The New Cold War

by Michael Pasternak (ME ’18)

We’re currently at a crossroads, so it’s
important that we stay aware of the situation.

Last week, I briefly described the overall goal of American foreign policy, which as a refresher, is to guarantee stability of our trade and alliances in order to maximize the security and economic prosperity of the United States. In modern times, that’s mostly been driven by an unprecedented global military presence, which has all but eliminated historical norms of piracy and international conflict with sheer force. The world is now our sphere of influence. We consider any disruption to business as usual—economic growth and military stability—as a direct threat to the US.

Meanwhile, Russia has other plans. The foreign policy goals of Russia appear to be to consolidate a buffer of former Soviet satellite states and to keep what is a crumbling domestic and economic situation together via an external enemy. Putin’s largely successful tactic has been two-pronged.

First, he shores up public support with comprehensive propaganda efforts, promoting nationalism and using state run media to spread stories of American involvement in the Russian sphere of influence. For example, it’s the common belief in Russia that America caused the Euromaidan coup which ultimately lead to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. This allowed Putin to maintain a massive amount of popularity within Russia despite an abysmal economic outlook and performance.

The second part of his strategy is to create buffer zones from chunks of independent post-Soviet states, like Georgia and Ukraine, and expand Russia’s Middle Eastern influence from footholds in Syria and Iran. Putin has been mostly opportunistic, he waits for chaos to break out, then moves in with the excuse that he is restoring order—as with Assad’s regime in Syria—and protecting Russian people and interests—as in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. (It’s important to note that some of the Russian populations in Eastern Europe were artificially created by the USSR by forcibly relocating local populations further into Russia.)

America has, for nearly a full century, been containing Russia militarily, as it is realistically still the most dangerous power to face in a conventional or—god forbid—nuclear war. Russia has only recently been able to break that containment because America has been so mired in other military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Now the Cold War is creeping back into the geopolitical balance, and the US is faced with Russia as a real threat.

There are a number of schools of thought on exactly how to address the Russian threat. Hillary Clinton is in the war hawk group, who believes only a strongman, aggressive military response will succeed in scaring Russia back into its shell. She proposes a no-fly zone over Syria which would essentially call on Russia to either retreat from Syria as Assad’s air force or face confrontation with US forces. The potential issue is that if Putin calls the no-fly zone as a bluff and his planes are shot down, he has almost no choice but to start a real war against America for control of Syria, which could very well escalate to a nuclear conflict if both countries aren’t careful.

Trump appears to want to befriend Russia and work with them to “defeat ISIS.” The thing is, Russia isn’t fighting ISIS, they’re fighting American-backed anti-Assad rebels. Russia doesn’t care about ISIS; they are relatively unlikely to attack Russia and they are creating enough chaos for Russia to have breathing room globally. So, basically, Trump isn’t even aware of the problem, much less capable of proposing a cogent solution. He also appears to believe that no one in America is aware of the concept of a surprise attack—which is just wrong.

The third school is the one that wants to imitate the winning conditions of the Cold War. We could increase sanctions on Russia and by strong-arming our allies isolate Russia economically until Putin is forced out. That strategy would likely devastate Russia for years to come and economically hurt the world quite a bit but perhaps less than letting Russia off the leash.

We’re currently at a crossroads, so it’s important that we stay aware of the situation and support politicians who are aware of the threat and propose good solutions. For fellow liberals, that solution is likely the third. It will lead to minimal loss of life and an increase in American approval overseas—especially since Russia is one of the few countries more hated than America across the world. ◊

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