EDITOR’S NOTE: This article–originally published in the July 10, 2006, issue of The Nation–appears with a new introduction by the author restating his analyses and arguments in the context of recent developments.
Two reactions to this article were particularly noteworthy when it first appeared in The Nation almost exactly one year ago. Judging by activity on the magazine’s website and by responses sent to me personally, it was very widely read and discussed both in the United States and in Russia, where it was quickly translated on a Russian-language site. And, unlike most Russian commentators, almost every American specialist who reacted to the article, directly or indirectly, adamantly disputed my thesis that US-Russian relations had deteriorated so badly they should now be understood as a new cold war–or possibly as a continuation of the old one.
Developments during the last year have amply confirmed that thesis. Several examples could be cited, but two should be enough. The increasingly belligerent charges and counter-charges by officials and in the media on both sides, “Cold-War-style rhetoric and threats,” as the Associated Press recently reported, read like a replay of the American-Soviet discourse of the 1970s and early 1980s. And the unfolding conflict over US plans to build missile defense components near post-Soviet Russia, in Poland and the Czech Republic, threatens to reintroduce a dangerous military feature of that cold-war era in Europe.
Nonetheless, most American officials, journalists and academics, unwilling perhaps to confront their unwise policies and mistaken analyses since the Soviet Union ended in 1991, continue to deny the cold-war nature of today’s relationship with Russia. A resident expert at the Council on Foreign Relations tells us, for example, that “the situation today is nothing like the Cold War times,” while another think-tank specialist, testifying to Congress, can “see no prospect of a new Cold War.”
Indeed, many commentators even insist that cold war is no longer possible because today’s US-Russian conflicts are not global, ideological or clashes between two different systems; because post-Soviet Russia is too weak to wage such a struggle; and because of the avowed personal “friendship” between Presidents Bush and Putin. They seem unaware that the last cold war began regionally, in Central and Eastern Europe; that present-day antagonisms between Washington’s “democracy-promotion” policies and Moscow’s self-described “sovereign democracy” have become intensely ideological; that Russia’s new, non-Communist system is scarcely like the American one; that Russia is well situated, as I explained in the article, to compete in a new cold war whose front lines run through the former Soviet territories, from Ukraine and Georgia to Central Asia; and that there was also, back in the cold-war 1970s, a Nixon-Brezhnev “friendship.”