The fall of the Berlin Wall retains its status as an epoch-making event in modern world history, even as it passes from recent into truly historical memory.
The year 1989 ended what the historian Eric Hobsbawm dubbed the "short" 20th century. Over its course, the European states that once bestrode the world spent themselves in two world wars and were then superseded by the new superpowers of East and West, each dedicated to its own ideology, each armed with weapons of unsurpassed destructive force.
To those raised in the shadow of possible nuclear holocaust, the chief sentiment when the Wall fell 20 years ago was disbelief, followed by relief. Relief naturally brought hope that the end of the Cold War would bring lasting peace, and the end of conflict. And in Europe, at least, it mostly did — but not everywhere.
At the time, not a few of Germany's erstwhile adversaries feared that a reunited Germany would revert to the militarism of its past, that Europe's "German problem" would be reborn. Here the pessimists were wrong. Reunited Germany opened the door to a new European order and a continent at once whole, free, and at peace....
The remainder of this op-ed can be found at ac360.blogs.cnn.com.
Christopher S. Chivvis is a political scientist with the RAND Corporation in Washington D.C., and adjunct professor in European studies at Johns Hopkins University's School for Advanced International Studies.
This commentary originally appeared on CNN.com on November 10, 2009. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.