Page last updated at 09:33 GMT, Tuesday, 29 April 2008 10:33 UK

Not the end of history after all

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent BBC News website

John McCain speaking on foreign policy
John McCain delivers 26 March speech on foreign policy

History did not end after all, apparently.

Instead, it has resumed, in a rather nasty fashion. Or so it is said.

You remember the claim, from American neo-conservative thinker Francis Fukuyama as the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended:

"What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such... That is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."

Even at the time, the "end of history" seemed little more than an enticing phrase.

The return

Now along comes another of the old neo-cons, Robert Kagan, who admits in a new book that history did not quite work out like that.

In "The Return of History and the End of Dreams" he says: "History has returned and the peoples of the liberal world need to choose to shape it or let others shape it for them."

Kagan dismisses his colleague's satisfied pronouncement: "The world was not witnessing a transformation, however, merely a pause in the endless competition of nations and peoples. Nationalism, far from being weakened by globalisation has now returned with a vengeance."

In particular he identifies autocracy as the new menace and singles out Russia and China.

"The autocracies of Russia and China have figured out how to permit open economic activity while suppressing political activity. They have seen that people making money will keep their noses out of politics, especially if they know their noses will be cut off." He portrays the modern world as one of "global competition".

"It may not come to war," he remarks alarmingly, "but the global competition between liberal and autocratic governments will likely intensify in coming years."


Robert Kagan is an adviser to Senator John McCain and his idea that the United States should continue to take a strong, and possibly a confrontational, role in world affairs accords with McCain's own views.

Kagan's brother Frederick was instrumental in persuading President Bush to reinforce US forces in Iraq with last year's "surge", against the advice of the Iraq Study Group of "wise men" at the time. The surge was and is a policy supported by John McCain and one of the reasons for his political success.

However, John McCain is not a neo-conservative nor, he says, a unilateralist. Instead, in a speech on foreign policy on 26 March, he called himself a "realistic idealist", the definition of which remains to be seen.

But he did single out Russia and China, much as Robert Kagan is doing. He called Russia "revanchist", which posed "dangers", and China "a central challenge for the next American president".

The signs are that a McCain presidency would see the world, if not with the ideology which informs the Bush administration's policies, then with a robustness that might turn out not to be so different.

McCain's speech was full of the language of engagement - but only with America's friends, not its opponents. "We cannot build an enduring peace based on freedom by ourselves, and we do not want to," Mr McCain said. "We have to strengthen our global alliances as the core of a new global compact."

Why do they see a threat in China?
Corelli Barnett

According to Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times, there is a struggle going on for influence over McCain between the "pragmatists, some of whom have come to view the Iraq war or its execution as a mistake... (and) a competing camp, the neo-conservatives, whose thinking dominated President George W Bush's first term..."

The critics

Critics are concerned.

British historian Corelli Barnett said: "I correspond with some of the neo-cons, though not Robert Kagan, and what they see has no resemblance to the real world. They see international relations in terms of ideology instead of solving problems.

"Why do they see a threat in China? China has an enormous stake in the health of the American economy.

"Equally, with Russia, Putin worries me less than George Bush, who has invaded Iraq. Putin is simply a good, old-fashioned, cynical, nationalist politician who advances Russia's interests like Metternich and Bismarck did for Germany.

"Putin doesn't have a vast mission of ideology like the Soviet Union or the neo-conservatives. As for McCain, he seems a pretty plain man and I hope he does not have a terrible reverence for intellectuals like Kagan."

History has not ended and nor has the debate about it.

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