Final Word

Brinkmans’ ship back in from the cold


The new Cold War, foresaw almost exactly four years ago, is back with a vengeance, accompanied by its nerve wrecking deadly companion, the game of brinkmanship.

In April 2013, we wrote about ”the dangerous Cold War-like nuclear standoff taking place in South-East Asia between North Korea’s Kim Jong-un government and the United States and its South Korean ally.”

A year later, in May 2014, we reported about a the new global geopolitical divide between East and West that took a huge leap forward when no less than 40  plus documents of cooperation were singned between Russia and China. And, by August there was a report that the globe was fast descending into “Cold War II.”

Now, with a standoff between the US and North Korea, with the latter’s planned test of a nuclear weapon, an US warship sailing in its direction and a war of words, also involving Russia over Syria, Cold War II seems to be in full bloom.

From where a cold war?

The notion of a level of conflict and tension between nations, just short of all-out war but threatening all the time, developed in the years immediately following on World War II – between 1945 and 1947. It was especially true of the relations between the US and its European allies on the one hand the Soviet Union on the other.

It is believed that the first seeds or these tensions and power struggles were already present at the so-called Yalto Conference in February 1945.

Over time the threat of nuclear war became the central issue, although factors like economic interest and competing ideologies made important contributions.  

The man most commonly credited for first coining the term “cold war,” is Bernard Baruch, a multimillionaire financier, an adviser to US presidents Woodrow Wilson and Harry S. Truman.

However, there are also evidence that his thoughts on the matter were not quite as original as is commonly believed. Some credit the fourteenth century Spaniard, Don Juan Manuel for first using the term (in Spanish), to describe the conflict between Christianity and Islam.

Although, Manuel actually used the term “tepid” and the word cold in this context, was first used in the 19th in a faulty translation of Manuel’s work.

The term “cold war” was also used in a 1945 newspaper article by George Orwell about the prospect of humanity living under the permanent threat of nuclear war.

Baruch, however, was the first to use it in the sense of the present-day definition of war waged through indirect conflict, in a 1947 speech, saying: “Let us not be deceived: we are today in the midst of a cold war.

Later in that same year one Walter Lippmann, gave the term wide currency in his book with the title Cold War.


What, also presently, makes cold was such a huge threat to humanity is the deadly game of brinkmanship – defined as the art or practice of pursuing a dangerous policy to the limits of safety before stopping, especially in politics – it’s ever-present companion.

However, the game is also played in many other environments, especially where negotiations are often involved, be it trade unions and wages negotiations or commercial deals.

Like is the case with cold war, the exact origin of the term brinkmanship is not cast in stone. But it is probably most closely associated with the cold war concept and another official of an US administration, this time that of president Eisenhower, secretary of state, John Foster Dulles.

The term is said have been coined in 1956 during an interview by Life magazine with by Dulles about the Cold War and the philosophy described as "going to the brink."  During the interview, Dulles said that in diplomacy “if you are scared to go to the brink [of war], you are lost.”

Probably the best known instance of the use of brinkmanship in post-World War II history came in 1962 with the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis between the US and Soviet Union under the leadership of John F Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev respectively.

The root word brink entered the English vocabulary sometime during the second half of the 13th century from the Old Norse word brekka for the extreme edge of land before a steep slope or a body or water.

Final word

For the sake of the survival of the world as we know it, let’s hope and pray that the Brinkmans of the new Cold War find the reverse gears of the dangerous machines of war, presently are set for a mighty collusion, before it is too late.

by Piet Coetzer

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