Nation Contributing Editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fourth year, are at TheNation.com.)
Why, unlike during the preceding 45-year Cold War, is there no significant American mainstream opposition to the new (and more dangerous) one? Cohen poses this question as a kind of paradox for tonight’s discussion and formulates it as follows:
During the preceding Cold war, especially from the late 1960s through the 1980s, there were many anti–Cold War, or pro-détente, voices in the American political-media mainstream. This was the case in Congress, the White House, in the most influential print and broadcast media outlets, at universities and think tanks, at the grassroots level, in elections—and even in major US corporations. (CEOs founded the original American Committee for East-West Accord decades ago, which Cohen and others recreated not long ago. See eastwestaccord.com.) That is, public discussion and debate about US relations with Russia were the norm during the preceding Cold War, as befits a democracy. As an example, Cohen recalls that the first President George Bush convened at Camp David, in November 1989, virtually his entire national-security team to attend a debate between Cohen, then at Princeton, and Harvard professor Richard Pipes on the pressing issue of whether détente with the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev should be expanded or reversed.
Today’s Cold War is even more dangerous in important ways. Its epicenter is not in faraway Berlin but directly on Russia’s borders, in Ukraine and the Baltic states. Mutually restraining rules of conduct, developed after the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, scarcely exist, as illustrated by ongoing tit-for-tat sanctions that could lead to a full rupture in diplomatic relations between the world’s two nuclear superpowers. Cooperative relations and institutions nourished over decades are unraveling or already nullified. A renewed nuclear-arms race, once thought relegated to the past by Reagan and Gorbachev, is already under way, along with provocative conventional-arms maneuvers on both sides. Today’s Kremlin leader is demonized irrationally in the United States in ways that Soviet leaders were not. And, of course, neither Russia nor its political ruling class is any longer Communist but instead professed capitalists and, mostly, religious believers.
And yet, today there is no significant anti–Cold War opposition in mainstream American politics—few, if any, such voices in Congress, in the most influential newspapers or on leading television/radio broadcasts, in either major political party, at universities or most Washington think tanks. Even the once large-scale, well-organized grassroots anti-nuke movement that animated pro-détente politics in regional elections has all but vanished.