George Orwell, the author of “Animal Farm” and “1984”, was the first person to use the phrase “Cold War” in a 1945 newspaper article, written just after the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
He argued that “the surface of the Earth is being parcelled off into three great empires, each self-contained and cut off from contact with the outer world, and each ruled, under one disguise or another, by a self-elected oligarchy”.
He counted the US and Western Europe as one, the Soviet Union as the second and China as the third.
He concluded: “The atomic bomb is likeliest to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a peace that is no peace”.
I think he got it nearly right — or so it seems as a new Cold War erupts between the West and Russia, and China spars with the US over the South China Sea and its islands.
Of course, it is more complicated than that.
China and Russia have a fair relationship. China and the US are perhaps doing nothing more than annoying each other and the bonds of commerce and student exchanges bind both the elites and the populaces close together.
To me, a new Cold War is nonsense on stilts. Even more than the original one.
George Kennan, the former US ambassador to Moscow and author of books about how to contain the Soviet Union, always insisted that Stalin had no intention of rolling his tanks into Western Europe.
As Robert Legvold summarises Kennan’s views in his interesting new book “Cold War”, “the threat the Soviet Union posed was political, a threat accentuated by these countries’ vulnerability to Soviet subversion because of their economic frailty and political instability — a threat requiring a political and economic response, not a military one”.
In 1948 Kennan wrote, as he observed the creation of NATO: “Why did they [Western leaders] wish to divert attention from a thoroughly justified and promising programme of economic recovery by emphasising a danger which did not actually exist but which might be brought into existence by too much discussion of the military balance and by the ostentatious stimulation of military rivalry?”
It was Kennan, backed by people like Robert McNamara (who was the secretary of defence under both presidents Kennedy and Johnson and a committed bomber in the Vietnam war), who told president Bill Clinton that he was expanding NATO after the end of the Cold War in defiance of many promises made to president Mikhail Gorbachev by both US and European leaders, and that this was the worst of all possible mistakes.
Now NATO’s membership has expanded up to Russia’s border and NATO troops are deployed closer to Russia than agreed with Gorbachev.
Moreover, the anti-ballistic missile system now being installed to ward off a supposed Iranian attack could be deployed against Russia.
We forget that Russia has supported the US in Afghanistan and let American war materials be carried on its railways.
We forget that Vladimir Putin was the first to call president George W. Bush after the September 11 attack.
We forget that Putin seriously considered asking NATO for membership.
We forget that both Gorbachev and Putin at one time visualised Russia becoming part of the EU.
We forget that Russia returned to being a Christian-inspired nation that also gave religious freedom to Islam and others.
We forget the time under president Boris Yeltsin when he pushed hard to remove the barriers to human rights.
We forget the progress made under Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Dmitry Medvedev and Putin in reducing the armoury of nuclear arms.
With the Americans, they have reduced stockpiles from 70,000 to 16,300. This ended the US-Russian race between offensive and defensive strategic nuclear programmes.
Russia with the US has eliminated whole categories of weapons. They worked together securing nuclear weapons and materials in Russia.
They placed limits on large standing armies in Europe while introducing transparency and mutual trust into their operations. (This is crumbling since the Russian interference in Ukraine.)
We forget that when Medvedev was president, he published in 2008 a well thought-out multi-dimensional plan to enhance European security.
Legvold says: “The US and Europe brushed it aside.”
In Ukraine, the US and EU self-defeatingly walked away from a compromise arrangement they had worked out with president Victor Yanukovich that could have avoided further political upheaval.
Today, we overlook that Russia is committed to defeating Daesh more than it is committed to supporting the regime in Syria.
Last year, Rodric Braithwaite, a former UK ambassador to Russia, wrote in his book: “For a decade Westerners lectured Moscow where its real interests lay, and expected it to follow where the West led. They rarely listened to what the Russians said in response. Russian concerns seemed unimportant, misguided or unacceptable”.
Is a new Cold War called for? Definitely not. Just some wise Western leadership.