The new Cold War?

The Geneva II Syrian negotiation appears headed toward collapse. Egypt, using Saudi money, has signed on to a two billion dollar arms deal with Russia. Field Marshal Sisi of Egypt traveled to Moscow on his first foreign trip since the Egyptian military takeover in July. President Putin greeted him warmly. Iran continued its “charm offensive” toward Washington, while US Middle East policy remained ambiguous as to an eventual Iranian hegemony within the region. Russia and Iran worked out a swap deal for oil and consumer goods as the Iranian international sanctions regime began to unravel. The American media was full of anti-Russian, anti-Sochi diatribes reminiscent of the late 1970’s and the height of the Cold War. Meanwhile, on the European continent, a nasty political imbroglio in the strategically vital Ukraine heated up tensions to a fever pitch unseen since the demise of the Soviet Union.

In order for there to be a successful outcome to the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran, US, Russian and Chinese foreign policy must be inclined toward an increased level of cooperation. Without this cooperation any hope of continued pressure on Iran would be fruitless, given Iran’s strategic importance in a two-way or three-way competition for influence in the Middle East. Partnership is the key word in this tripartite relationship. Yet during the two terms of the Obama administration, the US position in Europe has forged an antagonistic relationship between Russia and NATO that has worked against the peaceful settlement of disputes in other parts of the world, especially the Middle East.

Unlike the US, Russia has a history of being invaded that goes back over a millennium. Russia’s expansion and eventual empire were logical responses to centuries of invasion. Attacks could come from any direction, with the exception of the Arctic North. The Russians were extremely vulnerable from the west, either on the North European Plain or through their soft underbelly, the Ukraine. WWII was so devastating to the Russian people, as tens of millions of its citizens were killed in a German invasion, that its culmination was a vengeful Soviet counter-offensive. This German invasion was the only reason for a forty-five year Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe.

The US and Soviet post-war occupations of Europe were called the Cold War. The US and its Western European allies feared a Soviet takeover of all of Europe. They pointed to the political activities of the Greek and French Communist Parties as examples of Soviet intentions. But the Soviets were willing to compromise. In exchange for the complete demilitarization of Germany, the Soviets were willing to withdraw from Central and Eastern Europe. It was the US who said no to this deal. For whatever reason (probably due to Western fears that local communist agitations were genuine home-grown products and not some international Soviet conspiracy, as they would rather have had them portrayed), the end product was the military division of the continent between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

The occupation of Eastern Europe by Soviet troops was never popular and certainly was never voted upon. NATO, on the other hand, was a strictly voluntary organization and enormously popular. After forty-five years of unwanted (but not necessarily unwarranted) occupation, the Soviet Union completely disintegrated. Within a very few short years, NATO moved east into a partnership with the countries of the former Warsaw Pact. This expansion of NATO eastward, without a new security arrangement for Europe, held the seeds of a second Cold War (or worse). At first US policy under President Clinton treated Russia as some sort of surrogate. But so mismanaged was the transformation of the Soviet Union to the Russian Federation, that by the time Boris Yeltsin was forced from office, his approval rating in Russia stood at a mere seven percent. Also, US policy under Clinton had kept Europe divided and Russia isolated. Although Russia had dropped any pretense of being a communist country, US policy remained eerily similar to the Cold War.

Once again the world had been pushed toward blocs. Although these blocs still remained loose, the danger that they represented was real.
During the first Cold War, the US had brilliantly used the difficulties of communist economic development in China (autarky) as a wedge against the pro-Soviet block in order to alter the balance of power in such a direction– military and economic expansion–that the Soviets couldn’t match up. By turning the Chinese toward a form of state capitalism, the US victory in the first Cold War was so complete and devastating that the search for a just and secure Europe was abandoned and left stillborn. The “New World Order” as envisioned in the early 1990’s became instead the US as sole superpower to the world. Events in the Balkans and the Persian Gulf during the Clinton administration worked to cement this reality.

Then came 9-11 and the Russian push-back. With the US bogged down in two wars in the Middle East, Russia’s new President, Vladimir Putin, initiated a policy of noncompliance with NATO expansion into the Russian near-abroad. This included Georgia, the Ukraine and Moldavia, and it had serious implications for all of Eastern Europe. Doubts about US resolve began to emerge in Poland, Romania and the Baltic states. Russia and China began to move closer together as concern about US policy and its unilateral direction surfaced in both Moscow and Beijing. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization was a direct result of both the war in Afghanistan and the need for a European re-balance. The Obama idea of a “Pivot to Asia” also hearkens back to the first Cold War, as China fears US containment through encirclement. With all the current administration’s talk of a reset button to Russia and economic partnership with China, so far the strategic policy on both accounts appears anachronistic and grounded in a Cold War convention which was established decades ago.

The irrationality of this Cold War policy has once again impacted the Middle East. The US invasion of Iraq (accomplished at the height of US hubris against any kind of multi-polarity) was a disaster in the sense that it left the Arab country divided and under the geopolitical domain of the Iranians. Although the Russians have cooperated with the US on the Iranian nuclear program, the Russians have not cooperated on Syria, Hezbollah or potential Iranian hegemony within the region. In fact, the competition between Presidents Putin and Obama has reached the point of such absurdity that Iran and Saudi Arabia each court alternative patrons in a geopolitical dance of self-interest. These machinations can lead nowhere but to further regional escalation and increased friction between Russia and the US. If Middle East meddling has become Russia’s answer to NATO encroachment on the Ukraine, then NATO’s security clauses for the Ukraine have been its reply to Russia’s support for Assad and Iran. These divisions have become a dangerous game of tit-for-tat very much akin to the original Cold War mentality.

From a strategic point of view, the Ukraine is as important to Russia as the West Bank is to Israel. In fact, for either country’s defense, they are crucial. Most fair military analysts around the world have suggested that these two territories are as vital to the national security of Russia and Israel, respectively, as Texas is to the US. One could only wonder what would President Obama’s reaction be to a hostile OAS military organization based in Dallas, Texas? That’s the corner President Putin has been backed into. And it is the corner that the enemies of the Jewish state would love to box Israel into.

Enough is enough. Either the relationship between the members of the UN Security Council improves, or the situation could spiral out of control. The question of the futures of the Middle East, Europe and East Asia require the utmost cooperation. The world has not overcome war. The possibility of a third world war is real. The UN has not overcome the anarchy of a global system that produced two world wars in the twentieth century alone. Now, along with the distinct possibility of a new Cold War, the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East hangs over all our heads. Have we forgot the near catastrophe that the last Cold War nearly brought us to? What is needed in the Middle East is what is needed around the world–that is, a vision of cooperation and peace. How in the name of Heaven can humanity solve its other dire problems of ecology and economy, if its leaders stay mired in the past?
There is no way forward without dynamic and creative new ideas. NATO is an idea whose time has passed. An all-European defensive military pact is a must. Without security for all, there will be security for none. The same principle holds true for the Middle East and East Asia. Remember: We were all very lucky the first time around during the Cold War, but we might not be so lucky if we continue on the current path. Russia, China and the US must become partners who are opposed to all forms of regional hegemony. No country, anywhere in the world, should be backed into a corner without strategic depth and the ability of self-defense. But this must only be the first step. We must work toward a planet without nuclear weapons and without recourse to war. The choice belongs to all of us: Either we cooperate, or we risk miscalculation. It will be either the Age of Isaiah, or potentially no age at all.

At the end of July this year, the hundredth anniversary of WWI will be upon us. On that date, a three-way summit between Russia, China and the US should be organized to elucidate the new security principles for Europe, East Asia and the Middle East. On such a historic day, with such a summit, the people of the entire world could only rejoice.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).
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