The Cold War Is NOT Back

Nowadays, many of those who use the term "Cold War," do so casually to warn against the dangers of a widening Moscow-Washington divide. That's commendable. But others use the term to advocate a renewed military build-up in Europe. That's both flawed and dangerous.
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Blowing hot air about a Cold War redux has reached new heights following the crisis in Ukraine. It reveals the level of hysteria among Russian and American ideologues. So much, that even the cool-headed began to speak of the need to avert another Cold War that "we cannot afford."

But is a Cold War 2.0 at all plausible? Nowadays, many of those who use the term "Cold War," do so casually to warn against the dangers of a widening Moscow-Washington divide. That's commendable. But others use the term to advocate a renewed military build-up in Europe. That's both flawed and dangerous.

The Cold War was unique in the way it was simultaneously "waged" on multiple fronts: ideological (philosophical/intellectual), universal (a vision for the future of the world), global (nuclear), international (in every continent and over every state), and strategically (between the greatest military machines in world history). But if you look at it from the South, what's most striking is that it wasn't much of a war in the North, and it wasn't a cold one in the South, where people were constantly being killed in proxy wars and ideological pogroms.

Washington's strategy was designed to keep the Soviets out, the Germans down, and the Americans in Western Europe. In parallel, Moscow's strategy aimed at controlling the East Germans, keeping America out of Eastern Europe, and the Soviets in.

In the process, the two built up the most formidable military alliances in history - The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact, and embraced the biggest deployment of military hardware on the fault lines between East and West Europe.

So, to speak of a Cold War today is rather absurd for at least three reasons.

One, the Warsaw Pact is no more, NATO is at Russia's doorstep, Germany is up and about leading Europe, and America has just finalized the withdrawal of two thirds of its troops from Europe as part of a worldwide redeployment which includes a pivot to Asia.

And two, a return to the Cold War means dividing the world into areas of influence again. For decades, Washington supported authoritarian regimes against the Communist expansion, and Moscow built up totalitarian movements and regimes against the capitalist/imperialist West. In the process, they armed thugs, supported terrorists, hosted criminals, and financed assassins throughout the world.

But Moscow has given up its global mission to change the world. Yes, it throws its weight every once in a while behind a dictator or a nemesis of the United States, however, these opportunistic moves do not rise to its Cold War global reach. At best, Russia tries to be a regional power, but the good old days of the "Evil Empire" are long gone. Resurrecting the empire takes more than holding Bashar al-Assad's hand or tapping Egypt's Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the back.

It requires economic power and a vision of the world that delivers ideological clout. But Russia lacks both because -- and that brings us to this point -- Moscow has embraced the Western capitalist mode of production with varying degrees of state intervention after a wave of exaggerated liberalization in the 1990s.

Moscow has slowly but surely integrated its economy into the Western dominated world economic system. It has joined the World Trade Organization and it has become the eighth member of the world's leading industrialized economies, the G8, although it was suspended this week. While its trade with the U.S. is low -- at around $38 bn, and holds $139 bn in U.S. Treasury securities -- Russia's first trading partner is the European Union for 50 percent of its total exports and imports, with almost $330 bn traded annually.

That's why, despite repeated warnings from Washington, Europe's leading economies are not about to turn back the clock. It makes no business sense, and they reckon that business is the better path to security.

The Cold War is not back. And neither Russia nor the United States can afford it anyway. Presidents Obama and Putin might have done little to de-escalate the crisis, but they have steered away from the alarmists' vision and their extreme strategies. The United States, which emerged from WWII with 50 percent of the world's GDP, today has a GPD which hovers at around 20 percent (at PPP), and is descending.

It remains to be seen whether the Ukraine crisis is a game changer in Russia's relations with the West. But short of a return to the Cold War, the unfolding strategic drama between the two capitals could have a severe impact on stability in Europe and elsewhere.

That's why those concerned should avoid more polarization and unite around an alternative solution in Ukraine and beyond in order to calm down the warmongers in the US and Russia. Towards that end, the West could be more sensitive to Russia's insecurities, and Russia could be more sensible in its strategic posturing.

That includes among others, maintaining Ukraine's non-allied status as a buffer country between Russia and the North Atlantic Alliance. The declaration by the acting prime minister of Ukraine, Arseniy Yatsenyuk that Kiev will not join NATO is a step in the right direction.

It also includes rejecting any attempt by the two protagonists to export their tensions and conflict to the developing world.

And lastly, Washington and Moscow must continue with their post-Cold War nuclear arms reduction towards total elimination as stipulated by the NPT treaty. Not only does Mutual Assured Destruction -- or MAD -- remain a theoretical and unacceptable possibility, other states would be encouraged to develop nuclear weapons if the U.S. and Russia exploit the ongoing tensions to attempt a nuclear build up.

The Cold War ideologues are making too much noise because the peace camp is not speaking out loud enough. Time to reverse the trend to keep the warmongers in check.

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