Liberty Expose: The New Cold War Myth
It is natural for people to attempt to frame the present as a repeat of the past. The misguided cliché “history repeats itself” gained popularity for that reason, and leads many to take a cynical view of humanity’s tendency to stumble on the same curb more than once. But history does not repeat itself – it is too specific for that.
However, the human condition is infinite, and global behavior rarely changes. The newest reiteration of the repeated history line is the “new Cold War.” Like the Soviet Union of old, proponents of the new Cold War thesis advance the notion that Russia has once again become a national security threat to the United States. This is undoubtedly true, but once again the attempt to define the present as a reiteration of the past is misguided – Russia is a threat, but it is not the Soviet Union.
The conflict that exists between the United States and the Russian Federation resembles a more traditional geopolitical power struggle than the Cold War, which was a unique event in world history. The rifts between America and Russia resemble that of the Peloponnesian War, when the Spartans accepted assistance from the Persian Empire when fighting a war against the fellow Greek Athenians (Sparta defeated Athens in the end.) The British and French fought almost innumerable wars to see who will hail supreme on the European continent (the British won out in 1815.) later, the Germans will fight the French and British for similar reasons.
These were all traditional power struggles, ones that center on geopolitics. The Cold War was not like that. Rather, though geography was as superficial reason, everything about the Cold War differed from power struggles of past – from the culture war, to even the rise of the feuding powers. Because of the global nature of the Cold War, proxy conflicts were fought on almost every corner of the planet. In Central America, Southeast Asia, Southern Africa, and the Pacific, Western-backed forces and Soviet (and sometimes Chinese) backed forces dulled each other for supremacy.
The United States and the Soviet Union however rose together. Both nations were already great powers in their own right; the United States reigned over the Western Hemisphere, willing to confront any power who dares violate the Monroe Doctrine. The Soviet Union, previously cast as Russia, had been a great power in Eurasia for more than a century (depending on one’s interpretation) – though Russia was a tepid and often incompetent empire at that. When the British Empire collapsed on itself, not from conquest, but by bad governance, the United States and the Soviet Union graduated to a power status unprecedented in world history: the superpower.
Both nations paid dearly for their new positions; Americans suffered to liberate and occupy Northern Africa, Europe, and the Pacific, and the Soviet Union lost more than 16 million to conquer Eastern Europe of the Third Reich. The world become bi-polar – one part revolved around Washington, the other, Moscow.
These nations didn’t seek the intrinsic pursuit of power like nations past; wars were fought mainly over geographic issues, with issues such as trade and strategic advantage being primary igniters of conflict. The Cold War was predicated on ideas; capitalism vs. communism, freedom vs. order, democracy vs. workers councils, John Locke vs. Karl Marx. This is why the Cold War was so successful at becoming a truly global power struggle. It’s easy to sell ideas and intervene with adherents to ideologies the new super powers represented. It is not as easy when an empire attempts to find support when they have no ideology to sell.
Aside from the ideological and cultural spheres of the Cold War, the Soviet Union was significantly more powerful that the Russian Federation of today. The Soviet Union had a vast amount of resources, had satellite governments in Eurasia, and had troops in from Eastern Europe to Central Asia. The Soviet Union also had an ideological appeal that was hard to compete with.
Following the collapse of the empires that proceeded and succeeded the Second World War, a plethora of former imperial colonies were ripe with a climate hostile to the West. The communism sponsored by the Soviet Union appealed to those sentiments beautifully, and it made competing difficult for the United States lead West.
The Russian Federation has none of those things. Russia has no satellite governments it can rely on. On the contrary, its aggression in Ukraine and Georgia have isolated Russia from its neighbors, and now the Baltics are part of NATO, Ukraine wants to join the alliance, Macedonia just become the newest members, the Scandinavia is revitalizing its militaries.
Russia has its leadership to blame for this. The Russian military does not have the status it once had – instead of having a presence in multiple nations, its most obvious foreign expedition is in Syria, and the rest is done covertly. By the rampant corruption in the Russian government, Russian military equipment is in a state of disrepair, and much of the Russian naval and armor forces are not combat ready. Russia has a very few select number of allies it can count on. Economically, Russia is a disaster. Its foreign policy behavior has led to sections on the economy, Europeans nations are attempting to divest from Russia’s greatest resource, energy, in an attempt to curb Russia’s influence. And the cronyism that replaced the communism has only lead to Russian not living to its economic potential. (Despite this, Russian President Vladimir Putin holds an 81% approval rating.)
Finally, the Russian Federation does not have the same ideological appeal that the former Soviet Union had. Russian nationalism and revanchist ends are the primary ideological motivators of Russian foreign policy, not anti-western communism of the Soviet Union. Russian nationalism does not hold the same appeal to a potential guerilla fighter in a war-torn third world country. The foreign policy of Russia resembles that of the powers of imperial Europe; Russia’s main concern is now geography, more than ideology
But Russia’s weakness in comparison to its red predecessor should not be seen as a positive. The dichotomy is that the fact that Russia is weak is what makes it so dangerous. What is to risk when there is nothing to lose; the only way to go is up. One should expect to Russia to push the limits of accountability, so long as responsibility and consequences for such aggressive behavior eludes Russian leadership.
If Russia, or any power, is to understand that their aggressive actions are unacceptable – then the U.S. must make sure it reminds any aggressors who the true hegemon – and victor of the Cold War is. Show that America is capable of having an exponentially more powerful military, and show that the United States has the economic wherewithal to bring any nation back to reality. Until then, Russia will be emboldened to intervene on other nation’s elections and conflicts, Eastern Europe will remain on edge, and the chance of a greater conflict will only rise.