Nation contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussion of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments are at TheNation.com.) Cohen characterizes last week’s NATO Summit in Warsaw as another step in the militarization of the new Cold War and indeed just short of a declaration of war against Russia. Indicatively, the meeting issued a special communiqué on Ukraine falsely blaming President Putin for that continuing civil and proxy war, which remains the political epicenter of the US/NATO-Russian expanding conflict. (Much less was said about the Islamic State in Syria or international terrorism generally.) Cohen thinks Moscow commentators are right in worrying that the Warsaw Summit confirmed that the current NATO military buildup on Russia’s borders may be only the beginning of a long-term process and, not unrelated, Kiev may be preparing another military assault on rebel territories in the Donbass. Either possibility could result in war with Russia.
Extreme anti-Russian resolutions at the Warsaw Summit also revealed, according to Cohen, another recurring feature of the preceding 40-year Cold War: an increasingly public struggle between pro-détente “doves” and militaristic “hawks.” Remarkably, prior to and even at the summit, leaders of major NATO countries—Germany, France, and Italy—made clear that they do not regard Russia as an “enemy” or a threat, casting doubt on NATO’s military buildup on its new Eastern Front and the renewal of economic sanctions against Russia. This vital political struggle to end or at least curtail the new Cold War now is under way in Europe.
But even though Washington controls (and largely finances) NATO, no such high-level struggle has broken out in the United States, where the political-media establishment appears to be almost monolithically pro–Cold War. Indeed, Cohen thinks that only two leading American politicians have indicated interest in any kind of détente with Russia: Donald Trump, by a number of elliptical but still undeveloped public statements; and possibly President Obama.
In last week’s broadcast, Cohen and Batchelor discussed reports that Obama wants to achieve some kind of rapprochement with “Putin’s Russia” as part of his foreign-policy legacy instead of the new Cold War. Last week’s evidence was confirmed by reports that Obama had proposed to Putin real US-Russian military cooperation against the Islamic State in Syria. This week there was an additional report that Obama is preparing to propose to Putin new mutual steps in the area of nuclear-arms control, including taking warheads off “high alert” status and adoption of a “no-first-use” doctrine by Washington and Moscow. Both measures would considerably reduce the growing risk of nuclear war.
Unlike Europe’s pro-détente “dove” leaders, Obama has been extremely inconsistent in words and deeds, both on Syria and in regard to the NATO buildup and Ukraine. His speech at the Warsaw Summit, for example, was extremely hawkish, though overshadowed by his need to respond on television to the events in Dallas. (Cohen wonders how many American viewers asked themselves, “What is he doing there, anyway?”) Whether Obama’s irresolute conduct on these vital issues of war or peace is due to his own irresolute nature in foreign policy or to the high-level struggle we know to be under way inside his own administration is not yet clear.
In either case, Cohen concludes, for now Americans must look to Europe to save us from Washington’s escalating Cold War against Russia.