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Foreign Policy

The U.S. and Europe Teeter on Verge of a New Cold War with Russia

Jul 03 , 2015

Recently the US has reportedly planned to deploy heavy equipment to Eastern Europe to deter Russia, and Russian President Putin responded by announcing the addition of 40 new intercontinental missiles to the nuclear arsenal this year. US and Europe extended economic sanctions on Russia. Confrontation between Russia and the West triggered by the Ukraine crisis is being protracted. The risk of a new Cold War is rising, with four major international strategic implications.

First, there has been much interference in the theme of international cooperation since the financial crisis and confrontation in major-power relations has been increasing.

The international strategic atmosphere has become tense and dangerous. The US and Europe have used the Ukraine crisis to pressure Putin’s ‘authoritarian regime’. The aspects of competition, confrontation and conflict in major-power relations have become more outstanding, leading to worsened East-West relations that had relaxed after the end of the Cold War and intensified contradictions between the West and emerging powers. Meanwhile, regional wars and conflicts have increased. The ‘mainstream’ of world peace, development, cooperation and win-win has run into turbulent currents. With increased complexity and risks in international relations, the prospect does not allow optimism.

Major power relations thus experience accelerated restructuring, with more complicated interaction and gaming. Fierce exchanges between the US and Russia are close to full confrontation. Europe cannot help but take a strong position against Russia, leading to increased antagonism. The US and Europe have joined hands, ‘reviving’ and ‘activating’ the Atlantic Union. Japan has followed the US in imposing sanctions, making its approach to Russia more difficult. With ceaseless battles between US and Europe versus Russia, all three parties now need China more. In this connection, China faces the new test of accommodate appropriately Western reaction in its strategic collaboration with Russia and coordination among BRICS.


Second, changes are brewing in the offensive and defensive posture among major powers and the international strategic pattern experiences corrections.

Although the US has taken the opportunity to flaunt its power, there is no covering up that its ability now falls short of its wishes. On the one hand, the US has acted as a daring vanguard to sanction Russia. With the alliance system of NATO, the US has moved to seize the moral high grounds of ‘maintaining post-Cold War order in Europe’, ‘abiding by international law’ and ‘safeguarding Ukraine’s territorial integrity’. On the other, President Obama was constrained internally by Congress and the Republican Party and externally by the need for Russian help on international and regional hotspots such as the Middle East. He is also bent on ‘pivoting’ America’s geostrategic gravity to the Asia Pacific. As a result, it’s impossible for the US to go to all lengths against Russia or to reverse the trend of multipolarization.

Across the Atlantic, EU has taken the opportunity to strengthen diplomatic and defense cooperation but still suffers from debt-crisis hangover and infighting for dominance. It has taken the lead to charge in the Ukraine crisis to resist Russian ‘expansion’ and persist in its own ‘enlargement’. On the other hand, EU’s overall strength has decreased after the debt crisis. The Union has been under the shadow of Greek default more recently and needs Russian energy. Moreover, France still has misgivings about the German dominance in the EU and the risk of UK leaving EU still exists. In such a situation, the synergy EU somehow manages against Russia is limited.

As to Russia, although unprecedented isolation and pressure has softened its edge, the country remains an active factor that stands to move the international strategic pattern. Western sanctions and low oil prices are carrying Russia towards economic recession. With domestic discontent and US plotting “color” revolution, Russia’s path to revival is bumpier. Nonetheless, the Russia economy is comparatively less dependent on foreign trade and it has a strong military. The country therefore has the strength and confidence in self-reliance. With the energy, nuclear weapons, arms sales and geopolitics cards on hand, mature and sophisticated diplomatic maneuvers and a fine tradition of fearless self-reliance, Russia is unlikely to collapse under Western pressure.

Third, powers employ more complex strategic game techniques and tricks.

Sanction and counter-sanction have become the ‘new normal’ of major power competition and contest, in which the West enjoys obvious advantage. Sanctions extend to various fields of economy, trade, finance, arms sales and technologies and target both businesses and individuals. With its overall strength and experience, the West has become quite handy, effective and accurate in the application of sanctions. Russia, on other hand, refuses to be undone. It has been adept at making best use of its strengths against Western weaknesses by inter alia banning imports of EU agricultural products with a view to dividing the US-EU coalition.

Media and public opinion have become the new focuses of major-power competition. A ‘public scolding’ is almost considered a ‘beating’ and wars of words now occur more frequently. The Western propaganda engines cranked to life after the Malaysia MH17 crash and the Russian annexation of Crimea, opening a trial of Putin by public opinion. Russia has been rather passive on this front.

The rulemaking war has also become an efficient instrument for the West to suppress dissenting countries. It has fully used its advantages and even dominance in international law as well as international trade and financial rules and standards, including by speeding up TPP and TTIP, to regulate, induce, judge, squeeze and punish dissenting countries. While blaming Russia one-sidedly on the question of Ukraine, the US has advanced its rebalancing-Asia-Pacific strategy and intervened in maritime disputes in East Asia by playing the rules card against China and accusing China of disrupting international law and rules.

And lastly, new global geopolitical linkages have been established.

Europe and its eastern part have again become a global geopolitical hotspot. The Ukraine crisis will not be solved soon as its internal conflicts are closely intertwined with the strategic contest between Russia and the West. The post-Cold War order in Europe is challenged.

An indirect influence has been exerted on the Middle East. There the US and Europe are confronted with many tough issues such as the rise of IS, war and conflicts in Yemen and Libya and nuclear program in Iran. As Russia is an important player in the big game in the Middle East, the US and Europe will have to keep possible Russian reactions in mind in dealing with the situation there.

The Asia Pacific may feel the implications in two ways. The instability in Eastern Europe and turbulence in Middle East might well infect the Asia Pacific, leading to aggravated maritime disputes and terrorist activities. The US may also be forced to increase input in European security, thus delaying to a certain extent its shift towards Asia with its lengthy battle line and too many “enemies”.

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