Monday, July 18th, 2016

A Cold War Losing Cool: Russia and the US back on the boil

Rushda Siddiqui | July 18, 2016 11:53 am Print
The Warsaw Summit of 2016 has brought to fore a problem that is largely being pushed away from the headlines by smaller conflicts. Brexit, however has brought the inevitable NATO and US skirmishes with Russia to the forefront. NATO has gradually been creating and perpetuating threats and challenges that are now warming up the Cold War, says Rushda Siddiqui

Cold War 2.0, New Cold War or Cold War II are terms used to describe the renewed state of political and military tensions between opposing geopolitical power-blocs. The two blocks typically represent the opposing ideologies of capitalism and socialism.

So in the context of Cold War II, the reference is to one block being led by Russia or China, while the other is led by the United States or NATO. The Chinese component is limited as its sphere of influence is seen only in East and South East Asia. While China is a member of the UNSC, it has not taken extremely radical ideological stands to make it a large target.

The Russian entry into this War became marked with the turn of the millennium and the coming to power of Vladimir Putin. While optimists have not been ready to admit to the existence of a New Cold War, it was at the Munich Security Conference in February , that the Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev spoke at length about  the world now being in the midst of a New Cold War, as the situation in 2016 was reminiscent of 1962.

The speech was jarring, to say the least. NATO and American diplomats were not ready for the announcement and went into a tizzy trying to justify what Medvedev actually meant. The denial was marked. Media in the West went into an overdrive trying to assuage the fears of the common people that the Cold War talk is about a hypothetical future that Russia was warning about in case the West is not careful, or that Russia was over-reacting.

However, with the Warsaw Summit of July 2016, the Cold War II has become near about official with differences between Obama and Putin taking the centre-stage.

The differences between the US and Russia have been growing since 9/11. Russia sympathized with the US during the 9/11 but was opposed to the occupational plans in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The power play in West Asia has been all about the increasing coldness between the US and Russia. A careful look at the places being targeted for attacks in the region by the US and its allies would unravel a structured plan to dismantle or destroy everything that Russia had built in the region since the 1970s or had inspired since the end the Second World War.

If we look at the economic and political development in the region of West Asia and North Africa we notice a very strong and marked influence of the socialist and communist model of development inspiring the leaders who rose, literally from nowhere.

From Nasser’s Egypt following a structured programme of economic socialism to a regional policy of anti-imperialism to Gaddafi’s programmes of socialist development, the inspiration and reliance on the former Soviet Republic has been marked.

Till the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly every country in the region could boast of major infrastructural development with their assistance. Be it the military technological developments, the roads, buildings, healthcare infrastructure developments, civilian nuclear plants for electricity, or just the inspiration to develop a public distribution system, labour laws and social welfare could be attributed to the Soviet influence on the region.

For the impoverished and disadvantaged in the region, the idea of social and political justice was most appealing. The Soviet role in backing the Palestinians right to a homeland has gone a long way in strengthening the socio-political grass-root support for them. While the Soviet Union never come up with a roadmap to peace like the Americans and the Europeans, they were at the forefront of countering every unjust Israeli move against the Palestinians.

The inspiration of socialism has been deeper than the western educated military and political elite of the region.

From the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest Islamic fundamentalist movement to the Taliban and every stray Muslim scholar, the attempts to show the socialistic character of Islam are abundant. In a case of extreme contradiction, while the Iranian Revolution tried to copy the US model of democracy and political pluralism, their economic and social development plans bore the Soviet imprint.

The US influence within the region was relatively limited and selective. Their concentration was on the oil exploration and marketing and Israel. As a result they play the politics of making and cultivating allies and attempting to get a base in the region to contain the Soviet influence.

The loss of Iran was the biggest the United States had suffered in decades. However, with the help of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries, OPEC and the international banks, the US was able to exert an economic and political influence, but was unable to get the kind of military and ground foothold that the USSR had achieved.

Post collapse of the Soviet Union, the efforts of the US to roll back the Soviet influence were stark. Where the IMF and other banking systems stepped in with their structural adjustment programmes to reverse every form of social welfare systems in the region, the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait was able to give the US the military leverage it always sought. Till the turn of the millennium, while the Americans were trying to fill the vacuum of the former Soviets, the Russians were grappling with their own problems.

It was the rise of Putin that changed the equations.  By the time he came to power, the floundering had ended for Russia and the country was ready to reassert the fact that it may not be a Soviet Union, but it was definitely a superpower to reckon with. His public posturing with the statistics about Russia’s nuclear potential, his open opposition to US aggression particularly against Iran among other moves made him the most popular target for snide humor in the Western media. He was a soviet KGB trained anti-Western villain who was misleading the Russians and the world with a display of false strength.

It is not just the US, NATO too has problems with a strong Russia asserting its place within the region. Used to being the strongest force in the region, they are now feeling challenged. Once Russia reacted to being sidelined, both the US and NATO were miffed when they realized the country could take over the Baltics, the backyard playing ground of the NATO, within 60 hours if not less.

The cold war is warming up since 2014, when the 2014 pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine followed by the Russian military intervention and especially the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014, led to economic, financial, and diplomatic sanctions between EU and the US on one side and Russia on the other. Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and military intervention in Ukraine has escalated tensions manifold.  Syria is now the new battle ground. With the US and NATO wanting to break Syria and remove Assad, the Russian engagement from within Syria has been a setback.

The first fortnight of July 2016 has witnessed many moves that are on the verge of boiling the Cold War. From Obama’s speech at the Warsaw where he openly extended military support to the NATO in Europe to the Eastern European discontent with the EU, the cauldron has been brewing steadily. The hostilities are out in the open as American diplomats have taken to accusing Russia of instigating Britain into leaving the EU.

Make no mistake, it was the American recklessness and not the Soviet aggression that had led to the first Cold War in the 1940s that cost millions of lives, trillions of dollars and the world had to endure the suffering for 42 years. The scars are still raw.

Even now, it is the American erratic foreign policy that is causing the instability. Increasing military buildup along the Russian border, taking on the Russian forces head on in Syria and publicly indulging in an open spat with them are bound to have repercussions. Much to the chagrin of the US and NATO, the Russians have succeed in Syria in containing the ISIS and retaining Assad at the helm. Apart from the military defeats, both the US and EU are now being saddled with the refugee problem they created, which was one of the major causes for Brexit.

The second Cold War will go down in history, not as a legacy of Bush Jr., but of Barrack Obama. It is Obama who has been responsible for the escalation of standoffs with Russia. By placing troops in Northern Iraq, ostensibly to counter the growing ISIS, and by augmenting NATO troops along the Russian border, it is Obama who is defining a foreign policy that is volatile and flammable.

In following the American lead by increasing missiles along the Russian border on lame excuses like countering an Iranian threat, especially after the peace accord, the NATO countries and Europe are making the mistake of going against their own people. As the countries are seeking more social welfare and less capitalism, escalation of false threats is going to increased military spending, budget cuts on social welfare, increase in crony capitalism and countries like Poland demanding to know why they should not go back to being part of Russia. Cold wars have always been difficult and this simmering cold war may turn ominous unless Europe understands the ongoing developments independently of the US.

Rushda Siddiqui
Rushda Siddiqui
Rushda Siddiqui is the Co-ordinator of Research with the Humanities Trust. Her area of specialization is the socio-political dynamics of change in West Asia and North Africa.