26 March 2019 **** Front Page

Making sense of the new Cold War

By Tapani Lausti

Stephen F. Cohen, War with Russia? From Putin & Ukraine to Trump and Russiagate. Hot Books 2019.

The new US-Russian Cold War, according to Professor Stephen F. Cohen, is more dangerous than was the 40-year predecessor, which the world survived. There is now a real danger of a nuclear war, whether started inadvertently or intentionally. During the old Cold War, the danger of a nuclear catastrophe was constantly discussed. Now, there is hardly any thoughtful analysis in Washington of looming dangers.

Allow me to insert here some personal memories. When I spent a year in California as an exchange student in 1959-1960, I was surprised by the fear of the Soviet Union amongst Americans. In a letter to my folks home in Helsinki I wrote: “In Finland I was never afraid of war, but now I am. The hatred towards communism has been forced into young people`s heads so thoroughly that they seem to have been taken over by some kind of group hypnosis.”

Finland was seen by many school mates mistakenly as a communist country, being located next door to the Soviet Union. I myself acquired a small role in the Cold War of those years. The school newspaper imagined what happened to senior class members later in life. I was going to be a communist spy imprisoned in Alcatraz prison. It was probably a joke but many students might have taken it seriously.

Without ever becoming a communist, great power relations have intrigued me ever since. In 1966 I wrote my final thesis at the University of Helsinki about “US foreign policy towards communist countries”. Now that we are living through another Cold War, even more dangerous than the previous one we need cool-headed analyses about what is going on. Professor Stephen F. Cohen is one of the best guides because he works outside the Russiaphobic hysteria.

Cohen has spent time in the old Soviet Union and current Russia and has had conversations with numerous Russians – officials, politicians and dissidents – during this time. He has an ability to look at the Russian scene in a rational way. He is disturbed by the lack of intelligent discussion on Russian attitudes to world politics. Official Washington is in the throes of a largely imagined world where Russia is seen as an aggressive rogue state which threatens Western values.

The US media and political elite cannot find enough words to declare examples of Russian aggression. Cohen looks at examples of these aggressions and finds a different kind of truth. How the New Cold War developed is more of a result of US actions than Vladimir Putin's schemes. These include the “decision to expand NATO to Russia's border, to bomb Moscow's traditional ally Serbia, withdraw unilaterally from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, carry out military regime change in Iraq and Libya, instigate the 2014 Ukrainian crisis and back the coup against the country's legitimate president, and considerably more…”

If all this was supposed to increase US national security, in fact the opposite has happened and the whole world has become a more dangerous place. But the Washington establishment seems to fear peace more than war. With hardly any idea of Russian political reality, the US policy makers could be provoking more aggressive forces than Putin's measured attitudes. Here is what Cohen writes: “… segments of Russia 's military-security establishment still believe Putin has never fully shed his admitted early “illusions” about negotiating with an always treacherous Washington. Like their American counterparts, they do not trust Trump, whom they too view as unreliable and capricious.”

Cohen reminds us that during the previous Cold War there existed a “Parity Principle” – “the principle that both sides had legitimate interests at home and abroad, which was the basis for diplomacy and negotiations, and symbolized by leadership summits – no longer exists, at least on the American side.” Whilst the US has hundreds of military bases around the world, Washington thinks that any Russian idea of spheres of interest of its own is illegitimate. The American establishment refuses to acknowledge any Russian part in world affairs, except as a “threat” to American interests.

The hysterical and imagined claims that Russia interfered in the US presidential elections in 2016 created an atmosphere where dissident voices are not heard. The atmosphere in Washington is, according to Cohen, “so toxic that most politicians, journalists and intellectuals who understand the present day dangers are reluctant to speak out against US contributions to the new Cold War.”

Cohen reminds us that during the preceding Cold War extremely hostile views were “almost always balanced, even offset, by informed, wiser opinions, which are now largely excluded.”

Thus Russia is now considered to be “a pariah state.” Much that is seen as questionable behaviour by Moscow, is unhesitatingly described as something personally ordered by Putin. In this imagined world Russia is seen as a threat to the very basis of the American political system. Cohen describes Washington's conclusion thus: “And with such a state, it also follows, there should not be any civil relations, including diplomacy, only warfare ones.”

It is interesting that the publisher of Cohen's book has put a quote from The Chronicle Review on the book cover: “The most controversial Russia expert in America.”

As to the social realities of both the US and Russia, it is obvious that whichever way one looks at their mutual relations, neither country offers credible models for the future of mankind.

 

Archive: Russia, United States, International affairs, NATO, Phyllis Bennis, Noam Chomsky, Marjorie Cohn, Henry A. Giroux, Glenn Greenwald, Chris Hedges, Edward S. Herman, Diana Johnstone, Robert Parry, Howard Zinn

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