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Is this a new cold war?

Written By: - Date published: 4:10 pm, April 11th, 2018 - 17 comments
Categories: China, Europe, Globalisation, International, uk politics, us politics, war - Tags:

It’s really easy to get cranky right now and believe the world is retreating into to a sad Cold War binary in which Russia and its allies are always in high tension with the United States and its allies. A new Cold War.

Well there’s Russia, and spies, and the United States, and it feels tense, right? Very Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

For those of you 40 and over with your Frankie Say No t-shirts, you will recall that as a time when there were two great empires and their vassal states, and two leaders, against whom one side was Good and one side was Evil. Depending on your politics, or subscription to the Readers Digest.

At its peak, the Cold War was a global system of countries centred on the United States and the Soviet Union. They both had client states and influence – here’s the CIA’s view of a few. And here’s how it worked in Chile.

While it didn’t determine everything that was going in global world affairs, it influenced most of it. At its core was an ideological contest between capitalism and socialism that had been going throughout the twentieth century. It was a win/lose binary, neither seeing compromise with the other. It was intense, and likely to kill us all.

Many echoes of the Cold War are with us and will be for a while. And there’s no doubt as to President Putin’s ideological lineage. While now he works is oligarchs more efficiently than Cyrus The Great, Putin was a spy for the Soviet Union.

But as large countries rise and fall, great-power tensions occur. It happens, and doesn’t need the terminological laziness applied from seventy years ago. There’s nothing like the bread-lift to Templehof,

rolling of the communists in Italian and French elections,


the Cuban Missile Crisis between Kennedy and Khruschev,

or the Prague Spring

and its crushing –

no it’s weirder and it’s different.

What has also changed is the rise of China’s economy and the strengthening of its state with a pretty clear and open grand strategy, the shift of the United States into incoherence with little executive control over its grossly distended military, the destabilisation of Europe, the rise of new and great trade pact blocs,

and the control of most of the world’s assets by even fewer corporations to the extent that states are less and less relevant to world affairs unless the state steers those companies directly or indirectly.

Today’s international affairs are in large part murky and challenging, with Good and Bad binaries gone. But they are a far cry from Cold War absolutes. Calling 21st century great-power tensions a new Cold War just obscures more than it reveals. It’s a terminological laziness. Although many echoes and remnants of the Cold War are still with us, the determinants and conduct of international affairs have changed and are changing fast.

The politics of oil is changing fast.

The politics of trade and infrastructure throughout all countries surrounding China is changing.

The moral certainties within developed-nation politics are splintering very fast. A continued rise in tolerant states with strong rights and redistributive systems has turned into a retreat. The capacity to even be a citizen is far more uneven globally and not getting better.

All that is solid has melted into air. This is not the new Cold War.

17 comments on “Is this a new cold war? ”

  1. Draco T Bastard 1

    and the control of most of the world’s assets by even fewer corporations to the extent that states are less and less relevant to world affairs unless the state steers those companies directly or indirectly.

    Which means that, more now than ever, we need the state. The corporations have spent decades trying to undermine it and/or corrupt it but cannot allow them to do so.

    The state is us, the people. Allowing the state, and thus us, to become irrelevant is the same as allowing democracy to fall.

    All that is solid has melted into air.

    That’s actually wrong. It should be: All that was believed to be solid is melting away into the mists like the delusion it was and is.

    Capitalism is a failure.

  2. Bill 2

    All that is solid has melted into air. This is not the new Cold War.

    Yup. Whatever else went with it, there was a “certainty” in that thar olde bi-polar world.

    But now with one pole well and truly decaying off into the ground while the other waves around in the breeze, it’s centre eroded and it’s foundations gently crumbling …I suppose there’s a certainty in that.

    Bit of a bugger that those perched atop it are armed to the gunnels, arrogant, stupid and paranoid though.

    Interesting times.

  3. Stuart Munro 3

    One view of the cold war was as a great contest of ideas and governing systems. Whatever else, the soviet system was not an oil painting – for all their flaws the western democracies were more effective at delivering public goods.

    If a new hegemonic standoff is in the wings, the nature of the parties is radically different. The ex-soviet state has ditched the baggage of pretending to Marxist or any other principles. US democracy has reached the point of farce under the erosions of corporate corruption and Dahlian polyarchy.

    So dysfunctional is contemporary US politics that whatever it is that is unfolding in the Middle East looks more to be directed on one side by Israel and the arms lobby, with congress too compromised to have any meaningful input.

    It may not be too bad from half a world away, if the major combatants get into a fracas as gentil as an altercation in Aussie league, that’s usually seen as win win. Except for the poor souls trying to scrape out a living in a dry land made harsher by climate change.

  4. AsleepWhileWalking 4

    Cold war is better than this


  5. Kaya3 5

    Where is the comment re the total bullshit we are being spun daily on our msm? Including RNZ? It is pathetic. Questions are screaming to be asked but nobody is asking them. The Skripal case, rapidly proving to be an complete joke and a false flag. The “chemical” attack. It never happened. The screamingly obvious question of why would Assad do the one thing to prevent him from winning the war hasn’t been asked. Why? Are our media talking heads under instructions not to ask awkward questions about our global “friends” or are they just stupid? Either way it is a shocking state of affairs.

    The world is heading towards thermonuclear destruction and nobody in NZ is talking about it. Go figure.

    Here is former UK Ambassador to Syria Peter Ford explaining the extent of the danger to yet another media moron who would make a chocolate fish appear gifted in the intelligence department. NZ media is no better.


  6. SPC 6

    We are in an age of nationalist populism.

    Imagine what would happen if we got into another GFC 11 without the resort to taxpayer repaid debt (as national debt is too high) to bail out the banks.

    A big recession to come and a real trade war/economic survivialism, or a reform capitalism as we know it to get out of it. Which would the elite choose? Or have they already chosen …


  7. mauī 7

    No cold war eh?

    The Stanford mathematician William J. Perry was a strategic nuclear advisor to U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and then he became U.S. Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton.

    He stated in a speech on November 28th at the National Cathedral in Washington DC, that “inexplicably to me, we’re recreating the geopolitical hostility of the Cold War, and we’re rebuilding the nuclear dangers,” and he went so far as to make clear why “I believe that the likelihood of some sort of a nuclear catastrophe today is actually greater than it was during the Cold War.”


    Edit – Then you just have to ignore that the US killed Russian citizens in Syria recently, the Russian fighter being shot down in Syria, the Russians stealing the American election, the whole Ukraine situation on Russia’s doorstep, the Skirpal scenario…

    Sheesh, we should be concerned.

    • Ed 7.1

      We should be very concerned.
      Indeed this is arguable that this is worse than the cold war.

      Kaya3’s superb post above shows what independent experts think.
      Peter Ford’s words should have us very worried.
      You can also hear him being interviewed on George Galloway’s show on 10.4.18 – where he makes a case for this being as dangerous as the cold war.

  8. In Vino 8

    What is so strange? To my mind (that of an early baby-boomer) as soon as I learned enough of our history, I saw it as self-evident: that any hegemonic world power had the right to create an external enemy which would provide scare stories and justification for big military spending, as well the purging of internal enemies like Reds under the Bed…
    Isis and Terrorism no longer suffice.
    So the ogre of Russia has to be raised again. But Russia is not Communist any more (automatic fear) so we need some atrocity stories as well.
    Call me cynical, and I will call you naïve.

  9. McFlock 9

    Interesting times, indeed.

    The big difference between now and the Cold War is that there are more regional powers nudging just behind the two top-tier heavies, which are the US and China.

    Russia is basically a tier2 regional power with geostrategic legacy equipment – the level of India (actually the Indians are probably slightly ahead of Russia). The Soviet Union was elevated by its Eastern Bloc resources, russia lags well behind that.

    China is looking to expand its sphere of influence and its maritime security within that sphere, but it’s also quickly addressing its biggest weakness, which is the limited transit points into and out of mainland China. Essentially, China currently/recently could be throttled simply by controlling the access to the South China Sea etc (think a seige of a billion and a half people). Now China has routes to Pakistan and Russia, which expands its ability to pursue a longer term confrontation.

    But then the US is in a top-down rot, and has been for a couple of decades.

    I reckon the most likely candidates for nuke-swapping are India and Pakistan, or Trump anywhere. Russia, the rest of the West, China, have all done this before and are generally rational actors with rational priorities. Trump’s a mad fool, and India and Pakistan might get swept along by their populace and mutual fear and loathing.

  10. Cold Hard Truth 10

    The reality is Western capitalism is a failure. By contrast China Russia and India are actually in a good position. Unlike the US which has its dollar pegged to oil, I think since 71, all the other three have strong gold reserves and in Russia’s case a strong base of natural resources, gas, etc.

    The US is a failing empire so its using rather sad cold war tactic’s to try destabilise these nations so they can either exploit them or weaken them gaining the upper hand economically. The CP-TPP is a big part of this strategy as is NATO and the attacks on nations in the region such as Syria.

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