Another Cold War?

The West risks causing one

In a recent exchange on on this article, Zorawar Daulet Singh (who had covered this theme in the November 2007 issue of Pragati) had this to say:

It was and is not in Russian interest to start a Cold War. But the facts are pretty clear, the conflict in Caucasus was precipitated by the US who egged on the Georgians. The US completely miscalculated the Russian response, assuming it would bark but not bite (perhaps not an unreasonable assumption given the last 15 years, where Russia was too weak to respond with a credible use of force). But its been increasingly clear over the last two years or so, that the Kremlin has the economic/political/military coherence to respond with multiple instruments on its near abroad. Clearly, the US didnt take any of this seriously, and kept pushing eastwards.

Russia has now demonstrated that US/NATO post-1991 gains in Eastern Europe have reached their territorial limits in terms of new states that can now enter the western alliance, which is why they demonstrated their resolve using Georgia as an example for Russia’s red lines. (For instance, Ukraine could very well be the next battleground.)

But note what Russian President Dimitri Medvedev is saying—Russia does not wish a cold war, but is ready for it if the US wishes to raise the ante. At the same time, Old Europe will need to determine whether rising instability/conflict on their frontiers is more importan than Russian gas.

Bottom line: the Russians didnt start this Cold War, but will respond in kind if US doesn’t back down. Tangentially, US actions might be motivated in part by atleast the ongoing presidential campaign and the prevailing security establishment’s objectives to buttress the probability of a victory for Republican candidate John McCain. (The assumption is a reheating of the Cold War would diminish Democratic candidate Barack Obama’s chances in November).

6 thoughts on “Another Cold War?”

  1. West’s moves in the Russian near abroad was not stepped up as the 2008 elections were coming due in the US. This has been a constant and continuous push that will now have to come to a stop. If anything, McCain looked foolish and depth-less when he said ‘we are all Georgians today’.

  2. A little skeptical of these claims that Americans would pursue cold war just to advance McCain in the elections. The time frame is too short! From what little I know, at least post invasion, Americans haven’t done anything except signing the missile defense treaty with Poland. Now, Russians can claim that as provocation but the fact of the matter is that their former empire hates and fears them.

    Btw, if pushed in a cold war, can the Russians win it? Now, they don’t even have the satellites!

  3. Rohit,

    The decision to up the ante at this time can be motivated by the presidential elections. The political strategists running the election campaigns might not think about the long-term consequences. But yes, how much the campaign had to do with the policy is an good question.

    Can Russians win the cold war? I don’t think they’ll lose it easily. I’m not sure there will be any winners at all (among the ‘combatants’).

  4. I think the concept of “victory” in a cold war is rather out-of-place, and I wish that the West hadn’t jumped around shouting victory when the Soviet Union collapsed. It is now almost two decades since that momentous event, and how much progress has the “victorious” side made on the issues that it says delivered the victory (Democracy, Free Markets etc.)? One look at the off-springs of Soviet Union should be able to convince anyone that the victory was either short-lived, or not there in the first place.

    I find it difficult to say which side will win a future cold war, or even to identify the sides. The world is not divided between two geopolitical systems any more. Which side would one put China on? India? Europe (if Europe-as-a-whole is able to take a side)? Chinese, Indian and European interests are deeply entrenched on both sides for various reasons.

    So, it would not be a cold war.. but perhaps a game of Chicken between two countries. That game, as you know, is not always won by actual power. Sometimes, it takes sheer guts (or pure lunacy). While I don’t like anthropomorphizing countries, I don’t think Russia would lose a game of Chicken for want of guts/lunacy. At least that’s what they’ve been signaling for a while.

  5. Joshua, Your country is great enough:). Just because somebody implies a connection between American elections and the Caucasus doesn’t make it true. One could easily argue that, Russia instigated Georgia to over reach by cracking down Militarily in South Ossetia.

    And, If the conflict was really engineered, why in early August and not closer to the election date?

    In any case, they [Republican Machine] would have at least waited until after Obama picked a Vice Presidential candidate, thus depriving him the “Foreign Policy” pick response.

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