The new Cold War: Thinking the unthinkable in the age of nationalism

Nearly 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War the rivalry among great powers and the rise of nationalism is leading the world again to the brink of nuclear devastation

The new Cold War: Thinking the unthinkable in the age of nationalism
Russia's President Vladimir Putin visits the National Defence Control Centre (NDCC) to oversee the test of a new Russian hypersonic missile system called Avangard, in Moscow, Russia - Photo: Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
English 11/01/2019 17:22 Gabriel Moyssen Mexico City Actualizada 17:49

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Nearly 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War—followed by a brief period of United States hegemony—the rivalry among great powers and the rise of nationalism is leading the world again to the brink of nuclear devastation.

This time, the rivalry lacks the ideological component of yore and, according to each country’s interpretation of capitalism, no one is questioning the benefits of markets and trade even in officially communist China.

On the contrary, the risk of war is driven by fierce inter-capitalist competition for raw materials and strategic positions more akin to the 1930s world.

Take for instance, as we are talking about the new breed of nationalism and the crisis of multilateral institutions, from the United Nations and the European Union to the climate change agreements, the trade negotiations undertook this week between China and the U.S. in Beijing.

These talks, aimed to end a serious commercial war, were preceded by threats which remarked the true nature of the quest for global hegemony confronting a declining powerthe U.S.—and a rising powerChina—just as it happened 90 years ago with Britain, France, Germany, the U.S., and Japan.

Rear Adm. Lou Yuan, Deputy Head of the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, declared last month that sinking one U.S. Navy aircraft carrier could kill 5,000 service members.

“What the United States fears the most is taking casualties. We’ll see how frightened America is,” he said.

Lou stressed that bilateral tensions were “definitely not simply friction over economics and trade,” yet rather over a “prime strategic issue.”

Previously, on November, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence sabotaged the Asia Pacific Economic Forum (APEC) summit in Singapore which for the first time in 29 years did not issue a final communiqué, expressing that China had to “change its ways” on alleged “intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, restricted access to Chinese markets, disrespect for international rules, efforts to limit freedom of navigation, and Chinese Communist Party interference in the politics of Western countries.”

Pence also attacked China’s Belt and Road Initiative—an infrastructure strategy integrating Beijing more closely across the Eurasian landmass—, saying that “the U.S. offers a better option. We don’t drown our partners in a sea of debt, we don’t coerce, or compromise your independence. We don’t offer a constricting belt and a one-way road.”

Technology giant

In geo-strategic terms, apart from the trade disputes symbolized by the detention in Canada of Meng Wanzhou, Top Executive of the technology giant Huawei, Taiwan, the South China Sea, and North Korea are the hotspots of the challenge between both countries.

Retired Lt. General Ben Hodges, former U.S. Commander in Europe, told the Warsaw Security Forum that Washington has “to deal with the Chinese threat” in the Pacific.

“The United States needs a very strong European pillar. I think in 15 years—it’s not inevitable—but it is a very strong likelihood that we will be at war with China.”

However, most experts believe that the danger of war is higher in the hot spots between Russia and the U.S.

A low-intensity conflict is taking place in Ukraine, considered with the Caucasus the “soft belly” of the former Soviet Union, and the harsh allied sanctions imposed against Moscow are the best proof that the supposed Kremlin interference in the elections backing Donald Trump has been used by the “resistance” to curb the real estate tycoon.

The end of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought a golden opportunity for Washington to impose a “new world order” (as George H.W. Bush announced) ranging from Iraq to the Baltic Sea.

Promoting “color revolutions” with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the U.S. managed to install in the former Soviet republics allied regimes and military bases encircling Russia.

The case of Ukraine, in particular, was seen by Moscow as an existential threat, similar to the hypothetical establishment of Russian outposts in the Mexican or the Canadian border with the U.S.

A crossroad of Western and Orthodox cultures, Ukraine lost the vital Crimea peninsula in the Black Sea, following a war between the pro-NATO Kiev government and the ethnic Russian Eastern separatists supported by Moscow in 2014.

A key ingredient of the U.S.-Russia hostility is the growing risk of nuclear war.

The unilateral withdrawal of weapons control treaties as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) decided by Washington has been responded by the Kremlin with the deployment of a new generation of arms such as the hypersonic Avangard missile, the intercontinental ballistic missile Sarmat, nuclear-powered cruise missiles, the air-launched ballistic missile Kinzhal, drone torpedoes, and laser weapons.

John Hyten, Head of the U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Forces Committee in March that the Pentagon had no defense that could prevent the use of such weapons against it.

Thinking the unthinkable” is now the justification for an arms race in which the White House is planning to spend USD $1.7 trillion to modernize its nuclear arsenal.

A report published in November by the National Defense Strategy Commision said that the “security and wellbeing of the U.S. are at greater risk than at any time in decades,” urging Washington to increase its military spending and prepare for two simultaneous conflicts.

“A two-war force sizing construct makes more strategic sense today than at any previous point in the post-Cold War era,” it recommended.

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen