Friday, November 14, 2014

Reflections on Gorbachev's warning that we might be heading into another Cold War

\reflectRussia has reportedly agreed to  build four new reactors at Bushehr, an existing Russian-built power station, and four at another site, (from The Economist, November 15, 2014)  in Iran. Reports out of the former Crimea indicate that "Russification" has proceeded very rapidly. Putin has whined that economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the EU against the Kremlin will hurt global trade. Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader, has told the world we may be entering a new cold war. Reports from eastern Ukraine indicate that Russian tanks and troops are continuing to foment trouble in that region. All these headlines while the world also celebrated the 25th anniversary of the tumbling of the Berlin Wall, that most odious of embattlements that segregated East and West Berlin during the Cold War.
Are we truly entering a new cold war, and if so, what might it look like?
First, while the original Cold War pitted two super powers like behemoths poised both with nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union seeking expansion with the U.S. pursuing a policy of containment. Bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war, these two superpowers were engaged in a very dangerous conflict of wills, national ambition, national pride, scientific competition (The Soviet space ship, Sputnik was launched in 1957, unleashing a scientific competition that resulted in President Kennedy's proclamation that the U.S. would land a man on the moon in the ten years of the 1960's.  Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Cuban missile crisis, the Hungarian Revolution, the Czech revolution, plus the construction of the Berlin Wall itself....these are some of the high points of the Cold War.
Today, the world is very different, and yet there are striking similarities. Russia, having experienced the dissolution of the Soviet Union, seeks to re-establish herself as a world power under Putin's leadership. China, rather than forming a Communist-axis with Russia, continues to modernize and court the favours of the United States, Russia, Brazil, India, and especially the continent of Africa. The former cluster of non-aligned nations, that once included Egypt, India and others, seems not to occupy a prominent place in world dialogue, nor does the Trilateral Commission, once alleged to be the driving force behind western (especially American) foreign policy. Today, the world is a far more trade-centric place with fossil fuels dominating that arena. Economic and industrial output and dollars of both imports and exports tend to dominate the world's conventional wisdom along with increasing evidence of cyber-conflicts among the major powers and also into the affairs of private and public corporations. The nuclear club, while holding at five, continues to magnetize others like North Korea, Iran and potentially other Middle East countries, especially if Iran does in fact develop a nuclear weapon and especially if she does so in secret (with or without Russian assistance and cover).
Continuing to haunt the nuclear weapons debate is the overwhelming evidence that Israel possesses a nuclear arsenal, courtesy of the United States, thereby rendering her position within the Middle East as a potential bully, although she has steadfastly resisted deploying these weapons, and continues to remain "mum" even about their existence. Palestinians, Muslims generally, and other countries whose allegiance and alliance is sought by both Russia and the United States, not to mention China, wonder about the wisdom of turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to those who decry the Israeli nuclear stockpile. Loose nuclear weapons are reported to lie unprotected in many places, especially in the hinterland of the former Soviet Union, all of which weapons have become the 'holy grail' for the Islamic jihadists.
What is clear, at least, when attempting to discern the degree of validity in Gorbachev's warning, is that Russia, China and the United States have yet to announce publicly that they are united in their condemnation of Islamic jihad. They have also not announced a joint commitment to aggressive measures to contain and reduce carbon from the atmosphere, although the U.S. and China did this week make an announcement of some kind of agreement, beginning for China in 2030, with the U.S. increasing her commitment and actions prior to the end of this decade.
So long as Putin remains silent and uncommitted to the eradication of the Islamic jihadi threat everywhere, along with his Communist colleagues in Beijing, and so long as Putin continues to actively and aggressively support Assad in Syria and the pursuit of nuclear power in Iran while pretending to provide evidence that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons, and so long as Putin's invasion of Ukraine continues unchecked either by NATO or by Ukraine with the aggressive and comprehensive support of the west, especially the United States and the European Union (which is far more restrained, dependent as it is on Russian fossil energy for heat and industrial production), and so long as Russia makes no move toward addressing the global threat of climate change and so long as Russia continues to hold fast to her short-term bargaining power through the threat of cutting off those fuel pumps...the world has a gordion knot in the Kremlin, one that Mr. Gorbachev understands better than contemporary western leaders. And so long as that gordion knot remains tied, and refuses to disentangle or to be disentangled, the world does have an impending disaster incubating under Putin's direction control and agency.
And while Russia is not nearly as powerful as the former Soviet Union, Putin is neither following in the pattern of Gorbachev nor Kruschev, but is more aligned with his tsarist compatriots whose extremes in retribution, in hegemony and in repression of the Russian people knew few limits. Parading Edward Snowden as his token puppet testimony to the free flow of information only exaggerates Putin's complete addiction to secrecy, to allegiance to his dependent oligarch serfs, to his absolute dominance of his Russian military machine, and his growing hubris in the face of the world's pre-occupation with the Islamic jihad, with Ebola, with the recovery from the self-inflicted collapse of the U.S. and western economies in 2008-9. Putin's opportunism linked to his Tsar-like control within Russia, coupled with the world's self-seduction that the Cold War ended thereby rending Russia no longer a serious threat.....all of these factors contribute to a potential stealthy threat from a new self-appointed Tsar.
And Gorbachev's warning must have been as much to his own Russian comrades as it was to the rest of the world, as he visited Berlin as part of the anniversary celebrations of the Wall he eventually "tore down" as Reagan pleaded with him to do.
Vigilance, in world affairs, is no longer confined to close scrutiny of a single important relationship. Vigilance, and through vigilance safety and security now depend on a multivariate calculus that warrants a highly trained foreign affairs cadre as well as increased attention  by the public and private news organizations leading to much better informed and much more critical citizenry in all countries and regions, in order that stealth and ambition mixed with nuclear power (a threat Putin used when pushing back against the west's protests over his invasion of Ukraine) and hubris at the national level, as well as on the terrorist front do not combine to generate the unthinkable, a spontaneous spark that ignites a flame against which there are no antidotes, nor protections, nor global agencies or institutions to add leaven to the toxic mix.

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