A New Cold War

Just two weeks ago I told my world history class that I am pretty sure we will never have another global war — nothing to the likes of WWI and WWII; I am not backing off of that comment. The world is at an apex that has created the greatest social and economic interdependence in world history. After showing students the 1983 made for TV nuclear war movie The Day After, I told them that I felt the world had moved beyond the Cold War days in which we all feared the reality of a nuclear war.

As a kid growing up in the early 1980s, I often feared nuclear destruction; by 1987 my fears had greatly subsided as did the fears of most other people. Russia’s Premier Vladimir Putin, who has clearly been frustrated with the United States’ imperialist foreign policy over the past decade, has been showing signs of renewing the old Cold War days. On the other hand, the U.S. over the past decade has accused Russia of backing off of democratic reforms. Two years ago Putin announced that Russia was stepping up its military efforts to show its might and economic strength. Clearly the signs have been present since the U.S. invaded Iraq; the two powers have been on opposite ends of each other. I do believe that Putin is blowing this way out of proportion; however, in looking at this from his end, he is seeing the aggressive nature of a former foe that has made utter but subtle threats toward Russia for its shift from democracy. Moreover, Bush argues that a missile defense system is designed to protect Eastern European nations from Iran, a state that at one point had an alliance with the USSR (ok, it was not part of a balance of power alliance).

Here is my fear: After the G8 talks, Putin and Bush are scheduled to meet in Maine to discuss democracy and the missile defense system. I do not think the U.S. can afford to cancel this meeting if Putin’s language towards the use of nuclear missiles continue; my true fear is Russia ending such talks. This could possibly be the start of a new Cold War.


22 thoughts on “A New Cold War

  1. Never another major world war!?! You underestimate the ability of humans to be irrational on a mass scale (or at least their leaders) and for civilizations to degrade into barbarism. Our “enlightened” status only lasts as long as people have food in their mouths. When they realize that they need to eat to survive (due to natural disaster, famine, disease, alien invasion, etc) they will quickly forget to debate whether capitalism or socialism is better and just eat you and your children and your little dog too.

    but then again, i could be wrong (about the alien invasion that is).

  2. Putin and Bush are soul brothers, broadening the executive branch willy-nilly, centralizing power in themselves and limited civil liberties in the name of something less important. What’s there to fight about?

    Putin needs an enemy. Bush needs an enemy. Bush has one. Putin is in the market. Without any ideological premise to this posturing, I suggest that “another cold war” is a long way off.

  3. Winston Churchill, 1939:

    “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle,

    wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key.

    That key is Russian national interest.”

    Boy, some things never do change! The Russians do not cling to a God.

    They do not build around family. They do not trust easily, if ever.

    What does cause them to rouse from their stupor is a spirit of

    nationalism. The motherland. Despite internal problems with economics or demographics, Russia is almost vain about showing external power. You really can attribute most of their actions to fierce nationalism. Russia (and Europe, for that matter) like to call America imperialistic despite knowing it’s a falsehood. What they are complaining about is a different word that starts with “i”: influence.

    Regarding the proposed European missle shield the Russians are well within their rights to be wary of anything that would make their nuclear arsenel ineffective. As I understand it, the new missle system is only of a size to handle the limited number of missles a small nation like North Korea or Iran could launch. It would not be able to counter the number of missles that Russia could launch, and is not intended to do so.

    Hmmm… maybe we should let Europe defend itself, build their own missle defense system. Oh, that’s right: they’d have to cut their entitlement programs to pay for it. I guess we’ll have to spot them again and have their populace call us “imperialistic”. 😉

  4. Matt S, you bring up nationalism when discussing the russians, and I would refer back to the discussion a few posts ago (uncle tom and race) in which nationalism is linked to fear. The russians have plenty to fear based on their own history. Anyone who has ever played Risk or watched The Princess Bride knows that you should “never get involved in a land war in asia” or something to that effect. The russians have so many fronts to defend, and so much (harsh) territory to manage that they are being reasonable when they are being paranoid. (“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you” says the old bumper sticker) Other factors than fear enter into it, but their nationalism is fierce, as you say.

  5. Matt Lee & JRB

    It seems that developed nations have too much to risk to go to war. They care more about their economies than their ego. Sorry…I forgot what JRB stated above; it is about ego for Putin, who only invokes fear in his own people. Maybe I am a fool to think we have seen the last of a true conventional conflict. I am speaking only of developed nations — not Iran and N.Korea.

    Putin is an old KGB boy. And to think that I just told a colleague that I miss the Cold War. Coud Iraq be a proxy war like Vietnam, Korea, etc? Probably not.

  6. I agree with you that a rational leader, even a nationalistic, rational leader, will not seek a global war, especially for national pride. You are correct that we are at a high point of interdependence. If Putin and the Russians in mass are interested in promoting their national interests to the highest possible point of hegemony, war is counterproductive. Posturing may be profitable, as it is for North Korea, Iran and Venezuela, but a hot war would ruin their goals. The Chinese are a good example of idealogues and nationalists, playing our own game. Sure, they cheat, but they ascend and without war. Putin knows that enemies make for good marketing and negotiating, but true provocation makes for poor outcomes.

    Dutro, I believe the tip was “Never invade Asia by land in the winter.”

  7. Democracy has not been very kind to the Russian economy. I suspect that Putin might be under some pressure from some of the old hardliners to gain more international respect. People talk as if Russia were a 3rd world nation. They are still the real deal.

    If they really wanted to give it to America, they would change currency to the Euro. Hey, keep killing the dollar.

  8. dutro and Carson

    Why is it that history people spoil some of my favorite movies.

    “watched The Princess Bride knows that you should “never get involved in a land war in asia”

  9. Dutro didn’t spoil your favorite movie. He got the quote correct, Carson wasn’t involved, and you should be chastising JRB.

    Carson, I mean this as respectfully as possible, but you are an idiot if you really think this.

  10. I am thinking she is talking about war. For the first time I will agree with you Carson. The world is no longer divided into camps that created wwi and wwii alliances. The same for the cold war with nato and the warsaw pact. If there were a war, it would be a bunch of nations against one.

  11. Current nuclear nations are restrained by the idea of “mutually assured destruction.” A NATO defensive missle shield threatens that balance if it would neuter Russian missles while they have nothing to stop missles headed at them. What Russia must understand is the West is more worried about rogue nukes than Russian nukes. Iranian President Mahmoud AquaVelvajad (credit Dennis Miller) talks like it might be okay for Iran to lose a city or two after nuking Israel if it will usher in the return of the twelfth imam—the precursor to Islamic world dominance, by his religion.

    There are several areas in the world that could start another world war. Iran. North Korea. A Chinese invasion of Taiwan. An attack on Israel. I’m not sure where Russia would side (if it would get involved at all). Putin is starting to crack down on any threat to his government, including the Russian media. That is worrisome, and could start a mini-Cold War where we have to treat them as more foe than friend…but probably not to the extent we did before.

    I’ve been reading a fascinating book, “America Alone.” It talks a lot about demographics, particularly the fading birthrate in Europe and Russia. The Russian birthrate is about 1.2 to 1.3 per childbearing woman… in layman’s terms, they are not replacing themselves. Few civilizations recover from a birthrate of 1.1. At its current pace, Russia will cut its population by ONE THIRD within fifty years. To make matters worse, abortion is the main form of contraception over there. Last month Putin ordered Parliament to start giving out cash to women who have second children. If the Russian bear is backed into a corner from external and internel forces, then we are right to be concerned about how they will handle it.

  12. I have heard the idea of China invading Taiwan. It is not that far of a stretch. In the future China will have to address matters of population, resources, and its economy. Still, China holds so much U.S. debt; it is such a major part of the global economy — it is difficult to see them attacking Taiwan — if you exclude the population matter. I have heard some state that it is possible for both China and N. Korea and Iran to formulate a new alliance. The problem with this situation again has to do with the global economy. Sure, N. Korea has interest seeing that it has isolated itself from the global market — but I guess if you can take what you need there is no need to fear a global economic collapse.
    In is interesting that you addressed the matter of population in western states. France has also given $ to families willing to have so many chidren due to its population decrease — excluding N. Africam migrants. I think we already treat the Russians as a foe. I am not trying to play politics, but I have read and heard some state that the United States never ended the Cold War. Sure, the USSR economy played a major part in its demise, but the US under Bush Sr., Bush Jr., Dick Cheany, Ashcroft and others, still see the world through the lens of Cold War developments. My friend John Merriman who teaches French History at Yale also includes some of Bill Clinton’s staff members as well. We were just discussing this matter a couple of months ago while working at Princeton. According to him, we never trusted the Russians enough to end our Cold War ambitions. Though, we did close a number of military bases when Bush Sr. took office.

  13. Ha! News report came out yesterday where our counterintelligence chief says Russian spies in the U.S. have increased to Cold War levels.

    Oddly, he went on to say that was normal and would not affect relations. Riiiiiight….

  14. You are not helping my nerves Matt S. Do you think Bush is the problem? We will have a new president in about a year. I hope not a Republican. They seem to enjoy going to war. Why is it that every Republican wants to be Ronald Reagan? I really think this issue is pretty serious.

  15. My guess: there could be a future dust-up between the United States and Iran, and Russia wants to keep an eye on developments. A U.S. military buildup against Iran includes not just soldiers, but new technologies. Russia does not want their defenses to fall behind. Russian oil relations with Iran are another incentive for them to keep a lot of ears to the ground as to our intentions in the Middle East.

  16. I haven’t been in the U.S. for a while so maybe im out of sync with internal U.S. feelings but I don’t really see a cold war happening again. Putin is becoming more and more authoritarian which is bound to cause tension with a democracy obsessed U.S. especially with a NeoCon in office. However, all you have to do is look at national interest to see that nothing like the cold war would be beneficial. First off russia isn’t trying to spread communism around the world to forment a global proletarian revolution so the whole ideological aspect is missing which was a key ingredient in the start of the cold war. Russia also provides far too much oil to western europe for them to allow hostilities to build. Lastly i think all this cold war speculation is just a convenient way to sell newspapers and increase ratings not to mention increase internal political power as we are dealing with similar actors and does not constitute a real analysis of the situation.

  17. Well expressed point, Alejandro. Are you sure ideology is not a part of this? Sure, communism is dead in Russia (not really), but global views and as you stated, absolute rule versus democracy can and does generate conflict.

  18. Today Putin suggested interceptor missiles could be put in Turkey, Iraq, or sea platforms instead of in Eastern Europe. He also offered to give the U.S. real-time access to Russian radar they have covering the area. That is an intriguing compromise.

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