I am a Cold War veteran, having spent a good portion of the 80s underwater, on alert and ready to fire on short notice. When I came across the article Putin and the New Cold War it caught my immediate attention.
Though the US is embroiled in a costly guerilla war in Iraq, I still worry about somewhat larger and scarier potential adversaries. I know that there will be some that dismiss my concerns as coming from someone that just cannot give up; they are certainly entitled to their view of Russia and China as simply developing versions of American capitalism. I subscribe to a different world view; I actually hope that I am wrong.
As I see it, there are logical reasons to view our former Cold War rivals with caution; they are large, powerful and increasingly rich countries with leaders that probably do not think much of the frequent statements by American politicians that we are “the world’s only superpower.” Unlike many Americans, patience and understanding of history are culturally ingrained into their psyche; they understand the difference between a battle and a war and between a defeat and a strategic pause.
For a time, it did seem that their economies would collapse and the economic weaknesses prevented them from investing in their military might. In contrast, America seemed to have an economy that would not quit and we were spending huge sums of money on building up a strong defense establishment.
That situation has changed rather dramatically. For China, the source of wealth is our huge appetite for cheaply made goods using labor that is paid almost slave wages. Our major manufacturers cannot get past the differences in labor rates; they are falling over each other to set up factories in China that can take advantage of them. Until those companies really being making money by selling stuff in China instead of by buying it cheaply in China and selling it at a profit in the US, I will call “BS” whenever one of them tells me that they are going to China because of the huge potential of that market.
For Russia, the source of new found wealth is oil and gas. Market conditions have enabled them to dramatically increase the revenue that sales of these commodities provides. More ominously, their position as the holder of some of the world’s largest reserves and available supply has also given them political clout that they can use as a hammer to encourage support from less well endowed countries.
In the article that I reference, there are a couple of paragraphs that give me great pause. I am not sure if the author recognizes the implications or even if you will agree with the sinister interpretation that I see as a possibility, but I thought it would be worth sharing anyway. Here is the first section that I want you to think deeply about.
Nuclear advocates have jumped on the chance to push the technology. German economy minister Michael Glos last week made the firmest statement yet that Germany may extend the operating lives of its nuclear plants, reversing the previous phaseout programme. Italian industry minister Claudio Scajola said that Italy should “return to nuclear energy”.
The scare over supplies will also accelerate calls for new nuclear power stations to be built in the UK, whose energy white paper of 2003 argued that a massive increase in the UK’s dependency on gas imports was an acceptable price to pay for achieving lower carbon emissions without nuclear.
Then a bit later in the article, there is the following paragraph:
Smedley believes there is little chance than Gazprom will let its gas stranglehold be weakened. He said: “Russia has such huge gas reserves and has such political nous that it will swing into action, it will mobilize alliances, it will throw gas temporarily into countries and then take the gas away. It will use all the tricks in the book.”
Indeed, it is more than plausible that Putin welcomes the publicity that last week’s crisis gives Russia’s seemingly unavoidable role in global energy security, the theme he wants to dominate the meeting of G8 leaders in St Petersburg later this year.
Try viewing them through a lens focused by a lifetime of reading the works of John Le Carre or Tom Clancy, two of the most thought provoking Cold War novelists. If you are not much of a book reader, perhaps you can visualize a James Bond episode with Russian gas executives/politicial leaders (they might be interchangeable) working to sabotage efforts to build new nuclear plants that would weaken a key lever on which they depend for money, power and influence.