Has the cold war concept made a return to the ambiance of international relations two decades after its decline that dominated post-World War II strategic thinking?
Many adopted this view following the verbal exchange between the new US Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The verbal war began with a speech delivered by the US defense secretary on February 8 in which he said that the United States required all kinds of military means, from the smallest to the most sophisticated, in order to ensure its vital security. “We do not know what’s going to develop in places like Russia, China, in North Korea, in Iran and elsewhere,” he added.
Moscow responded promptly through the Russian President’s speech at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy that was held February 9-10 in which he went as far as to call the US foreign policy a unilateral one of excessive authority, dominance and elimination.
One of the main Russian newspapers viewed that President Putin has come to believe that his country must revise its strategic vision from the perspective of a return to the standard of the Cold War’s security system.
The vision that we read about on a wide scale in Western newspapers today is based on some considerations, chief among which are the following:
– Russia’s emergence from the stifling crisis in which it found itself since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The Russian economy gradually recovered to an acceptable level where the national income returned to the 1990 rate. Over the past few years, the country also maintained a continuous economic growth rate of 6% on account of the increased oil and gas prices. Industrial facilities improved qualitatively and their productivity and exportation capacity increased and returned to the international market.
– Under Putin, the country has achieved remarkable political stability strengthened by the consecutive reforms that were intended to rid the administration of corruption, improve the population’s standard of living and salvage the corroding education system. Recent opinion polls show that President Putin’s approval ratings rose remarkably and that, on the Russian public level, he is considered the savior who can bring back Russia’s past glories.
– The current Russian indignation falls under a prominent shift in the international strategic map caused by the American unilateral positions that reject the concept of “international partnership” that shaped the strategic horizon of the post-Cold War phase.
From this perspective, one can refer to the prominent difference in the management of heated international issues between the United States and its European allies and can read the internal political developments in South America that brought popular anti-Washington regimes to power that could form a center of attraction for a southern alliance against US unilateralism.
In spite of these evident considerations, using the term “cold war” to describe the crisis seen by US-Russian relations does not appear to be an accurate approach to understand the new strategic situation and Russia’s active position within this situation.
It is well known that the concept of “cold war” that was the central theme during the age of past ideological-strategic conflict has two fundamental connotations—namely, the notion of the clash of the ideological vision and the notion of equivalence and balance of the elements of power.
Thus what distinguished the Cold War from the known conventional wars was that it was a clash between two dogmatic systems and two ideological references as well as a radical conflict between two camps that shared influence and domination of the world.
It is clear that this bilateral equation has subsided and consequently the cold war concept can no longer provide significant tools to control the stakes of the new world situation.
Also, the “multilateralism” concept that emerged after the end of the Cold War is only a fragile adaptation of the past bilateralism model.
What we can clearly see is Russia’s return as an active international player on the world’s geopolitical map, neither from a traditional nationalistic perspective nor from an ideological position as was the case during the Cold War, but based on a realistic vision of its vital interests that centers on a fixed determinant, that is, to ensure an active role and strong presence in the Eurasian space in which it forms a pivotal balancing power.
Perhaps the biggest mistake in the foreign policy of the current US administration is seeking to eliminate the Russian role from this space, particularly after the wars in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq, which, contrary to the Americans expectations, brought back Russia to the international map.