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The new cold war

Munir AkramAugust 06, 2017

WHEN the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, US President George H. W. Bush and Secretary of
State James Baker promised Moscow that Nato would not be moved closer to Russias new
borders. That promise was broken some years later by the Bill Clinton administration when the
Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland were incorporated into Nato, followed soon after by
Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, previously part of the Soviet Union itself.

George Kennan, the famous X who anonymously penned the 1947 Foreign Affairs article that
provided the blueprint for Americas successful containment of the Soviet Union, was quoted by
Tom Friedman (New York Times, May 2, 1998), as saying: I think it (Nato expansion) is the
beginning of a new cold war. ...the Russians will gradually react ... it is a tragic mistake.

The Russians did react, as Kennan predicted, after Vladimir Putin had consolidated power.
When the attempt was made to bring Georgia into Nato, Moscow sliced off two statelets from
Georgia. When the pro-Russian president of Ukraine was ousted in a political coup, Putin took
over Crimea and supported the ethnic Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Although the US is no longer the global hegemon, it


continues to behave as if it is.
Today, Russia is again a first-rate military power. Its actions in Georgia and Ukraine will not be
reversed. Moscows forces robustly patrol its western land, air and sea frontiers. The
forthcoming large military manoeuvres across Belarus will illustrate Natos vulnerability. Russia
has also reasserted its political, military and diplomatic role in the worlds hot spots.

The cerebral president Barack Obama displayed surprising strategic naivet by simultaneously
provoking Russia and announcing his vaunted pivot to Asia to contain a rising China.

Despite Americas formidable naval power in the Pacific and its alliances with Japan, India and
Australia, the US will be unable to oblige China to relinquish any of the territories or islands it
claims unless it resorts to a full-blown war. Chinas growing military and economic power also
implies that the US will be unable to build reliable alliances to encircle China or block its sea
routes.

In the new Cold War, America is pitted against two great powers which, between them, are
likely to control the Eurasian heartland and thus, if Halford McKinders thesis is right, also
control the world. The US, meanwhile, is mired in the self-created quagmires of Afghanistan,
Iraq and Syria.

Although Donald Trump is a geopolitical novice, realisation of his desire to normalise relations
with Russia (whatever his personal motives) would have reduced Americas great power
adversaries from two to one. The US Congress has scuttled this option by imposing the new
sanctions against Russia.

Trumps effort to secure Chinas cooperation on North Korea was also sensible. The attempt
proved infructuous because the US demand that China apply extreme pressure on Pyongyang
to unilaterally give up its nuclear and missile capabilities was exorbitant and unrealistic. Trumps
tweeted rants against China after the latest North Korean missile tests, US weapons sales to
Taiwan, and renewed freedom of navigation forays in the South China Sea have soured the
prospects of Sino-US cooperation.

The early years of the first Cold War, when the US and the Soviet Union sought to consolidate
their respective spheres of influence and resorted to brinkmanship, were the most dangerous. It
was only after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis that both awoke to the danger of a nuclear
Armageddon and instituted measures to regulate their competition, including nuclear arms
control. Thereafter, the Cold War was fought either in the shadowy world of espionage and
sabotage or through proxies.

The second cold war is in an early and dangerous phase and will be difficult to manage.

First, unlike the first Cold War, it is a trilateral, not bilateral, power struggle. Crisis management
will become even more complicated once other militarily significant states align themselves with
or against the major powers. Indeed, as at the outbreak of the First World War, international
peace and security could be disrupted by the actions of any one of several state and non-state
actors.

Second, the US appears to be seriously overestimating its power. Although the US is no longer
the global hegemon, it continues to behave as if it is. Coercion and force seem to be
Washingtons preferred option to address almost every challenge it confronts. Unless such
belligerence is moderated, a great power conflict could erupt in Eastern Europe or the South
China Sea; and the US could end up in shooting wars with North Korea and Iran. Some have
even advocated US counterterrorist intervention in Pakistan without calculating the
consequences.
Third, the potential for catastrophe has been magnified because, unlike the 1950s, now there
are not two but nine nuclear weapon states. A conventional conflict in Korea or South Asia could
rapidly escalate to the nuclear level.

Fourth, todays conflicts are mostly hybrid wars, encompassing special operations, sabotage
and cyber warfare. As Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Syria, Libya and Yemen have illustrated, it is
easy to start such complex wars but extremely difficult to prevent their escalation and
expansion.

The most tragic consequence of the new cold war will be the erosion of the collective efforts
required to address the emerging existential and global threats: poverty and hunger, climate
change, nuclear war, mass migration, communicable diseases. Nor will it be possible to
collectively exploit the vast opportunities for human progress and wellbeing that technology and
innovation now promise.

In the article mentioned, George Kennan added that what bothered him was how superficial
and ill informed the whole US Senate debate was (on Nato expansion). The same can be said
about recent debates in the US Congress on Russia, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan
and a host of other issues.

The worlds destiny cannot be left to be determined by militarists, political pygmies, or partisan
interests. It is imperative that political leaders who possess a global vision of a shared human
future forge a new Westphalian consensus to circumvent a second cold war, effectively prohibit
the resort to force, control armaments and promote active international cooperation to address
the common challenges that confront mankind.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2017