Video On Demand

China, the United States, and the Cold War: How Much Damage Can One Historical Analogy Do?

December 5, 2019 • 8:30 – 10:15 am EST

Historians Talk Policy

8:30 AM Light Breakfast

9:00 AM Introductory Remarks by Dr. Seth Center

9:10 AM Panel Discussion moderated by Emma Bates

Three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, many in Washington foresee a new Cold War between the United States and China. The comparison to the U.S.-Soviet confrontation enjoys remarkable currency and durability in contemporary debate. For those who fear worsening relations and an insecurity spiral, the Cold War is a warning. For those more concerned about China’s rising economic and military power, authoritarian system, and global ambitions, it is a rallying cry and textbook for lessons. All acknowledge that the world will not replay the Cold War in all of its specifics, but perhaps the United States is facing a cold war.
Rarely does policy debate include careful historical analysis before deploying history. Is the comparison between the Cold War and today’s US-China competition the right historical prism? What are the similarities between then and now that might yield usable lessons for today’s competition? If it is a bad analogy, then how much damage is it doing to U.S. statecraft? Does the comparison inhibit our ability to understand current dynamics and stymie efforts to develop a better strategy? Are we trapped by the analogy merely because it is familiar? Can we find better historical comparisons that could shed light on today’s U.S.-China dynamics?
What would a Cold War historian say to policymakers if asked to answer these questions? CSIS invites you to join the Project on History and Strategy for a discussion with Dr. Melvyn Leffler, a leading historian of the Cold War, Dr. Francis Gavin, leading historian of nuclear policy and Director of the Henry Kissinger Center for Global Affairs, and Jude Blanchette, Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS. Drawing on decades of scholarship, they will analyze the merits and pitfalls of using the Cold War comparison for China from the historian’s perspective.
This event is made possible through general support from CSIS.

Seth Center

Giovanni Agnelli Distinguished Professor and Director, Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs

Emma Bates