold War. Goodhart (2013, p.349) summarises the components of GWoT in America’s foreign policy, which possess similarities with that of the Cold War in four areas, which are the rhetorical/discursive policy base, the scope and length of GWoT that is open ended and global in scope, the practical alliances, and the corrosion of civil liberties. All of these policy features mimicking what America had done in the past Cold War era (Daalder and Lindsay, 2003: p.78-97). The creation of a new security state apparatus also mirrors the initiatives begun in the late 1940s. A new federal bureaucracy was institutionalised to oversee anti-terrorism in homeland and to campaign it throughout the world, expanding powers of surveillance with unimaginable feats. Immigrants and particular community are targeted with onerous attention, just like the previous “red” scares during the Cold War (Tirman, 2006 : p.3). The United States defence budget is also reaching new heights never seen since the Cold War, with regular budget reaching as high as $533 billion in 2010 (Kitchen, 2013 : p.66) By 2011, ten years following the 9/11 attack, the number of US Special Forces nearly doubled, the budget nearly tripled and overseas deployments quadrupled, with estimated US Special Forces presence in almost 70 countries (Aaronson, 2013 : p.130). Therefore, it is surprising that many scholars decline the indication that GWoT is the new Cold War, even if numerous of America’s policy features in strengthening GWoT share a striking resemblance with that of Cold War.

In the post Cold War era, it is a well known analysis that the United States was trapped in a threat deficit situation. Quinn (2013 : p.45-61) discussed in details about the United States declining power and presence, elaborating the United States failed attempts to elevate threats to be the new Cold War until finally 9/11 attacks occurs. However, the altering scope of GWoT to the world politics is incomparable with the Cold War. Waltz (2002 : p.542) summarises three features in the International politics that are still in continuity from post Cold War until today, not changed by the 9/11 attack or the GWoT, which are the unipolarity of the world power, the United States persistance and pursuance to gradually proliferate the use of nuclear or other types of WMD, and the prevalence of crises in the world in which the United States is almost certain to be involved in some extent. The nature of continous change in world politics bear little evidence that 9/11 attacks and GWoT have altered the world in such way that its out of the essential character. In relation to the use of hard power in to enforce an agenda, 9/11 attacks is just another historical landmark that is important, or as Kennedy-Pipe and Rengger (2006; p.549) puts it, epiphenomenal but not transformative enough.

Barry Buzan, one of the leading expert in the Copenhagen school of security studies analyse the stark contrasts between the Cold War and GWoT in the term of securitisation created by both wars by referring to an act of securitisation. Securitisation itself is a process-oriented conception of security. It examines how a certain issue is transformed by an actor into a matter of security (Buzan, Wæver & Wilde : 1998, p.25). One of the property of modern inter-state society and America administration in particular is the idea of macro-securitisation, which is a specific securitisation aimed at and up to the point of succeeding in framing security issues in a wide system basis, using universalist construction of threats. And of all the war that had been fought by The United States until today, The Cold War is one of the most successful macro-securitisation strategies performed by America from the beginning to the end (Buzan, 2006 : p.2). It can be argued that it is one of the reason why the United States is pursuing the same strategy for GWoT.

However, declaring GWoT to be in the same level of success in macro-securitisation as the Cold War is also less plausible, according to Buzan (2006 : p.6) due to several important factors that contributed to GWoT diminishing plausability. The most notable factors relevant for this essay are the questionable legitimacy of the United States to lead the world, and the questionable worldwide acceptance over the GWoT securitization as a whole or of particularist securitisations that get linked to it. The United States have embrace the opportunity to use what Cohen (2005 : p.169) highlight as the ‘symbolic constitutionalism’ where the solicitation of universal values such as freedom from fear be made as International law and norms in order to hide political interventions.

Buzan (2006, p.11-12) argued that at first macro-securitisation of GWoT had been built quite succesfully, but that was lasted until the world saw Iraq wars fetched no such Weapon for Mass Destruction (WMD), prisoners of wars are denied of rights of the Geneva Convention, tortures are used in interogation techniques, and even worldwide civil society regime and aid frameworks are reconfigured to suit the GWoT framing (Howell & Lind, p. 280-283). The United States National Security Strategy (USNSS) has raise oppositions not on the macro-securitisation of GWoT but over how far did the acts of ‘symbolic constitutionalism’ should be allowed or limited. Which ones are beneficial to perevent security attacks and which ones did limits liberties and rights in the name of security against terrorism and doing more harm than good to the civilised world (Buzan, 2006 : p. 11-12).

It is actually conflicting to see the United States using the same strategy with that of Cold War. The ‘enemy’ in the Cold War is primarily state actors that employed with distinct political ideologies that created bipolarity with that of the United States and its allies. The GWoT is happening in the already globalised world, where a lot of new type of organised violence, military privatisation, and new wars occurs (Kelstrup, p.109-110). The GWoT has seen difficulties in defining who the ‘enemy’ are. Terrorists are not state actors, and the act of terrorism refers to very broad range of political actions, unlike the Cold War where one can easily pinpoint the Soviet Union as the embodiment of communist ideology. Terrorists today are a product of ‘neo-medievalism’ world, a term coined by Hedley Bull in 1977. The emergence of the Al Qaeda network as a transnational regime which cuts across national state structure have shown that politic and economic systems in neo-medieval era have become increasingly porous (Winn, 2003, p.140-141). Any kind of unfortunate linkages to particularists that are seemed unplausible can ruin the success of GWoT macro-securitisation in long terms, which bring us to outlining the ‘enemy’ in the GWoT.

Not The War on Islam

Since the beginning, the United States and its allies has been very careful not to present GWoT as a war between the West and Islam, or between the United States and Islam, despite many conflicting claims from Al-Qaeda. Buzan (2006 : p.12-13) warned that unlike Soviet Union in the past, GWoT securitisation today will be less accepted than the Cold War because it provoke linkages to religion and politics that are prone to be challenged by particularists linked to it. This worrying linkage may one of the reason why in 2005, the United States administration retreat into phrases such as ‘a global struggle against violent extremism’ rather than the usual ‘global war on terror’ that relishes in the image of wars with Moslems in the Middle-East[1]. As ironic as it can be, with more than 80 percent of population in Moslem countries have negative assessment of the United States GWoT, one of the key of to a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy is actually restoring the world’s trust, Moslems especially, towards the United States (Amr & Singer, 2008 : p.213-214).

During Bush administration, the movement of GWoT and its image portrayals were severely inconsistent. Even if the GWoT are focusing itself on the specific niche of ‘militant Islam’, ‘fundamentalist Islam’, or ‘extreme jihadists’, what we see in the media are hardly that, instead there are reckless use of common shared symbolism of the Islamic world like ‘Allahu Akbar’ chants to evoke common fear and collective hatred against Islam, not on terror. Lets stop kidding ourselves, wrote McCarthy (2004 : p.1-2). The macro-securitization effort on GWoT has created ‘the clash of emotions’, where together with the rise of collective fear of Islam in the West, there is also a escalating sense of humiliation and dishonor in Islamic world. It has created a intricately complicated world order, if not perpetual anxiety (Hutchison & Bleiker, 2008 : p.57). It is only became increasingly natural to point the terrorism’s roots in the Muslim world and eventually, in Islam (Kitchen, 2013 p.65-66).

It is not helping that the United States under Bush administration praises Israeli hardliners as a model for dealing with terrorism, but on the other hand refuse to recognize Hamas’s electoral victory in Palestine. The anti-terrorist policy targeting many Moslem organizations appears discriminatory. The confrontation with Iran appears seems biased. Islamophobia is growing faster than ever (Tirman, 2006 : p.3). Under Obama administration, the United States are clearly steering away high-profile counter terrorism operation and taking less political risk, elaborating the ‘Cold War-like approach in handling GWoT, including trying to stop the profoundly worrying hazard of escalated zero-sum conflicts between the West and the Islamic world by ‘pivoting’ to Asia (Kitchen, 2013 p.65-66). Nevertheless, the very structure and impact of the GWoT was so deeply carved within the United States political system that undoubtedly no such predecessor like Obama would break out of it easily (Holland & Bentley, 2013 : p.193-194).

In conclusion, the Cold War and GWoT are both the result of macro-securitisation created by the United States to evoke the fear of ‘common enemy’ in the International community. The striking resemblances in between both wars are the same dichotomy of positions, the similar suspicion-based-attack policies, and the scope of the wars. However, analysing the stark contrasts between the Cold War and GWoT in terms of the success of the strategy employed in the macro-securitisation and the transformative power it possesses to the world constellations, scholars mostly consider GWoT to be inferior than that of Cold War.

Even worse, in the effort to create the similar macro-securitisation with that of Cold War, the United States has fought new wars in the globalised era with old Cold War strategy, injuring the already weak relationship between the West and the Islamic world. It is not until recently in Obama administration, the notion of who and how to fight the ‘enemy’ that mimicked the Cold War were scrutinized and revised to avoid further damage as well as backlash from Moslem world, but it is probably too late.

The Moslem world’s response over the change of policy can best described with quote from Ralph Peters (1999) “…if there is a power the West underestimates, it is the power of collective hatred”, which can be translated as : Nice Try.



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