The world but especially the Western alliance breathed a huge sigh of relief at the collapse of the former Soviet Union in late 1991. Over the following years, nation after nation dialed back their military preparedness, declaring what was then called a peace dividend. Defence budgets fell from about 4% of GDP to around 1.5%, in some cases (Canada) even less. The future would be one of fewer guns and ever more butter. The nuclear Sword of Damocles had been sheathed.
Yet, instead of being appropriately grateful for our blessing, we did little to build a lasting peace. What we did was to siphon up the former Warsaw Pact states into our alliance, NATO, and then march our armies literally up to Russia's doorstep. Yeah, that Russia, the nation and people who still had vivid memories of the last time armies from Western Europe massed their tanks along the borders of the Rodina.
Triumphalism was the order of the day, especially in Washington. We, i.e. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, had crushed the Soviet menace until it collapsed under its own weight. Instead of being grateful for having averted a war we celebrated having won a war.
This is a too common failing of the United States. They're pretty good at winning battles, campaigns, but they've been utterly inept at the next step, the important phase, winning the peace. Once the smoke clears and the barrels cool, they go all ADHD.
There's a price to be paid for this neglect. Ours has been a resumption of that Cold War we talked ourselves into believing had been won. Now the emphasis is on every one reinflating their military budgets, again practicing Armageddon-grade warfare, and feverishly re-arming.
For America, this has taken the form of an additional $300-billion of military funding. That's just to top it off. We're told that money will go to refurbish an American military worn out by its endless wars in the Middle East/South Asia. That doesn't sound especially alarming but maybe that money is earmarked for something less benign.
An op-ed in Aviation Week by US defence analyst Robert Stallard contends that $300-billion is going elsewhere - into preparations for waging war with China and/or Russia. Stallard suggests the big winners will be space warfare (the ability to defend your own space assets while obliterating your adversary's), cyber-warfare (you'll just have to wait to see what the three players have in mind), and black projects, stuff that won't even be showcased to Congress. Some of these programmes such as hyper-velocity and directed-energy (set phasers to "obliterate") are already under development and have been considered in a few published articles of unknown reliability.
I would like to call it Cold War II but it doesn't seem to be a noticeable departure from the thinking of Cold War I. It may be merely a continuation of our incredibly dangerous past following a quarter-century of relative dormancy. One thing is certain. Whatever it is, "it's on."
Shame on us for having so negligently bequeathed this future to our kids and grandkids. This did not have to be.