What is the impact of the Cold War on the next systemic war?

The intense rivalries between the United Kingdom and France during the period 1657-1763 impacted on the severity and life-span of the second war cycle (1648-1815) and the development of the System. The question is if – and how – the intense rivalries between the United States and the Soviet Union during the period 1953-1991 – the Cold War – will impact on the next systemic war.

nuclear war

Because of ‘Mutual Assured Destruction‘ and the fact that rational state-actors controlled nuclear capabilities, war was not a rational instrument of policy during the Cold War (1953-1991). The Cold War ‘froze’ the System (photo).

Research shows that during the period 1495-1945, the System produced four accelerating war cycles; each cycle consisting of a relatively stable period, followed by a relatively short critical period.

The four war cycles qualify as a finite-time singularity dynamic. Systemic and non-systemic wars are fundamentally different types of wars, and have fundamentally different properties.

During a relatively stable period an ‘order’ is in place (that was implemented by means of the preceding systemic war), and the System maintains a certain balance – the status quo – by means of non-systemic wars.

During a critical period, the System produces a systemic war and uses the accumulated tensions (accumulated during the preceding relatively stable period) to upgrade the order of the System, which then allows for a new period of relative stability.

My research shows that non-systemic wars (that typically take place during relatively stable periods) have chaotic characteristics. Although these wars are deterministic in nature, they are intrinsically unpredictable. For a system to produce chaotic dynamics, at least three degrees of freedom – variables – are required.


Non-systemic war dynamics normally have chaotic characteristics. Above figure shows the development of the size and intensity (severity) of non-systemic wars during the first relatively stable period from 1495-1618, in phase space

Although the four war cycles – and their properties – developed very regularly, the second war cycle was somewhat distorted. These distortions concern the total severity of non-systemic wars during the second relatively stable period (more severe), the severity of the second systemic war (less severe), the total severity of the second war cycle (more severe), and the life-span of the second war cycle (longer).

Periodic dynamics, PNGDuring the second relatively stable period, the non-systemic war dynamics were not chaotic but highly periodic in nature.

In my research, I attribute these distortions to a series of abnormal war dynamics that took place during – what I name – the first exceptional period from 1657-1763, during the second relatively stable period (1648-1792).

Analysis shows that during the first exceptional period, non-systemic wars were not chaotic in nature but highly periodic. This temporary anomaly was caused by the intense rivalries between the United Kingdom and France during that period (1657-1763), I argue. Because of the intense rivalries, the number of degrees of freedom in the System was temporarily reduced from at least three to only two. The lack of a third degree of freedom – a third state that was taken into consideration in war decisions of states – caused more extreme, but also more regular (and thus more predictable) non-systemic war dynamics.


Further analysis of the abnormal non-systemic war dynamics during the first exceptional period (1657-1763) reveals their highly periodic and regular properties: Two ‘identical’ subcycles were produced during this so-called ‘periodic window’. 

In some of the non-systemic wars during the first exceptional period, all Great Powers in the System were actively involved in these wars. But despite the involvement of all Great Powers, the intense rivalries between the two most powerful Great Powers (the United Kingdom and France) did not allow for the design and implementation of an ‘upgraded’ international order. The properties of the System did not allow for such an upgrade, at that point in time.

Once the intense rivalry between the United Kingdom and France was resolved in 1763 (in favor of the United Kingdom), the non-systemic wars became chaotic in nature again.

The System became critical in 1792, shortly after the resumption of chaotic non-systemic war dynamics (in 1763).

During the period 1945-1991 (it can be argued between 1953-1991), the System experienced a second period with abnormal non-systemic war dynamics. The second exceptional period is better known as the Cold War, when the intense rivalries between the United States and the Soviet Union (the ‘West’ and ‘East’) froze – ossified – the System.

Analysis of the war dynamics shows that the non-systemic wars were very suppressed during this period. During the Cold War, the System only produced a few, and only small-sized non-systemic wars. All these wars – except for one – took place outside of Europe; the focal point of the Cold War.

During the Cold War, war – as a rational instrument of policy – was obsolete: Both super powers could destroy each other with their second strike capabilities. Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) – as this deadlock is referred to – caused an almost total suppression of war dynamics.

As I showed with my research, war dynamics fulfill a function in anarchistic systems: they contribute to a process of social integration and expansion, in other words to the  System’s development. These dynamics were temporarily stopped – at least delayed – during the Cold War.

Analysis of the war dynamics shows that the moment the Soviet Union collapsed, the System resumed non-systemic war dynamics with chaotic properties (1991).

If the same ‘logic’ applies to the war dynamics of the now global System, as during the period 1495-1945 when Europe was the (core of the) system, calculations show that the System will become critical again around 2020 and produce a systemic war to upgrade the current (increasingly dysfunctional) order (the United Nations order, dominated by the United States)

The question now is, what the impact is – or could be – of the abnormal war dynamics during the second exceptional period (1945/1953 – 1991) on the current – first global – war cycle that is still ‘unfolding’ (1945-…).

I answering this question, I will focus on the possible impact on the ‘timing’ of a next systemic war.

Will the abnormal non-systemic war dynamics cause a delay, as was the case during the second war cycle (1648-1815), or will they cause an acceleration? Or will there not be any (significant) impact at all?

It seems logical to assume that the ossification of the System during the Cold War causes a delay in the development of the current (first global) war cycle (1945-….).

However, it could also well be the case that the tensions that accumulated in the System during the Cold War, but could not be released during that period of time (1953-1991), are now re-activated and contribute to an acceleration of the development of the current war cycle.

The current condition of the System – the accumulation of tensions and unresolved issues, and volatile political dynamics – and current war dynamics – which accelerated once Russia recovered from the collapse of the Soviet Union and re-established itself in the System as a dominant actor – suggest that a collapse of the current order is just a matter of (short) time.

America’s active dismantling of the world order and policy of ‘America First’, also contribute to the acceleration of the current war cycle.