[OPE-L] Mark Almond | New Cold War: It's Now or Never for Washington

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Sat Dec 04 2004 - 20:31:44 EST

     Ukraine: It's Now or Never for Washington
     By Mark Almond
     The New Statesman

     Friday 03 December 2004

     America's real aim in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics
is to seize control of vital resources before China and India can
challenge US dominance.

     Are we on the brink of a new cold war? On both sides of the
Atlantic, media commentators see the crisis in Ukraine as comparable
to the Berlin crises, involving the US and the Soviet Union, which
kept the world on tenterhooks for decades. In this supposed drama, a
resurgent Kremlin under an ex-KGB colonel is suppressing freedom at
home and encroaching on ex-Soviet republics around his country's vast

     This terror of shadows has a track record of success. In the
1970s and early 1980s, the ailing world of Leonid Brezhnev was
portrayed as a sinister superpower with its tentacles almost around
Uncle Sam's throat. The US and the majority of western European
nations combined behind a program of arms build-up and covert
sponsorship of anti-communist dissidents.

     The coincidence of dates is not often noted, but the Pentagon was
inaugurated on 11 September 1941, exactly 60 years before it took its
first direct hit. In my view, its role was positive for many years:
few would regret the fall of Hitler or the deterrence of Stalin. But
America's bloodless victory in the cold war did not lead her to rest
on her laurels. As early as 1992, Pentagon insiders led by Paul
Wolfowitz and sponsored by the then defense secretary, Dick Cheney
(under President Bush I), had drawn up a doctrine designed to prevent
any power getting the "capacity" to challenge the US in the future.
Not only potential foes but friends were to be kept subordinate.

     There was no peace dividend. Instead, US defense spending rose.
Now the Pentagon spends more than the European Union, Russia, China
and India combined. As one Pentagon friend said to me recently: "The
new arms race is between the US army today and the US army which
might fight it tomorrow!"

     Yet, according to Washington's friends, Russia is on the prowl,
even though its military technology is ageing and Nato expansion (and
with it, US bases) reaches deep inside the old Soviet Union. In
reality, the Kremlin's writ is fraying at the edges of the smaller,
post-1991 Russia. Already Chechnya is in chaos and much of the north
Caucasus is simmering. If Russia poses no military threat even to its
neighbors, the divide of the first cold war era is dead.

     And yet the culture of the new cold war is very different from
that of the old. For 40 years, the west's intellectuals and media
were bitterly divided over policy towards Moscow. Each side -
particularly the west - had its allies on the other side. The west's
victory in 1989 was good for the market economy but bad for
intellectual pluralism. Sky News came online in 1989 but the
explosion of 24-hour news has been matched by an implosion of
alternative views.

     With the collapse of one-party states, any justification for
western covert intervention in elections died. Yet the methods of the
old cold war have continued and even grown in scale. Washington's
power elite see the whole world as former president Reagan saw Latin
America - indeed, many Reagan administration figures are involved in
current events. Cold war methods are still in use - even more so -
but now against opponents who do not merit the description
"totalitarian", whatever their faults.

     In the run-up to the velvet revolutions of 1989, I was a bagman
carrying tens of thousands of dollars to eastern European dissidents.
I have a good idea of how much money and foreign input are required
to get a spontaneous "people power" revolution going. Then, however,
it was the Communist Party that blocked dissent.

     Today, western intelligence agencies, the media and "the people"
crush any dissent from the Washington consensus.

     At the time of the Falklands war, Henry Kissinger said: "No great
power retreats for ever." Maybe Russia is about to disprove his
thesis, because so far Russia has retreated steadily under Vladimir
Putin's rule. If Ukraine falls into the Nato orbit, Russia will lose
her access to Black Sea naval bases and Russian oil and gas export
routes will have to pass an American stranglehold.

     Yet Russia is a bit player in this new global competition. The
Pentagon is really aiming at Beijing in its grab for the old Soviet
strategic space around Russia. China is booming, but energy is her
Achilles heel. Economically and technologically, China's 1.3 billion
people seem poised to assume superpower status, but China cannot risk
falling out with America. Only access to Russian and central Asian
oil can liberate China from dependence on vulnerable sea-borne oil
supplies, so the real "Great Game" is between Beijing and Washington.
America's real strategic fear is the rise of China and India. Unlike
Russia, they are not beset by demographic decline.

     Worse still for US planners, the Chinese and Indians may want the
benefits of western consumerism but they do not share the cultural
cringe of peoples of the former Soviet bloc: like Gandhi, they
believe that western civilization would be a very good idea.

     In Latin America, too, Washington does not have everything its
own way. It is not just that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez saw off a
Ukrainian- style "people power" push, having already trounced an
old-style putsch in 2002; Brazil and Argentina are also failing to
toe the Washington line. The region's big players show signs of
looking to China and south Asia for markets and investment.

     If South America, south Asia and China begin to coalesce, then
Washington could find itself confronted by an alternative axis not
seen since before the Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s. But,
whereas Mao and Brezhnev represented economic dead ends, the new
China and her potential partners have dynamism on their side. Maybe
India and China are business rivals, but their old frontier disputes
in the Himalayas are frozen. Latin America has nothing to fear from
either superpower of the future, nor do Latin Americans nurse
visceral resentments of Beijing or Delhi that are in any way
comparable to their deep-dyed anti-Yankee feelings.

     America's drive to dominate the old Soviet Union represents a
gamble by today's only superpower to seize the highest-value chips on
the table before China and India join the game. If China can add
access to post-Soviet energy to the Chinese hand, it will be game on
for a real new cold war. Many of the predictions among Washington
neoconservatives about China's growing power recall the fear among
German militarists that the window of opportunity for a global role
was closing by 1914. Washington's drive to seize maximum advantage
before the inevitable waning of US power recalls the Kaiser's cry 80
years ago: "Now or never!"

     Mark Almond is a lecturer in modern history at Oriel College, Oxford.


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