Cold War — This time in Asia
ASIA these days is in focus mainly because of two factors — the spectacular rise of China as the mighty global economic power house and its rising influence — both economic and political in the neighbourhood and also in Africa and other regions.
After the Cold War, many in the United States believed democracy was fait accompli around the world. Thirty years later, it is on shaky ground.
The US allies such as Hungary, Poland and Ukraine are sliding into authoritarianism. In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, dreams of economic and social stability are finding renewed purchase over more liberal values.
The Cold War: “a period of intense antagonism between the two superpowers — the United States and the Soviet Union” which lasted from 1945-1991 seems to be back — this time in Asia.
Although the two sides never directly fought each other, the war was waged for spheres of influence around the world, through proxy wars.
The two major proxy wars during the Cold War became the fourth and fifth wars, being Vietnam and Korea respectively, with the highest American casualties — only behind the Civil War, and both World Wars.
For close to 20 years after the collapse of the [erstwhile] Soviet Union, the international order organized under the USSR’s former rival, the United States. Under this system, US interests around the world were relatively unchallenged.
The rising great powers of China and Russia have since challenged the US hegemony, actively seeking to limit the power of the US.
In this power struggle, Russia is playing an increasingly aggressive role in challenging the US supremacy.
The Cold War is back and very much alive. The sleeping bear that is Russia is only beginning to wake from its hibernation to once again challenge the United States.
Analyzing the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, the diplomatic actions taken by the United States and Russia, and the economic threats posed by each side, compare the current state of tension between the two sides to that of the Cold War era.
There is a new Cold War paradigm between the United States (its Western European allies) and Russia with China as global economic power, challenging the dominance of the US since the end of World War-II. The relationship of these military, diplomatic and economic actions taken by both sides intertwine.
Each action is influenced by the others and vice-versa, resulting in retaliatory responses by the opposing side. The Ukraine and Syria have become proxy conflicts for regional influence.
These conflicts have resulted in ramifications for both sides, simultaneously escalating with rising tension and emotions.
The United States-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), quickly expanded its influence into the (former) Soviet states in Eastern Europe.
By 1994, NATO extended invitations to all former Soviet states to participate in ‘Partnership for Peace.’ This programme enabled the States to make their military structure compatible with NATO.
The Partnership for Peace programme that intended to start integrating the (former) Soviet satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe with the West directly violating an agreement made with the Kremlin in 1990.
There were many critics of the plan because of this. They feared that the expansion would not only undermine the non-proliferation agreement in Russia but would also undermine NATO’s main purpose: guaranteeing intervention in member countries from other NATO members in relation to security threats.
Nonetheless, at the direction of the United States, NATO not only expanded into Central Europe but was as bold as to enter into States that bordered Russia, such as Latvia and Lithuania.
In the 1994 Budapest Memorandums on Security Assurances was signed, giving national security assurances to Ukraine from the United States and the United Kingdom in exchange for the acceptance of the non-proliferation agreements.
From the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 until the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2010, the United States stood as the unchallenged hegemonic power in the global order. The United States’ sphere of influence spread across the world.
Their foreign policy and foreign interests dictated intervention policies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As of 2010, the United States spent more on military “than the next top 14 countries combined.” The Arab Spring marked the end of US hegemony as the great powers of China and Russia began to align and grow.
The turmoil brought by several revolutions and conflicts ended the reign of strong handed US allies in the states of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. The importance of the Arab Spring on US influence in the region was profound. The US no longer has the prestige and resources to dominate Middle East affairs.
The framework of great power competition and the rhetoric of the ‘China challenge’ has taken root throughout US policy circles, but do America’s allies view China in the same light? Perhaps the real “China challenge” is not China itself, but the struggles the US may face in rallying its allies to its side. China’s rapid economic growth has challenged America’s dominant influence throughout East Asia.
As the U.S. and China struggle to avoid a “new Cold War,” smaller nations are forced to straddle growing fault lines between the two great powers. At stake in the US-China relations is contest for influence in East Asia and this fuels cold war.
Events following the historic Cold War alienated and antagonized Russian society. Under the ironclad rule of Vladimir Putin, Russia has dug its way out of its metaphorical hole, aligning itself with the rising powers in the East, directly challenging US hegemony.
Although leaders of both factions publicly deny the existence of this growing power struggle, the course of action taken by both parties show otherwise.
The Western diplomatic alliances are clear indicators of the international power struggle, as the West clings to its waning international influence.
The fight for regional significance in the Middle East and Ukraine also illustrates this power struggle in the reshaping international order. Finally, the diplomatic and economic actions of both sides reveal the power struggle.
The culmination of all of these factors proves the existence of the New Cold War between the East and West — Russia and the United States and China.
The West currently established as the hegemonic military alliance of the US led-NATO, and the latter being the alignment of the rising economic superpowers in Asia.
In pursuing the current course of action, the consequences of this looming conflict would be astronomical for both sides.
Under this trajectory, the threat of nuclear war returns, as with an atmosphere of constant fear in the coined phrase, ‘mutually assured destruction’. Both sides are currently unwilling to back down.
Both sides hold equal responsibility for this conflict: Russian aggression and the antagonism of NATO and the US.
But China is quietly and steadily cultivating its role as a reliable and trustworthy partner in Asia while perusing a policy of non-interference in other countries’ affairs and providing economic help and assistance in the region to increase its influence, much to the annoyance (and worry) of America.
— The writer is former DG (Emigration) and consultant ILO, IOM.