For millions of people around the world, the crisis in the Caucasus has raised fears of a new era of war.
Many will worry we are returning to a time when the threat of nuclear war was ever-present.
This concern is understandable. But pro-Western leaders have seized upon recent events in Georgia to ratchet up condemnations of Russia’s “new militancy” and to warn of a “new Cold War”.
British foreign secretary David Miliband and the foreign ministers of the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, have issued a statement deploring Moscow’s “excessive use of military force” in Georgia.
Declarations of a “new Cold War” are nothing new – they have resurfaced repeatedly since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
But the world today is massively different to that of the Cold War era.
The Cold War was a period of conflict and competition between the US and the Soviet Union that began in the 1940s and lasted until the early 1990s.
Following the Second World War, the world divided into two competing blocs – the capitalist West and the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union was known to the world as Communist. But it was state capitalist – involving the same brutal exploitation of workers, accumulation of capital and competition as in the West, but undertaken by the state rather than corporations.
The US was by far the dominant economic power. But the Soviet Union had control of much of central and Eastern Europe and represented a block to US power.
This rivalry was called the Cold War because the protagonists were not actually engaged in a physical war with each other.
But the Cold War was not always cold. It sparked wars across the globe as the US and the Soviet Union competed for resources and influence.
Wars were carried out under the ideology of capitalist versus communist. For the US, the ideology of fighting communism provided a justification for imperialist interventions, in a similar way that the “war on terror” does today.
Ultimately, economic and political crisis within Russia led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
Many pronounced a new era of peace. Yet nearly 20 years later it is clear that nothing could be further from the truth.
The post-Cold War period has been characterised by a new era of imperialism.
The US emerged at the end of the Cold War economically weaker but militarily even more dominant. It has used this military strength to dominate the world and to contain and hold back the influence of potential rivals.
So the US has tried to pull former Soviet states into its orbit, backing the expansion of Nato up to the borders of Russia throughout the 1990s.
The US has pushed its “missile defence system” across eastern Europe, established military bases in central Asia and backed the “democratic” revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, which brought in pro-Western leaders.
Unsurprisingly, such actions have not gone unchallenged. But the idea of a “new Cold War” massively overstates the strength of Russia.
Russia today is a shadow of the force it once was. In 2006 the national income of the US was $13,200 billion. Russia’s was just $990 billion.
Today Russia’s defence budget is £35 billion. This is just 11 percent of that of the US, which is £310 billion – or almost half of the total military expenditure of the world. The US economy is 14 times the size of Russia’s.
Russia has shrunk geographically, having lost much its former empire. It is now a regional imperialist power, not a global one.
The argument that this is a “new Cold War” plays down the power of the US and the role it continues to play in shaping the world around its interests.
The US is no longer capable of dominating or sustaining the global economy. The relative growth of other economies has increased competition between states – making wars more likely.
Some argue that a stronger Russia would hold US power in check. But the expansion of competing imperialist powers across the globe is a disaster for ordinary people and is not a recipe for peace or stability.
The crisis in the Caucasus shows how rapidly conflict can escalate.
This is the latest display of inter-imperialist rivalry and shows how the “new world order” pursued by the US, increasingly reliant on its military might, is generating greater instability and conflict across the globe.