Dawn of a new cold war and why it means nothing

Matt Moss


Russia and the United States-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization have continuously traded threats and ultimatums since the civil turmoil in Ukraine began two-and-a-half years ago, leading some to say the two sides are entering a new cold war.

Even if this is the case, it is no cause for alarm; it means nothing.

In early 1945, Allied tanks raced through the forests of Western Europe, endeavoring to beat the Soviets to Berlin. They failed, as the red armies laid siege to the heart of Germany and raised their union’s flag over the Reichstag. In that moment, a new war began—one where words, threats, and espionage were the weapons of choice.

This cold war came to an end with the disintegration of the United Soviet Socialist Republics in the late Eighties and early Nineties, as its people lost their faith in the union and one by one the Soviet member states proclaimed their independence.

In the wake of what was arguably the world’s most powerful country came the fledgling Russian Federation, a nation with democracy as its ideal and the privatization of the economy as its objective. Make no mistake, however; Russia—as the primary inheritor of the Soviet Union’s political power and the sole inheritor of its enormous nuclear arsenal—is no pushover.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the American-led military bloc formed to counter the influence and power of the Soviet Union in post-World War II Europe, watched tensely as soldiers believed to belong to the Russian military entered the Ukrainian-owned peninsula of Crimea and prevented Ukrainian defense forces from leaving their bases.

After a landslide vote by the Crimean people the tiny-but-strategic Black Sea peninsula joined Russia, where it remains today.

Western nations responded with huge economic sanctions against Russia and blacklisting members of its government. These sanctions remain in place, with no signs of being lifted any time soon; in fact, sanctions are likely to become even heftier.

Although initial signs showed the Russian economy slumping due to a lack of trade with most of Europe and North America, it has since begun to recover as it focuses on placing greater emphasis on domestic resources and dealing with friendlier and more ambivalent partners.

As NATO and Russia continue to dish out threat after threat, ultimatum after ultimatum, there has spawned a fear of the dawn of a new cold war.

NATO held a high-level conference of its 28 member states in Warsaw, Poland, last month, as 25,000 soldiers and legions of armored vehicles and warplanes from 16 member countries took part in Anakonda 2016, a capabilities exercise largely determined by analysts to be a direct show of force to Russia, right along Poland’s border with Russian satellite state Belarus.

Anakonda counters constant, similar exercises undertaken by the Russian military along its border with Ukraine, which NATO leaders fear could be turned into an invasion force of Eastern Europe at the drop of a hat. Hence NATO’s plan to station 5,000 combat-ready soldiers along Russia’s border with member states Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland come next year.

But, in reality, none of this means anything.

It is likely we are entering an era of a new cold war. The United States and the Russian state have been at odds with one another since the age of the latter’s tsarist monarchy. Instead of questioning why American relations with Russia are becoming colder as of late, people should be questioning how they thawed in the first place; the fact relations ever did thaw is far more surprising.

Of course, there exists a fear of global thermonuclear war, kicked off by Russia and the U.S. trading their atomic arsenals in a not-too-amicable way.

However, as has been shown in the past, such fears may not be warranted.

Russia and the United States both retain the prerogative to use nuclear weapons in a first strike. In Russia’s case, this marks a change from the Soviet Union’s policy which stated it would only launch if its opponent launched first.

Despite this, it is doubtful Russia would ever nuke the United States or its allies, as the U.S. enjoys an unrivaled second strike capability thanks to its well-maintained nuclear triad. Countless ground-based silos containing intercontinental nuclear missiles, a fleet of secretive nuclear submarines, and thousands of bombers capable of dropping nuclear bombs ensure that any enemy could not possibly eliminate its ability to fire back in the event of World War III.

Long story short: Russia nukes NATO, Russia gets nuked twice-fold.

As the U.S. goes, Uncle Sam has no interest in a nuclear exchange, as part of President Obama’s “agenda for reducing nuclear dangers,” and has even pursued—with resistance both foreign and domestic—under the president’s regime a reduction and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide, including America’s arsenal in tandem with Russia.

While the goal of total global nuclear disarmament is incredibly unlikely to ever come to fruition, it is an amicable goal, but simply serves to solidify the idea that America has no intention of blowing up the world.

From the conventional warfare side, it is just as unlikely NATO and Russian troops would ever go toe-to-toe, minus the mushroom clouds.

Combined, NATO’s active military manpower is around two million, with the U.S. Military making up over half this value. It also boasts a highly-modern arsenal of tanks and armored vehicles numbering in the high tens of thousands, plus approximately 3,000 combat aircraft, again with the U.S. forming the brunt of NATO’s aerial warfare capabilities.

The Russian Armed Forces, citing human relations and hazing problems within its drafted ranks, in the last decade reduced the length of service for its conscript soldiers from two years to one. And, with what is called by Russia’s former senior general Nikolai Makarov “a serious problem” which he “make[s] no bones about” is a lack of young men capable for drafting into the armed services. This has led to a sharp decline in the available manpower of Russia’s ground combat forces, from about 700,000 in the mid-Nineties to a present approximate value of 250,000.

Russia’s military is also suffering from underfunding, meaning it has struggled to effectively upgrade its aging Soviet-era weaponry and vehicles to modern standards. Its air force may be large and bolstered by a few high-tech planes of recent manufacture, but on a good day can only put up about half the number of planes as NATO can.

If Russia was intending to make war with NATO, it would need all the boons it could get—boons it simply does not have. Clearly, NATO does not expect a war either; moving only 5,000 troops to its borders with Russia would not deter a determined force numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

If anything is to come of this new cold war, it will be in economics. American and its European friends will continue to slap sanctions after sanctions on Russia, and Moscow and its pals will be sure to do the same to them.

There will be plenty of big talk, threats, and ultimatums coming from both sides. But, as we witness the dawn of a new cold war, we should realize how truly meaningless it is in reality.