The way it looks now:
- America is prepositioning tanks and nuclear bombers for battle alongside our NATO allies to counter the Russian threat.
- Russian and U.S. military warplanes recently flew within 5 feet of each other.
- Russia is continuing to build a new generation of long-range missiles with ballistic capabilities.
- China and the U.S. are jousting in the South China Sea.
Apparently somebody restarted the Cold War while we were looking the other way.
Only this time, it will be the Cold War without any fun – That is, without James Bond, Agent 86’s shoe phone from “Get Smart”, a space race to the moon, Khrushchev’s shoe banging antics, or a debate between Soviet and American leaders over whose country makes the best home appliances. I also highly doubt we will see President Trump in The Donbass declaring as President Kennedy did “ich bin ein Ukrainian”. The verbage and lingo of modern times – “Reset Russian Relations”, and “pivoting to Asia” – has none of the weight that “détente” back in the day.
Modern day cold war feels more like a W.W.E. (World Wrestling Entertainment) event. This goes beyond Vladimir Putin’s riding horses without a shirt on, although that is a perfect metaphor. It’s just a blatant jockeying for power just to state that you have it. We aren’t clashing over ideas, but rather spheres of influence.
“You cross that line, I punch your ear.” “Why?” “Because I said so.” “You got a problem with that?” “Yes, let me show you my drone. You got a problem with that?” “Not at all. My cyber guys stole the guidance system last week from Northrop Grumman.” “You got a problem with that?”
The original Cold War had a beginning, an end, and even a closing curtain call with the Berlin Wall falling. But this Cold War has caused history to repeat itself. There was a moment when it seemed as though everything would be alright – The Arabs and Israelis would make peace, and Russia would fall into line with the G-8 and the European Union. That time has come and gone.
How did it all go wrong? We fired the first salvo when we expanded NATO towards the current Russian boarder, even though the USSR had been dissolved. We sent a very strong message to Moscow that regardless of their system, they are always the enemy. Once their oil prices recovered, Vladimir Putin had to save face and get revenge for the humiliation, even though now he is just using NATO threats to justify his militarization of Russian society and economy so that he and his fellow cronies can remain in power and paint their opponents as “puppets of the West”.
When NATO toppled Moammar Qaddafi, the leader of Libya, the Arab Spring, and the Moscow protests in the street that followed Boris Nemtsov’s assassination and the Popular Russian uprising protests against corruption rattled Putin, it was then that Putin understood that he lost the Russian middle class and started looking for legitimacy somewhere else such as hypernationalism and anti-Americanism.
But this makes an important point: if not for our sanctions against Russia, Eastern Ukraine would already be a part of Russia by now. There is nothing more that Putin fears at this point that Ukraine succeeding in the pits of corruption and building their modern economy in the style of the European Union that Putin could not accomplish.
In short, the attraction of the American economy and the bite of our sanctions are more critical than ever in managing this post-Cold War “game” of nations, including dealing with the Iranians on the nuclear issue. We may be in the field of traditional geopolitics, but we are now in a much more interdependent world where our economic weight and clout is still a significant source of restraint on Moscow. Putin isn’t disguising his military involvement in Ukraine for no reason; he is more afraid of expanded American banking sanctions. It’s not just our guns, it’s the butter that come with those guns. This is the precise reason we should expand American-shaped free trade partnerships and Europe and it’s why the most critical source of stability in the modern world is the health of America’s economy.
We can walk softly and carry a big stick at the same time. As long as we carry a big wallet as well.