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The Dark Cynicism Behind Cold War Revivalism

Hawks in Washington and Moscow need to shut up about the Cold War's imminent return.

Photo Credit: Fabio Berti/


Blowing hot air about a Cold War redux has reached new heights following the crisis in Ukraine. It revealed the level of hysteria among Russian and American ideologues. So much, that even the cool-headed began to speak of the need to avert another Cold War "we cannot afford".  

But is a Cold War 2.0 plausible at all? (A subject for discussion on the next episode of  EMPIRE).

Many of those who use the term "Cold War" nowadays, do so casually to warn against the dangers of a widening Moscow-Washington divide. That's commendable.

But the alarmists, who attach a strategic and historic significance to the reference, tend to advocate renewed military build-up in Europe. That's both flawed and dangerous.

The first thing to remember about the Cold War is the fact that it wasn't much of a war in the North, nor was it cold in the South. And it was unique in the way it was simultaneously "waged" on multiple fronts: Ideological (philosophical/intellectual), universal (a vision for the future of the world), global (nuclear), international (in every continent and over every state), and strategically between the greatest military machines in world history.

Cold calculus

Washington's strategy was designed to keep the Soviets out, the Germans down and the Americans in Western Europe. In parallel, Moscow's strategy aimed at controlling the East Germans, keeping America out of Eastern Europe and the Soviets in. 

In the process, the two built up the most formidable military alliances in history - The North Atlantic Treaty Organization  (NATO) and the  Warsaw Pact, and embraced the biggest deployment of military hardware on the fault lines between East and West Europe.

Their capacity for total destruction in Europe, including total obliteration of each other through nuclear weapons, limited their strategic calculus and transformed the Cold War into a decades-long ceasefire. A standoff that eventually - and astoundingly - ended with the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, and the collapse of Moscow's domination in Eastern Europe without a single shot being fired.  

So, to speak of a Cold War today is rather absurd considering that the Warsaw Pact is no more, NATO is at Russia's doorstep, and America has just finalised the withdrawal of two thirds of its troops from Europe as part of a worldwide redeployment which includies a pivot to Asia.

Meanwhile, Russia and its former European satellites are, with varying degrees, economically integrated in the West. And Germany, de facto the new leader of integrated Europe, is opposed to a return to cold War type tension.

Since the beginning of the crisis, Chancellor Merkel has been keen on working with Putin to de-escalate and tried to bridge the divide between Washington and Moscow. Without Berlin's approval and participation, America will be challenged to mount an aggressive strategy towards Russia. Even its proposed sanctions couldn't work without Germany, Russia's biggest trading partner. 

To reverse all of this over Ukraine is improbable - short of a political earthquake. Interestingly, Presidents Obama and Putin might have done little to de-escalate the crisis, but they have steered away from the alarmists' vision and their extreme strategies. 

And hot wars

A return to the Cold War also means going global. For decades, Washington supported authoritarian regimes against the Communist expansion, and Moscow built up totalitarian movements and regimes against the capitalist/imperialist West. In the process, they armed thugs, supported terrorists, hosted criminals, and financed assassins throughout the world.

Their strategies culminated in proxy wars within and between countries throughout the developing south. Protracted wars that proved terribly costly in more ways than one to people in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

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