George Orwell, the author of Animal Farm, the satire on how a dictatorship can slowly but steadily evolve in a democratic society, and 1984, a novel about a future dystopian dictatorship, 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 parceled 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 likely 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 begins to erupt between the West and Russia, and China spars with the US over Taiwan, the South China Sea and its islands.
Of course, it’s more complicated than that. China and the US are, I think, doing nothing much more than annoying each other and the bonds of commerce, finance, deadly virus eradication, global warming and student exchanges bind both the elites and the populaces close together.
To me the idea of a new Cold War with Russia and adding China today is nonsense on stilts. Even more, the original one.
George Kennan, the former US ambassador to Moscow and the famed author of a Foreign Affairs article on how to contain the Soviet Union, always insisted, as most contemporary historians do, that Stalin had no intention of rolling his tanks into Western Europe. Robert Legvold summarises 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 emphasising 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?”
Now Nato’s membership has expanded up to Russia’s border and Nato troops are deployed ever closer. Moreover, the anti-ballistic missile system now being installed to ward off a supposed Iranian attack could be deployed against Russia, and their warheads nuclearized.
Such a deployment would allow a rocket to strike Moscow within four minutes or less of launch.
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, and if encouraged would probably gone ahead with that.
We forget that both Gorbachev and President Vladimir Putin at one time visualized Russia becoming part of the European Union.
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, Dmitri Medvedev, and Putin in reducing the armory of nuclear arms.
Is a new Cold War called for? Definitely not. Just some wise Western leadership. In the last few days Moscow has given the Nato countries an opening. According to the Financial Times, “Russia laid out its ‘red lines’ to Nato and the US last week, which included forthright demands for the western alliance to deny membership to Ukraine, seek consent from Moscow to deploy troops in former communist countries in Europe and avoid military deployments or exercises close to Russia’s borders.”
These are an echo of proposals made fourteen years ago by President Medvedev, which President Barack Obama summarily rejected without any negotiations- a grave mistake. The US and its Nato partners have agreed this time to discuss them. That is mild progress. But Nato must truly bite on these eminently sensible Russian proposals.