This Neo-Cold War is, in reality, much ado about nothing. It is an awful lot of posturing for the cameras and a blowing of mighty wind that signifies little. How could I say such a thing? Am I ignorant? Am I naively optimistic? Am I a Putin plant in the West trying to distract audiences from the very real and impending danger of a coming WWIII? Nothing of the sort. I believe this is a fake Cold War based on the ample evidence being provided by both sides. Allow me to count the ways.
Actions by America:
- The Magnitsky Act
- Comprehensive Sanctions after Ukrainian affair
- ‘Intervening’ in Libya and Yemen
- Lobbying against the JCPOA by relevant political leaders, threatening to repeal it
- Deployment of THAAD in South Korea
- Freedom of Navigation patrols in the South China Sea
- Open hostility from prominent members of Congress
- Various expulsions of Russian diplomatic corps members from Washington
- Boots on the ground and more in Syria against Assad
Actions by Russia:
- ‘Intervening’ in Maidan revolution
- ‘Enforcing’ the secession vote in Crimea
- Exiting specific nuclear proliferation treaties
- Reforming and modernizing its military arsenal
- Hacking scandals
- Possibly compromising the US Presidential election
- Strategic moves against NATO relevance
- Various expulsions of American diplomatic corps members from Moscow
- Boots on the ground and more in Syria against Assad opposition
This is not even a full list, but most of the events listed above form the core evidence used to justify the declaration that a new Cold War has begun. But I believe it is quite the opposite: several individual items on the above lists alone would be reason enough for countries in other locales and contexts to go to war with each other. Not only do we presently live in a moment where many in the United States believe that Russia purposely undermined and corrupted the presidential election of 2016 and that the current President sitting in the Oval Office is ‘Putin’s puppet,’ but Russia for its part believes the United States has de facto tried to kill Russian citizens through the soft power manipulation of sanctions, purposely trying to force a revolution from within against Putin by making regular people suffer. It is not important whether these two belief systems are factually true. What matters are the disturbing percentages within both populations that believe they are. Name me other situations where two powerful countries can think such things about the other and NOT end up going to war or escalating their animosity beyond competing press conferences and media blasts (which, in real time, is all this so-called new Cold War has amounted to so far)?
Even more incredulously, both the United States and Russia are presently intervening inside of a foreign country that has semi-disintegrated into near anarchy, but they are intervening on opposite sides of the conflict. Russia has openly questioned the wisdom of removing the Assad regime from power as well as being at least semi-justifiably suspicious of the membership of many opposition groups in terms of their allegiance to democratic institutions or radical Islamist ones. America has steadfastly accused Russia of not only supporting a man who committed war crimes by using biological weapons against his own people, but that the Russian air force has indiscriminately bombed areas of Syria that were purely civilian, thereby violating the Geneva Convention. I am hard-pressed to think of worse accusations to diplomatically lob toward opposing sides during a conflict. But then to remember that these two sides have both personnel and materiel in the battle arena, pursuing contradictory objectives, and that neither side has engaged the other in any manner within Syria, not even once, is simply incomprehensible. Incomprehensible, that is, if this truly was a real Cold War. This implausible level of good luck and/or coincidence can only come about from a deliberate strategy of restraint. And that is my point: it IS a deliberate strategy of restraint manifested on both sides toward each other. Yes, Russia and America have different interests on a number of issues and have pursued those interests with an impressive projection of power in various arenas around the world. But despite this, neither has fallen victim to misperception, misdirection, manipulation, what have you, to the degree that either wanted to incite a real war between them.
I can believe in coincidence in foreign affairs. I can even believe in coincidence a couple of times. But at this point in the so-called New Cold War these two opponents are benefiting from nearly a dozen coincidences in order to not be in an all-out full-scale war. That is too much for even my bleeding optimistic heart. This consistent ability to antagonize but pull back, to accuse but go no further, to reprimand but not retaliate in force, is why Cold War 2.0 is empty. And thank goodness for that: not only does it mean the world is not truly under the threat of nuclear annihilation, but as long as America and Russia continue to play ‘enemy footsie’ with each other they are suitably distracted from noticing areas where they in fact have common interests and might even benefit from uniting into a team. If most of the international community thinks the world is not in a safe place when America and Russia are not getting along, just imagine how much consternation there might be in certain places if they actually became real strategic and foreign policy allies? The ‘meddling’ under that context would make the current complaints of meddling seem infantile.
So cheer up, world. Sit back and watch the Bully Brothers do their thing with each other. In the end, it’s not going to amount to very much and it prevents them from ganging up on you. Because if there is one thing both Russia and America have had in common for generations, it is a sense of global importance and messianism that is breathtaking to behold, if not also mind-blowingly uncontrolled. It just might be better to have those tendencies obsessed with each other rather than focused on someone else.