No WWIII: The Odd Logic of the New Fake Cold War and the Curious Reality of Feather Pillow Proxy Wars
There has been an awful lot of noise and blowing wind of late across all forms of social media about an impending WWIII between the United States and Russia, most of which involves further involvement and an intensified escalation within Syria. With the US airstrikes (alongside its allied partners, the UK and France) on Friday night (American time), that crescendo is no doubt going to hit an all-time high of anticipation. To that I offer one small contrary warning: don’t hold your breath for the mushroom clouds just yet. There is still too much evidence of designed respectful interaction between the United States and Russia to even begin to suspect a major physical confrontation directly between the two will take place. And this includes last night’s airstrikes.
While there is no doubt that current relations between America and Russia are not exactly glowing and positive, there are also numerous examples of restraint to show that both sides do not wish to pursue a war with each other. In some cases, the very evidence that has put people all over the world in a frothy orgasm of Cold War bloodlust is actually the evidence people should be noting for why war is unlikely. Consider the following incidents/initiatives that have taken place over the past few years and consider how often any one of them could have resulted in war and other serious military repercussions between adversaries:
- Russia supporting with its own military presence the Crimean secession referendum
- American retaliatory sanctions for said support, resulting in the Russian ruble losing literally half of its value, significantly damaging the earning and consuming power of regular Russians
- Russian retaliatory initiatives for those sanctions, most notably the alleged hacking of the 2016 American Presidential election
- The Magnitskii Act (followed up with still more sanctions just last week), which is basically a form of punishment by hubris: America blacklisting influential friends of Putin (oligarchs) from having access to enter America
- The closing of diplomatic offices in both Russia and America, with further escalation to a tit-for-tat diplomat rejection plan where both countries keep kicking each other’s diplomats out of their respective countries.
- One country accuses the other of overlooking chemical gas attacks against the Syrian people
- One country accuses the other of fabricating chemical gas attacks against the Syrian people
- Rumors of a ‘pee tape’ morally compromising the President of the United States while on an earlier visit to Russia
- Rumors of secretly going after to freeze and/or steal billions of dollars President Putin supposedly has stashed all over the globe
- And, of course, the biggest one of all: both sides intervening in another country’s internal civil war but on opposite sides of the conflict
This is a fairly impressive list of disagreement, discord, conflict, and outright aggression. There have been wars breaking out all over the globe for far fewer incidents and over far less intense accusations and maneuvers. This is why so many today are obsessing over the so-called New Cold War. In fact, the opposite is reality: we should not be welcoming the New Cold War. We should be welcoming the New FAKE Cold War. All of the reasons given above should have been reason enough for kinetic confrontation between the two countries. And yet no direct military conflict has arisen. The United States has now done ‘surprise’ airstrikes in Syria not once but twice. And, “miraculously,” no significant, if at all, formal uniformed Russian military presence has been killed in either of those airstrikes. When the White House goes before the press conference microphones to thank its allies for their cooperation and assistance, the unrecognized reality is that one of those allies is de facto Russia: the two sides have clearly collaborated at least in terms of communication before the airstrikes to ensure that only the proper Syrian military targets are hit and the formal Russian military presence has time to evacuate the direct area. This, of course, is bad news for any and all Syrians: basically, what both countries have been saying throughout the entire civil war is that it is just fine to spill Syrian blood as long as American and Russian blood is not spilled with it. This is the feather pillow of proxy wars. At least when it comes to Americans and Russians. Again, no comment on how much it has been a sledgehammer for both Syrian sides within Syria.
The problem with the analysis ongoing about Russian-American relations is that it is ultimately guilty of that egregious academic sin: a lack of falsifiability. We teach our young doctoral students that whenever any serious investigation is begun, they must ensure that their project has the chance of actually being wrong. This principle of falsifiability is built into our projects and our brains so as to ensure we do not bias or project our desired results into our findings. Given the complex, ambiguous, and competing alternatives nature of global security and war, it is easy to see why this is so important: it is mind-bogglingly easy to ‘get the results you want’ if you are determined to see an issue in one particular way. Finding the data and interpreting the evidence is rather simple. The problem is that the analyst must strive to not ignore competing evidence and alternative explanations that muddy the waters for the desired outcome. This is what has been happening for nearly three years (at least) when it comes to how we analyze Russian-American relations. The very data that so many media outlets and presumed Russian experts in the West use as ‘proof’ for an undeniable New Cold War is just as easily positioned to show how two countries have chosen to NOT go to war with one another and NOT confront one another physically when they easily could have and many other countries in the same position would have. Instead of proven bad news, it is just as easily argued as proof of good news.
Interpretation. This is the essence of our business in global affairs, international security, and intelligence. Right now, we are violating some of our core research principles in order to maintain a single desired analytical outcome. Perhaps most disturbingly, the desired outcome in this case is the more dangerous one, the more violent one, and the more irresponsible one. Perhaps it is odd to say, but at the moment it seems the people we all have to thank for avoiding the precipice of real war are not our intellectuals and scholars, but the leaders of the two countries that everyone keeps trying to say are hell-bent on destroying each other. Welcome to the odd logic of the New Fake Cold War the curious reality of feather pillow proxy wars.
Cuba Counts On Russia’s Economic Support
Cuba’s Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz, on an official working visit this June, has laid out his country’s plans, soliciting support for countering the United States, respect for its territorial integrity and support for resuscitating the Island’s falling economy. With many obstacles driving up basic cost of living, Cuba is consistently experiencing exodus of its citizens most them exploiting the geographical proximity, and migrating to settle in the United States.
During most of the meetings with Russian officials, Marrero Cruz underlined the necessity to make efforts in strengthening military relations and seek effective ways to boost agricultural exports to the Russian Federation. In addition, the Eurasian market may also open diverse opportunities and beneficial partnerships for Cuba.
Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin indicated, during a meeting with the Cuban delegation in southern coastal city Sochi on May 7, that “Cuba is one of the important partners in Latin America. Our cooperation rests on solid traditions of friendship, solidarity, mutual respect and trust. Together, we are resisting unprecedented sanctions pressure from unfriendly states.”
“The forum ‘Russian-Cuba business dialogue’ organized by our business council was held on the sidelines of the intergovernmental commission,” Titov who also heads the Russian-Cuba business council, also said. “Forty-six Russian companies participated in it. Before the forum our portfolio contained 11 investment projects, while after the forum it already had around 30 projects.
According to the intergovernmental commission for trade, economic and scientific cooperation, which is addressing these tasks of improving aspects of the bilateral relations, Moscow and Havana need to restart cooperation in order to boost trade and investment. In addition, Russia attaches great significance to implementing large-scale projects with Cuba, including those aimed at increasing oil recovery at Cuban fields and upgrading the metallurgical plant in Havana.
“Despite the unfavorable external environment, bilateral trade approx. 60 billion rubles, or more than 20 billion Cuban pesos, last year. The positive dynamic was retained this year, with trade growing nine times in January-April compared to the same period in 2022. I have no doubt that it will keep growing,” Mishustin said.
“We are planning to actively cooperate in tourism,” he said, adding that Aeroflot Group was about to begin regular flights to and from Cuba. This would increase the number of mutual trips between the two countries, and would strengthen business ties and cultural relations.
Giving an additional voice to tourism, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko also said “Cuba is Russia’s key partner in Central America, and it is completely logical that economic relations on all tracks need to be developed. Regular air travel with Cuba is resuming starting on July 1 by the president’s order. The Aeroflot company received a relevant directive.”
“The Aeroflot group will start operating flights to Cuba from July 1. It is a long-awaited event for all tourists because Cuba has always been a place of attraction not only for tourism traffic, but also for business traffic,” Aeroflot – Russian Airlines PJSC director general and board chairman Sergei Alexandrovsky noted.
Rossiya Airline, a member of the Aeroflot Group, will open flights from Moscow to Varadero, Cuba, from July 1. The company plans initially to make two flights per week But a third flight will be added from September 5, according to the airline’s information. The tourist flow from Russia to Cuba may rise to 500,000 people per year.
Marrero Cruz was on his first visit to Russia. Gerardo Penalver Portal was in his delegation that visited Moscow. Russian foreign ministry said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and his visiting Cuban counterpart, Gerardo Penalver Portal, discussed the two countries’ efforts toward building a multipolar world based on the principles of international law.
“The sides reiterated mutual commitment to further strengthening Russian-Cuban cooperation in a wide spectrum of fields in the spirit of strategic partnership,” the statement posted to the website said. According sources, bilateral trade tripled to $452 million in 2022, and it increased ninefold to $137.6 million in the first four months of 2023, compared with the same period 2022.
Official visits to and from both capitals proliferate, Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin visited Cuba in April. Earlier Russia’s top diplomat Sergey Lavrov visited Havana. Cuban leader visited Moscow late November 2022. At a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, pledged to continue developing bilateral relations. The delegation also addressed both houses of Russia’s legislature.
Cuba’s has an estimated 12 million population. Around 55,000 people of Russian descent live in Cuba. A 2016 survey shows that 67% of Cubans have a favorable view of Russia, with 8% expressing an unfavorable view. Cuba became dependent on Soviet markets and military aid and was a major ally of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. After Soviet’s collapse, Russia has maintained their diplomatic relations with Cuba.
India: A Strategic Partner or an Unreliable Friend?
The Future of Geopolitics Will Be Decided by 6 Swing States
The world is witnessing a new era of great power competition between the United States and China, with Russia playing a spoiler role. The outcome of this rivalry will shape the global order for decades to come. But the fate of this contest will not be decided by the actions of Washington, Beijing, or Moscow alone. It will also depend on how a group of influential countries in the global south navigate the shifting geopolitical landscape.
These countries are the geopolitical swing states of the 21st century. They are relatively stable and prosperous nations that have their own global agendas independent of the great powers, and the will and capabilities to turn those agendas into realities. They are more demanding, flexible, dynamic, and strategic than they could have been in the 20th century, when they had to choose between alignment or non-alignment with one bloc or another. And they will often choose multi-alignment, a strategy that will make them critical—and sometimes unpredictable—forces in the world’s next stage of globalization, and the next phase of great power competition.
These geopolitical swing states fall into four overlapping categories:
– Countries with a competitive advantage in a critical aspect of global supply chains.
– Countries uniquely suited for nearshoring, offshoring, or friendshoring.
– Countries with a disproportionate amount of capital and willingness to deploy it around the world.
– Countries with developed economies and leaders with global visions that they pursue within certain constraints.
Six countries stand out as exemplars of these categories: Turkey, India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Indonesia, and Brazil. These countries have more power today than ever before for several reasons: They have more agency, they benefit from regionalization, and they can leverage U.S.-China tensions.
The geopolitical swing states have more agency than ever before because they have grown more confident and capable in pursuing their own interests and values on the global stage. They have developed their own sources of soft and hard power, such as cultural influence, economic clout, military strength, diplomatic networks, and technological innovation. They have also diversified their partnerships and alliances, seeking to balance their relations with both the U.S. and China, as well as other regional and global actors.
Turkey has emerged as a regional powerbroker and a global player in defense, energy, humanitarian aid, and mediation. It has pursued an assertive foreign policy under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has sought to expand Turkey’s influence in its neighborhood and beyond. Turkey has intervened militarily in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Somalia; challenged Greece and Cyprus over maritime rights in the Eastern Mediterranean; supported Qatar against a Saudi-led blockade; hosted millions of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan; mediated between Iran and the West; and built close ties with Russia despite being a NATO member.
India has risen as a major economic and strategic power in Asia and the world. It has pursued a multi-aligned foreign policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has sought to enhance India’s role as a leading voice for democracy, development, and diversity. India has deepened its strategic partnership with the U.S., joined the Quad alliance with Japan, Australia, and the U.S., engaged with China on trade and border issues despite tensions; expanded its outreach to Africa and Latin America; invested in connectivity projects in its neighborhood; and championed initiatives such as the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure.
Saudi Arabia has transformed its economy and society under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who has sought to diversify Saudi Arabia’s sources of income away from oil dependence, modernize its social norms and institutions, and assert its leadership in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Saudi Arabia has launched an ambitious Vision 2030 reform program, led a military intervention in Yemen against Iranian-backed rebels, normalized relations with Israel, hosted major summits such as the G20, invested heavily in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology, and established strategic partnerships with China, India, and Russia, while maintaining its alliance with the U.S.
The geopolitical swing states have also benefited from regionalization, the process by which regions become more integrated and interdependent economically, politically, and culturally. Regionalization offers opportunities for these countries to enhance their influence and interests in their respective regions, as well as to cooperate with other regional powers on common challenges and opportunities. Regionalization also creates a buffer against the pressures and uncertainties of the global system, allowing these countries to pursue their own models of development and governance.
South Africa has played a pivotal role in advancing regional integration and cooperation in Africa, as well as representing African interests and perspectives on the global stage.
It has been a founding member and a leader of the African Union (AU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). It has also participated in peacekeeping and mediation efforts in countries such as Sudan, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. South Africa has leveraged its position as the most industrialized and diversified economy in Africa to attract foreign investment and trade, especially from China, India, and the EU.
Indonesia has emerged as a key player in Southeast Asia and the wider Indo-Pacific region, as well as a bridge between Asia and the Islamic world. It has been a driving force behind the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and the Asia-Africa Strategic Partnership (AASP). It has also engaged in dialogue and cooperation with other regional actors such as China, Japan, India, Australia,
and the U.S. on issues such as maritime security, counterterrorism, climate change, and pandemic response. Indonesia has leveraged its position as the largest economy and the most populous Muslim-majority country in Southeast Asia to promote its vision of a democratic, tolerant, and prosperous region.
Brazil has been a leader in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as a voice for the global south on issues such as trade, environment, and human rights. It has been a founding member and a driving force behind regional organizations such as Mercosur, Unasur, and Celac. It has also engaged in dialogue and cooperation with other regional actors such as the U.S., China, India, and the EU on issues such as energy security, infrastructure development, and social inclusion. Brazil has leveraged its position as the largest economy and the most populous country in Latin America to advance its interests and values in the region and beyond.
The geopolitical swing states have also gained more leverage in the global system by exploiting the opportunities and challenges created by U.S.-China competition. They have sought to maximize their benefits from both sides, while minimizing their costs and risks. They have also tried to shape the rules and norms of the emerging global order, according to their own preferences and principles. They have not hesitated to challenge or defy either of the great powers, when they perceive their interests or values are threatened or violated.
Turkey has sought to balance its relations with both the U.S. and China, while pursuing its own strategic autonomy. It has maintained its NATO membership and cooperation with the U.S. on issues such as counterterrorism, Afghanistan, and Iran, while also resisting U.S. pressure on issues such as human rights, democracy, and Syria. It has also expanded its economic ties with China, especially under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), while also expressing concern over China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. Turkey has also defied both the U.S. and China by acquiring Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems, despite facing sanctions and criticism from both sides.
India has deepened its strategic partnership with the U.S., especially under the Quad framework, while also maintaining its engagement with China on trade and border issues, despite tensions. It has welcomed U.S. support for its bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, its membership in multilateral export control regimes, and its role as a net security provider in the Indo-Pacific region. It has also increased its trade with China, especially in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, electronics, and renewable energy, while also pushing back against China’s assertiveness along their disputed border, where a deadly clash occurred in 2020. India has also defied both the U.S. and China by joining RCEP, despite U.S. withdrawal from the pact and China’s dominance in it.
Saudi Arabia has maintained its alliance with the U.S., especially on security and energy issues, while also diversifying its relations with China on economic and technological issues. It has relied on U.S. support for its military intervention in Yemen, its confrontation with Iran, and its normalization with Israel, while also facing U.S. pressure on issues such as human rights, democracy, and nuclear proliferation. It has also increased its investment in China, especially under the BRI framework, while also seeking Chinese cooperation on issues such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. Saudi Arabia has also defied both the U.S. and China by pursuing its own nuclear program, despite U.S. opposition and Chinese competition.
The rise of these geopolitical swing states will have significant implications for the global order and the great power competition.
The global order will become more multipolar and complex, as these countries will shape the rules and norms of the emerging system according to their own preferences and principles. They will not accept a binary choice between the U.S. and China, but will seek to preserve their strategic autonomy and flexibility. They will also demand more voice and representation in global institutions and forums, such as the U.N., the IMF, the WTO, and the G20.
The great power competition will become more nuanced and dynamic, as these countries will leverage their relations with both the U.S. and China to maximize their benefits and minimize their costs and risks. They will also exploit the opportunities and challenges created by U.S.-China rivalry to advance their own interests and values. They will not hesitate to challenge or defy either of the great powers, when they perceive their interests or values are threatened or violated.
The global challenges and opportunities will require more cooperation and coordination among these countries and the great powers, as these countries will play a key role in addressing issues such as climate change, pandemic response, cyber security, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, trade, development, and human rights. They will also offer new markets, sources of innovation, and partners for cooperation to both the U.S. and China.
The geopolitical swing states of Turkey, India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Indonesia, and Brazil are the middle powers of the global south that will decide the future of geopolitics. They have more agency, they benefit from regionalization, and they can leverage U.S.-China tensions. They have their own global agendas independent of the great powers, and the will and capabilities to turn those agendas into realities. They are more demanding, flexible, dynamic, and strategic than they could have been in the 20th century. And they will often choose multi-alignment, a strategy that will make them critical—and sometimes unpredictable—forces in the world’s next stage of globalization, and the next phase of great power competition. The U.S., China, and Russia should not take these countries for granted or ignore their interests and values. They should engage them with respect and pragmatism, seeking areas of convergence and managing areas of divergence. They should also recognize that these countries are not passive bystanders or pawns in their rivalry, but active players and partners in shaping the global order. The geopolitical swing states should not be complacent or reckless in their actions. They should be aware of the risks and responsibilities that come with their power and influence. They should also be constructive and responsible in their contributions to the global order. They should not only pursue their own interests and values, but also uphold the common interests and values of humanity.
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