Saturday, June 02, 2007

The return of the Cold War

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Escalation revisited:

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to target Europe with missiles, including potentially nuclear weapons, in a dramatic escalation of his Cold War-style showdown with the United States.

Mr. Putin, in an interview at his country residence outside Moscow, said he considers U.S. plans to build an eastern European anti-missile site to shoot down Iranian missiles a provocation aimed at Russia.

Asked what he might do to retaliate, he said he would return Russia to the Cold War status where missiles were aimed at European targets.

"It is obvious that if part of the strategic nuclear potential of the United States is located in Europe, and according to our military experts will be threatening us, we will have to respond," he said.

"What kind of steps are we going to take in response? Of course, we are going to get new targets in Europe."

He suggested that this could include powerful nuclear-capable weapons.

I am not one to defend Putin. He has essentially turned into Vladimir the Terrible, suppressing dissent and opposition to his essentially tyrannical rule and otherwise preventing liberty and democracy from taking hold in Russia.

And I will certainly not defend him here.

But he is right that the U.S. bears much of the responsibility here. The U.S. -- at least the U.S. according to the neocons and their allies -- may believe in the concept of and project for benevolent American global hegemony, but much of the rest of the world is troubled by what it sees as America's malevolent neo-colonial aims -- what else is it to make of U.S. policy towards the Middle East, and particularly the Iraq War and its support for friendly dictators? It is not prepared to view American power as quintessentially benevolent, and rightly so. Whatever the universalist rhetoric, U.S. power supports U.S. national interests -- and this means not so much the extension of liberty and democracy around the world as the establishment of markets and, in this age of endless war on terror, as exploited by Bush and his allies, the establishment of an American military footprint, and a show of American military power, wherever possible.

The U.S. may not be targeting Russia, of course. Its primary focus now remains the Middle East, and particularly Iran. But Putin is right to concern himself with the extension of America's military presence more generally. Is the rest of the world -- is Russia, which was America's chief enemy and rival for so long -- simply to trust that the U.S. will act benevolently? Is it simply to trust that the U.S. will not seek to extend its military presence even further, that it won't seek to establish an even more prominent footprint? If it's Iran today, according to Putin's reasoning, it could be Russia tomorrow. And why not? The U.S. doesn't ask anyone's permission to pick its enemies. It doesn't ask for approval to act. It just does, according to its own national interests, or at least according to the reigning perceptions of its own national interests.

All Putin wants is balance, and who can blame him? The unbridled hegemony of the United States of America hardly inspires confidence or good feelings in Moscow or anywhere else.

If a second Cold War descends over Europe, or over the world generally, it will very much be a consequence of the misguided policies of the United States.

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