Cold War Redux?

I've written before about the attempts to shove the current relationship between the U.S. and Russia into a Cold War paradigm, one that replicates the relationship between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. I stopped reading those analyses fairly early on in the recent go around over Ukraine because I found most of them to be shallow and at times silly. For instance, heavy reliance is often placed on Putin's fairly banal KGB background as though that fact can be decisive in shaping geopolitical events. The roots of the Cold War and the roots of the current tense relationship are radically different, and the assumption that such disparate beginnings would produce similar results is counterintuitive and, beyond intuition, belied by the facts.

Recall that the Cold War arose out of the post World War II adjustments to the collapse of fascism and the physical destruction of the German state and much of Central and Eastern Europe; that the Soviet Union sought security from a third war with the West, having experienced two cataclysms in less than 30 years; that Soviet propaganda was often stridently bellicose in declaring its international aims for socialism; that the accelerated crumbling of European empires which had begun in the early part of the 20th century was creating power vacuums throughout the former colonial world and thus opportunities for political and economic exploitation by larger, more powerful states; that a corrupt and tired regime in China was unable to staunch the expansion and ultimate success of a long-simmering Communist revolution in the world's most populous country; that the presumed "American Century" of economic and technological dominance came to an abrupt end with the successful testing of an atomic device by the Soviet Union in September of 1949; that the development of the hydrogen bomb ushered in an era of immediate and strategic uncertainty that had never before been encountered; and that Western policy analysts and policy makers were often unable to separate the nationalist aims of former or soon-to-be-former colonial populations from their understandable indifference or aversion to Western global economic, security, and political aims. This final point is in my view the most salient. What it suggests is that botched analysis drives faulty policy with disastrous long-term political (and I include war and its attendant horrors in the term political) and economic consequences. Or, to put it more bluntly, stupidity begets suffering, and large-scale stupidity begets large-scale suffering.

I am not suggesting that Russia's adventurism in former Soviet "Republics" be ignored or even taken lightly. What I am suggesting is that reverting to a default analysis that is comfortable due to its assumed familiarity is dangerous, that a dated paradigm is insufficient for both describing Russia's aims and formulating the world's response, and that talking heads and editorial writers who carelessly proclaim the new is a slightly updated version of the old should be ignored for too quickly concluding too much from history's complex lessons.