The New Cold War

The shadows lengthen

During the 2012 presidential debate, Mitt Romney characterized Russia as the number one geopolitical threat to the U.S.   Then presidential candidate Barack Obama scoffed, saying, “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years” (Delaney). Five years later, Obama’s statement now seems absurd against the backdrop of an aggressive and resurgent Russia.  Beginning with its incursion into the Crimea in 2014, Russia has flexed its geopolitical muscles, reasserting itself as a strategic world player and showing contempt for the US-dominated 21st century world order.

Russia’s increasing geopolitical influence has paralleled the decline in its relations with the U.S.  The signs of strain are many: In October 2016, the U.S. Security Department officially concluded that Russia had dispatched two separate hackers, nicknamed “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear,” to tap into the Democratic National Committee’s email database and tamper with American democracy (Boot). More recently, the Justice Department has launched an investigation into potential ties between the Trump team and Russia. The swath of suspects has now broadened to include figures as close to the President as Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law (Von Drehle). In July 2017, American and allied forces conducted a 25,000 troop drill in the former Warsaw Pact countries, and on August 2, Congress passed a sanctions bill against Russia by a bipartisan, veto-proof majority (Schmitt, Baker). Though neither Russia nor the U.S. is yet willing to engage in nuclear war, relations between the two countries are far from friendly.

The eagle’s talon and the olive branch

In light of this fundamental conflict with Russia, how should the U.S. respond?  Any effective foreign policy must balance two priorities: first, the U.S. should contain Russia’s aggression and communicate the folly of attempting to overturn the international order; second, the U.S. must cooperate with Russia on several key issues, including anti-terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation.  In short, the eagle’s talon and the olive branch must come hand in hand.

One way to contain Russia’s aggression would involve shoring up NATO’s defenses along the Baltic border (Onyszkiewicz).   As The Economist magazine states, Putin’s goal is to “divide and neuter” the trans-Atlantic alliance, “fracture its collective approach to security, and resist and roll back its advances” (“Putin’s War on the West”). After Russia’s invasion of Georgia and Ukraine, supporting NATO has become an absolute necessity, for it remains one of the few obstacles that hinders Putin’s goal of reestablishing spheres of influence in eastern Europe.   In fact, NATO’s effectiveness not only comes from its military capabilities, but also from its way of bringing together allies with the shared values of democracy, individual freedom, and moral responsibility (Seidman and Stavridis).

Alongside NATO, the U.S. should continue pursuing cooperation with Russia on various fronts.   The U.S. and Russia hold common interests in many issues, most notably nuclear non-proliferation and the war against Islamic radicalism (Khalilzad).  The latter especially holds great potential, as both countries have faced the threat of radical Islamic terrorism—the U.S. with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and Russia with the extremists in the Chechnya.  To encourage cooperation on these issues, the U.S. should reopen channels of communication with the Kremlin, including the creation of joint working groups. Specifically, Secretary Rex W. Tillerson should seek greater cooperation with Russia in combating ISIS in Syria and also a nuclear arms treaty to follow the expiration of the START treaty.

In short, containment and cooperation must form the basis for U.S. policy toward Russia. According to Stephen Sestanovich, a professor at Columbia University and a former State Department ambassador to the Soviet Union, there are really two Putin’s–“one confident, cagey and effective; the other defensive, isolated and unsure of himself” (Sestanovich). U.S. foreign policy with Russia must contain the first by strengthening NATO and appeal to the second through dialogue and cooperation.  Such policy will affect far more than simply national security. Indeed, what lies at the heart of this second Cold War is not merely the security of Europe, nor simply the direction of U.S.-Russia relations, but ultimately, the future of the international order: whether the world will champion democracy and individual freedom or cling to the brash nationalism and geopolitical tensions of the past. The fate of this new Cold War will determine which vision shall prevail.




Works Cited:

Delaney, Arthur. “Obama Dings Romney on Russia Remark: The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back,” Huffington Post, October 22, 2012.           russia_n_2003927.html

Boot, Max. “Time to Get Real About Russia Cyber War,” USA Today, October 12, 2016.   

Von Drehle, David. “How Donald Trump Jr.’s Emails have cranked up the heat on his family.” Time Magazine. July 24, 2017, pp. 24-27. Print.

Schmitt, Eric. “U.S. Troops Train in Eastern Europe to Echoes of the Cold War.” The     New York Times. Aug. 6, 2017.   

Baker, Peter and Kishkovsky, Sophia. “Trump Signs Russia Sanctions Into Law, With Caveats.” The New York Times. Aug. 2, 2017.    sanctions.html?mcubz=0

Onyszkiewicz, Janusz; Liegis, Iman; and Braw, Elisabeth. “NATO Must Strengthen Its Front Line Against Russia.”   The National Interest. April 25, 2016. 15924

“Putin’s War on the West.” The Economist. Feb. 12, 2015. 

Seidman, Dov and Stavridis, James. “Supreme Allied Commander Stavridis: Trump Is So Wrong About NATO.” Time. Jul. 21, 2016.

Khalilzad, Zalmay. “The Path to U.S.-Russia Cooperation.” The National Interest. Aug.            15, 2017.

Sestanovich, Stephen. “The Two Putin Problem.” The New York Times. Nov. 25, 2016.           problem.html?_r=0

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  1. Great job on your column; you obviously put a lot of thought into it and are very knowledgeable on the subject! I like that you suggested some solutions in your article.

  2. Great Article, very in-depth and well thought out.

    Have you read “The American Empire Should be Destroyed: Aleksandr Dugin and the Perils of Immantesized Eschatology”? It’s a great book which provides the background behind what is going on in Russia. I know it has a strange title, but it is basically about Aleksandr Dugin, a top advisor to Putin, who has often been referred to as “Putin’s Brains”.
    Anyways, if you are interested in looking at why Putin and Russia are acting the way they are acting, with the hacking of the DNC and the annexation of Crimea, it’s a great explanation.
    P.S. it’s also very short and is pretty cheap on Amazon.

  3. Wow, I can tell you worked hard on this! Great job!

  4. American-Russian relations is an interesting topic. My mom just happens to be Ukrainian, so I hear a lot about Russia. Everything that was popular in the 70s and 80s is making a comeback, including tensions with Russia (thankfully, though, it’s not quite as bad). It’ll be interesting to see how things play out.