Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The so-called "new Cold War"

In previous posts I've been discussing the sudden references to a "new Cold War" in Latin America, based upon Russia's relationship with Venezuela and its mention of interest in other Latin American countries (for the moment, mostly Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua). I thought it would be useful to break down some of the key aspects of the real Cold War to see what similarities exist.

1. Two adversaries with opposing ideologies, accompanied by strategies of spreading one at the expense of the other. This is clearly not currently in evidence. Russia is not spreading ideology--I'd be hard pressed to define Putin's ideology in any case. He has interests that are based on power, not ideology. In other words, Putin is not trying to "spread" a counterpoint to the United States in Latin America.

2. Proxy wars that avoid direct confrontation. Russian support for Venezuela is not intended to keep a Russian-friendly government in power, though it is intended to send a message to the United States. Unlike the dynamics of the Cold War, the United States government dislikes Hugo Chávez because of his own characteristics, which have nothing to do with an outside power.

3. Threat of devastating war. The stakes now are important, but not life or death. There will no nuclear war over this and most likely no armed conflict at all.

In short, I hope the "new Cold War" label is soon discarded. It is both overly alarmist and misleading.


Anonymous,  7:40 AM  

Absolutely spot on. I too think that people are throwing around the Cold War label rather foolishly. Thanks much for this clear analysis of why it ain’t so. Another great post!

Miguel Centellas 12:27 PM  

Granted, you are correct on the issue of what made the Cold War unique (the conflict of ideologies & proxy wars). So perhaps a "cold war" isn't happening. But I do think that military cooperation w/ non-US militaries has not been common (or am I wrong) since the 1940s. Perhaps not a return to the Cold War, but I think we're seeing a major decline in the ability of the US to project hegemony over the region (which isn't entirely a bad thing, mind you). In that absence, I think other "great powers" may become more active in the hemisphere (like they were in the 19th & early 20th centuries).

Greg Weeks 2:43 PM  

Yes, hegemony is no longer what it once was, though it's too early to tell exactly how things will play out--the current economic crisis is going to have an important long-term impact. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, European powers were similarly active, but they were aggressive (including invasions) in a way that isn't the case now.

Justin Delacour 8:40 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Justin Delacour 8:45 PM  

the United States government dislikes Hugo Chávez because of his own characteristics

Could you elaborate?

I can't imagine that you're of the belief that U.S. elites don't look at the broader global implications of the politics practiced by people like Chavez. I suspect you know that U.S elites have been historically consumed by the concept of the "domino theory."

I also think that potential counter-balancing is of concern to U.S. elites.

Would you not agree that U.S. elites take such factors into account when they assess how much they "dislike" Chavez?

Greg Weeks 6:23 AM  

Think of it this way--the causation during the Cold War can be seen as the opposite of now. Then, the U.S. was afraid of an outside power creating dominoes. Now, the U.S. is afraid of a hemispheric power (Chavez) creating the dominoes.

Justin Delacour 10:09 AM  

Okay, that makes a little more sense to me.

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