By Jonathan Power*
George Orwell, the author of “Animal Farm” and “1984”, was the first person to use the phrase “Cold War” in a 1945 newspaper article, written just after the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
He argued that “the surface of the earth is being parcelled off into three great empires, each self-contained and cut off from contact with the outer world, and each ruled, under one disguise or another, by a self-elected oligarchy. He counted the US and Western Europe as one, the Soviet Union as the second and China as the third.
He concluded that, “the atomic bomb is likeliest to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a peace that is no peace”.
I think he got it nearly right—or so it seems as a new Cold War erupts between the West and Russia, and China spars with the US over the South China Sea, its islands and Taiwan.
In reality, it’s more complicated than that. China and Russia have a fair relationship. China and the US are perhaps doing nothing much more than annoying each other and the bonds of commerce and student exchanges still bind both the elites, and the populaces close together.
To me a new Cold War is unnecessary nonsense on stilts. Even more the original one.
George Kennan, the former US ambassador to Moscow and the author of how to contain the Soviet Union, always insisted that Stalin had no intention of rolling his tanks into Western Europe. Most modern historians agree. So do the now opened Soviet archives.
Robert Legvold summarizes Kennan’s views in his interesting book, “Cold War”, “The threat the Soviet Union posed was political, a threat accentuated by these countries’ vulnerability to Soviet subversion because of their economic frailty and political instability—a threat requiring a political and economic response, not a military one”.
In 1948 Kennan wrote, as he observed the creation of NATO, “Why did they [Western leaders] wish to divert attention from a thoroughly justified and promising program of economic recovery by emphasizing a danger which did not actually exist but which might be brought into existence by too much discussion of the military balance and by the ostentatious stimulation of military rivalry?”
It was Kennan, backed by people like Robert McNamara, (who was the Secretary of Defence under both presidents Kennedy and Johnson and a committed bomber in the Vietnam war) who told President Bill Clinton that he was expanding NATO after the end of the Cold War in defiance of many promises to President Mikhail Gorbachev made by both US and European leaders and that this was the worst of all possible mistakes.
Now NATO’s membership has expanded up to Russia’s border and NATO troops are deployed closer to Russia than agreed with Gorbachev. This has provoked the dastardly Russian invasion and the Ukrainian war.
We forget that Russia has supported the US in Afghanistan and let American war materials be carried on its railways. We forget that Putin was the first to call President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attack. We forget that Putin seriously considered asking NATO for membership.
We forget that both Gorbachev and Putin at one time visualized Russia becoming part of the EU. We forget that Russia returned to being a Christian-inspired nation that also gave religious freedom to Islam and others. We forget the time under President Boris Yeltsin when he pushed hard to remove the barriers to human rights.
We forget the progress made under Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Medvedev and Putin in reducing the armoury of nuclear arms. With the Americans they have reduced stockpiles from 70,000 to 16,300. This ended the US-Russian race between offensive and defensive strategic nuclear programs. Russia with the US has eliminated whole categories of weapons. They have worked together securing nuclear weapons and materials in Russia.
We forget when Dimitri Medvedev was president, he published in 2008 a well thought out multi-dimensional plan to enhance European security. Legvold says, “The US and Europe brushed it aside”. In Ukraine the US and EU self-defeatingly walked away from a compromise arrangement they had worked out with President Victor Yanukovych that could have avoided further political upheaval.
Rodric Braithwaite, the former UK ambassador to Russia, wrote in his book, “For a decade Westerners lectured Moscow where its real interests lay, and expected it to follow where the West led. They rarely listened to what the Russians said in response. Russian concerns seemed unimportant, misguided or unacceptable”. The West did not listen to Russian fears on the expansion of NATO. Nor did it listen to Russian anger at US plans to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO.
Is a new Cold War called for? Definitely not.
What is needed is just some wise Western leadership on how to treat Russia. We haven’t had it since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher’s time. Even today former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, the wise old man of foreign policy (he is 100), is not listened to.
Indeed, the mainstream media only occasionally report his conciliatory and sensible thoughts on the Ukraine war. Like the late Zbigniew Brzezinski, the second great foreign policy thinker, he has advocated the “Finlandisation” of Ukraine, an excellent compromise.
If we want to head for Orwell’s awful dénouement, we should carry on in the direction we are. If not, we should wake up and turn our policies towards Russia right around.
* Jonathan Power was for 17 years a foreign affairs columnist and commentator for the International Herald Tribune, now the New York Times. He has also written dozens of columns for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times. He is the European who has appeared most on the opinion pages of these papers.