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General News    H3'ed 6/21/22

Tomgram: Alfred McCoy, Playing with Fire in Ukraine

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As Alfred McCoy suggests today, we're now in the latest version of a "cold war" when it comes to Russia and China. Let's take a minute, though, to think about that grim term, which, until relatively recently, seemed to be a relic of history. During the original Cold War, it had a meaning that's seldom grasped now. Keep in mind that, in those years, there were all-too-many actual "hot" wars " the major ones being the Korean and Vietnam wars for the United States and the Afghan War for the Soviet Union. All three were bloody disasters of the first order.

As it happens, however, cold war had a very specific, if seldom articulated, meaning. It wouldn't have existed without nuclear weapons. They were what threatened to provide the devastating "heat," had the two superpowers of that moment ever directly fought a global war of any sort. Once you take nukes into account, the very term "hot" seems, if anything, all too mild, since the potential nuclear destruction of the planet was at stake or, at least, in the nuclear winter that would have followed just about any version of such a war, the starvation of possibly billions of people.

Fortunately, the two superpowers of that era did indeed remain in a cold-war state until the Soviet Union imploded in 1991 because an actual war between them remained essentially inconceivable. Yes, as McCoy points out today, the Soviets dispatched troops from China (then a country without nukes) into the Korean War and quietly helped arm and aid the Vietnamese in their battle against the Americans in the 1960s. In return, Washington acted similarly, with devastating effect, in Russia's disastrous Afghan War of the 1980s, but thanks to those atomic weapons neither power could truly face off in battle against the other, which was why there never was a World War III.

In fact, the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while ending one nightmarish global conflict, almost instantly created a genuinely apocalyptic version of future war that promised the kind of Armageddon once left to the gods. Only recently, Vladimir Putin reminded us of that fact by functionally threatening a nuclear encounter as he invaded Ukraine.

So, keeping the nature of "cold" and "hot" in such confrontations in mind, let TomDispatch regular Alfred McCoy, author most recently of To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change, take you to a planet where things are only getting hotter in so many ways, not just nuclear. It's a world where, for the first time since the original Cold War, nuclear arsenals are evidently about to grow larger once again, while the U.S. is planning to "invest" up to $2 trillion in "modernizing" its own nukes in the decades to come. Tom

What Difference Does a War Make?
The Geopolitics of the New Cold War


From his first days in office, Joe Biden and his national security advisers seemed determined to revive America's fading global leadership via the strategy they knew best " challenging the "revisionist powers" Russia and China with a Cold War-style aggressiveness. When it came to Beijing, the president combined the policy initiatives of his predecessors, pursuing Barack Obama's "strategic pivot" from the Middle East to Asia, while continuing Donald Trump's trade war with China. In the process, Biden revived the kind of bipartisan foreign policy not seen in Washington since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Writing in the December 2021 Foreign Affairs, a group of famously disputatious diplomatic historians agreed on one thing: "Today, China and the United States are locked in what can only be called a new cold war." Just weeks later, the present mimed the past in ways that went well beyond even that pessimistic assessment as Russia began massing 190,000 troops on the border of Ukraine. Soon, Russian President Vladimir Putin would join China's Xi Jinping in Beijing where they would demand that the West "abandon the ideologized approaches of the Cold War" by curtailing both NATO's expansion into Eastern Europe and similar security pacts in the Pacific.

As Russia's invasion of Ukraine loomed in late February, the New York Times reported that Putin was trying "to revise the outcome of the original Cold War, even if it is at the cost of deepening a new one." And days later, as Russian tanks began entering Ukraine, the New York Times published an editorial headlined, "Mr. Putin Launches a Sequel to the Cold War." The Wall Street Journal seconded that view, concluding that recent "developments reflect a new cold war that Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin have initiated against the West."

Instead of simply accepting that mainstream consensus, it couldn't be more important right now to explore that Cold War analogy and gain a fuller understanding of how that tragic past does (and doesn't) resonate with our embattled present.

The Geopolitics of Cold Wars

There are indeed a number of parallels between our Cold Wars, old and new. Some 70 years ago, in January 1950, Mao Zedong, the head of a Chinese People's Republic ravaged by long years of war and revolution, met Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in Moscow as a supplicant. He was seeking a treaty of alliance and friendship that would provide much-needed aid for his fledgling communist state.

Within months, Stalin played upon this brand-new alliance by persuading Mao to send troops into the maelstrom of the Korean War, where China soon began hemorrhaging money and manpower. Until his death in 1953, Stalin kept the U.S. military bogged down in Korea, as he sought "an advantage in the global balance of power." With Washington focused on war in Asia, Stalin consolidated his grip on seven "satellite states" in Eastern Europe " but at a cost. In those years, a newly created NATO would be transformed into a genuine military alliance, as 16 nations dispatched troops to Korea.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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