Mar 8, 2014
Avoiding Another Cold War
Posted on Feb 17, 2009
By Scott Ritter
“If it’s not just words, if they are transformed into practical policy, we will respond accordingly, and our American partners will immediately feel that.”
These are the words of Russia’s strongman prime minister, Vladimir Putin, spoken during a program nationally televised in Russia shortly after Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election. Putin was responding to a question about whether he thought U.S.-Russian tensions would ease under new American leadership. Putin, and his successor as Russia’s president, Dmitri Medvedev, had spent the past few years in an increasingly harsh verbal sparring match with the administration of George W. Bush. Although President Bush had once famously stated that when he looked into Putin’s eyes he could “see his soul,” the warm personal relationship between the two men froze over as the United States undertook actions Russia perceived as strategic maneuvering. Russia itself appeared to deviate from the path of Western-style democracy and free trade, which hard-liners in the Bush administration had touted as the most compelling evidence that the United States had in fact won the Cold War. Putin’s incremental return to authoritarianism was reminiscent of the former Soviet Union, complete with an increasingly centralized economy.
Russia felt threatened by what it saw as moves designed to contain Moscow: the withdrawal of the United States from the anti-ballistic missile treaty; an increased focus on the need for a missile defense shield deployed in Europe (ostensibly to counter any missile threat emerging from Iran); the aggressive expansion of NATO right up to the borders of Russia (absorbing all of the former Warsaw Pact nations, as well as several former Soviet republics in the Baltic). These actions, coupled with the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the U.S.-NATO occupation of Afghanistan, which gave the U.S. military access to bases in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, created an image of an expanding NATO led by an increasingly hegemonic and militaristic America.
In an effort to stop the expansion of U.S. power and influence in regions close to Russia, Moscow got together with its old arch-rival, China, and entered into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). In cooperation with four former Soviet Central Asian republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), Russia and China put in place the mechanism for Eurasian geopolitical coordination, with a strong military component, which would keep in check not only the forces of Islamic terrorism but also America and NATO. The Bush administration at first played scant attention to this new organization, but starting in 2006 had no choice but to stand up and take notice when the SCO held a meeting with India, Pakistan and Iran in attendance as observers. Since that time, the SCO has become a major regional force which has attracted the attention of nations such as Afghanistan (even under a U.S.-led occupation) and New Zealand, a longtime U.S.-NATO ally. Central Asian nations such as Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, which had previously agreed to allow the U.S. military access to its air bases, are no longer laying out the welcoming mat, and all U.S. forces are expected to leave these bases soon.
Rather than re-examining the cause-effect nature of U.S. actions and Russian counteractions, and formulating a new strategy to deal with a resurgent Russia in a manner that would reduce friction, the Bush administration instead announced its intention to deploy a ballistic missile shield, operating out of the territory of former Warsaw Pact members Poland and the Czech Republic. Ostensibly intended to deal with the emerging threat of long-range Iranian missiles targeting Europe, the missile defense shield was viewed by Russia as a dangerous escalation of the military threat posed by NATO. With a missile shield in place to defend against any surviving retaliatory capability, the United States and NATO could theoretically conduct a pre-emptive military strike against Russian targets. Russia’s protestations over this planned deployment fell on deaf ears.
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