John Kerry: The Cold War Was ‘Easy’ Compared to Today

Secretary of State John Kerry participates in the Sixth Annual Washington Ideas Forum in Washington on Oct. 30, 2014. The forum is presented by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic at the Harman Center for the Arts in Washington, D.C.

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Secretary of State John Kerry participates in the Sixth Annual Washington Ideas Forum in Washington on Oct. 30, 2014. The forum is presented by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic at the Harman Center for the Arts in Washington, D.C.

The Secretary of State says more economically powerful countries make today's political landscape more complex than it was 50 years ago. By Kaveh Waddell

Today’s global political landscape makes the Cold War look simple, according to John Kerry.

The Cold War was easy compared to where we are today,” the secretary of State said Thursday, during an appearance at The Atlantic‘s Washington Ideas Forum, an annual event that features high-profile speakers in government and the private sector.

For the U.S. as a superpower, Kerry said, managing many countries’ competing interests is more difficult than dealing with just one other superpower, like the Soviet Union back then.

So now, you have more countries with more economic power in a globalized world. … They’re going to automatically react and say, Well, wait a minute, now. Do we really want the behemoth United States, superpower of the world, telling us all the time what we have to do?” Kerry said. “So you have to approach these things a little differently. It requires more diplomacy. It requires more dialogue. It requires more respect for people, more mutual interests.”

About 15 countries that the United States once provided with aid decades ago are now far more economically developed, Kerry said, citing South Korea as an example. These states, he said, are now providing monetary assistance to other countries in need.

Today, South Korea is a donor country, doing what we have urged countries to do, which is accept global responsibility,” he said.

By contrast, the Cold War took place in a largely two-sided world: much of what went on in that time could be understood in the context of the struggle for power between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Asked whether Russian President Vladimir Putin was bringing the Cold War back, Kerry said, “I hope not.”

The Cold War years were simpler times, maybe, but calling that era easy is a stretch: The specter of nuclear warfare that loomed over the world back then likely gave Henry Kissinger as many gray hairs as today’s geopolitical challenges give Kerry.

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