Trump versus Putin on the issue of nuclear weapons. As expected, the president-elect of the United States made a highly irresponsible statement: "Let it be an arms race." An irresponsible statement that, moreover, is highly useful to Vladimir Putin.
Former President Ronald Reagan is lauded in official U.S. history for his role in the fall of the Soviet Union. Anyone who was in their 20s at the beginning of the 1980s remembers the collective psychosis that affected everyone at the time. East-West relations were so tense that verbal escalation between Washington and Moscow made people fear that a clash was coming, and that it could go nuclear.
Those who laud Reagan are forgetting the democratic reforms introduced by then-President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. This Sunday is the 25th anniversary of his resignation on Dec. 25, 1991.
Is Donald Trump trying to rekindle these dangerous liaisons with Russia — while tensions are growing between the U.S. and China? At the very least, he threw oil on the fire when he tweeted that the United States needed to "strengthen and expand" its nuclear stockpile. On Friday morning during an interview with an MSNBC host from his home in Florida before heading to a golf game with Tiger Woods, he stated, "Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all."
His entourage quickly intervened and tried to sugar-coat his statement, like they did on Wednesday when Trump seemed to say, since his statements are often as angry as they are vague, that the recent terrorist attack in Berlin justified his campaign promise to ban Muslim immigration to the United States. Nevertheless, what was said was said.
Evidently, the new cold war started brewing before Trump was elected, and has been a topic of discussion in Europe for some time. It's a "cold war 2.0," as the Guardian called it in a recent article, and it marks the end of 20 years of Western self-satisfaction.
When Gorbachev visited Berlin in 2014 for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall, he declared that the old historical conflict was re-emerging, most recently because of the crisis in Ukraine. More fundamentally: If the West had a less arrogant attitude toward Russia after the communist regime fell, and acknowledged the role of the father of perestroika, relations between Russia and the West would not be what they are today — and Putin's aggressive nationalism would not have spread as easily.
During most of his presidency, Barack Obama continued to be haughty. He considered Russia a rival that didn't measure up and that tried to compensate for its weakness with shows of military bravado. More recently, the White House started to adjust its discourse to the situation by stating that by overusing its resources, Moscow would sink deeper into the Syrian "quagmire."
It's nearly the end of 2016, and Vladimir Putin is in a very good position despite the sluggish Russian economy. At home, having cleared away the opposition around him, he has been expanding his authoritarianism by surfing a wave of popular nostalgia for Soviet greatness — since nostalgia can be used to selectively choose memories. Abroad, Russia has become a strategic rival in the Middle East that can't be ignored.
Putin has issued many statements about how Russia needs to increase its military power. The one Trump reacted to was not the first. It so happens that Russia and the United States, both of which have about 7,000 nuclear warheads apiece, have increased spending to modernize their arsenals.
This makes it easy to imagine that Putin will enjoy having a macho rivalry with Trump over the next few years. We can only hope to be wrong — a single nuclear bomb would be enough to cause an economic, environmental and humanitarian catastrophe.