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The Cold War and the Long War: Different Approaches to Global Ideological Movements

August 7, 2008

Osama bin Laden represents the public face of an outwardly violent Islamic movement whose intent is to implement Sharia law to replace secular forms of governments and institutions. Nikita Khrushchev was the public face of an inwardly violent communist movement whose intent was to replace the world’s capitalistic economic system. Neither of these leaders began these movements, but both assumed key leadership posts that allowed them to greatly advance a global ideological movement. These global movements, which pit capitalism against communism and secularism against Islamism, have been referred to as the “Cold War” and the “Long War,” respectively.

The Cold War/Long War analogy is, for the most part, appropriate, but it is important to understand that they are signifi cantly different in two key ways: the motivations of the actors and the technologies available. This essay will first examine the defi ning characteristics of the Cold and Long wars to offer a better understanding of the signifi cant similarities and differences between them. The implications of this analysis will then be examined to draw some policy conclusions on how the United States can approach the Long War, followed by a discussion of organizational changes that may be necessary within the U.S. national security apparatus to implement these policy recommendations.