Biden Has Found the Ideological Basis For A New Cold War
Joe Biden delivered a keynote foreign policy speech at the G-7 summit and Munich Security Conference, which were both held Feb. 19 virtually, as is now common practice.
The new American president announced to U.S. allies that “America is back” after four years of Donald Trump’s ideology of isolationism and unpredictability; that Washington will, without reservation, protect and support its allies; and that Article 5 of the Washington treaty on collective defense, on the basis of which NATO was formed in 1949, is “sacred” for the new administration — an attack on one of the alliance’s members will be considered an attack on all. Democratic countries — the U.S. and its G-7 and NATO allies — are defending freedom, but they are opposed by the authoritarian China and Russia, which are spreading unfreedom by various methods. China is using economic coercion and financial bribery, while Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which has a weaker economy, is trying to break NATO apart and is aggressively attacking its neighbors. Biden often mentioned Putin in his address, but only by last name, without his first name, position or title. It seems he wanted to offend him.
European leaders, worn out by Trump, backed Biden’s speech, as European leaders once did in 1946 for Winston Churchill’s famous Fulton speech, which also juxtaposed the forces of U.S.-led democracy and freedom with the dark forces of “tyranny.” Of course, with respect to oratory, it’s ridiculous to compare Biden with Churchill, but the overall ideological message of the two addresses is similar: the forces of good, freedom and democracy must act in solidarity and rein in the forces of tyranny in peacetime, without waiting for war. Preserving peace through coercive (nuclear), political and economic deterrence is cheaper, in all senses, than trying to win a war later when the “tyrants” inevitably go on the offensive.
The day before Biden’s keynote speech, NATO defense ministers held a meeting, also virtually. According to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, the ministers agreed to recommend to the heads of state and government to instruct the alliance secretariat, under the leadership of Stoltenberg himself, to prepare an updated NATO strategic concept. In the outdated but in-effect document from 2010, no mention whatsoever is made of a “rising China,” which has now become a potential threat. Moreover, in 2010 Russia was considered a partner with whom it was necessary to establish mutual understanding. Now it’s become clear that Russia is an adversary whose aggression must be contained at all cost in the Baltic region, in Poland and on the Black Sea, where Romania is persistently asking for reinforcements. The ministers also decided to significantly expand NATO’s military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan to help train and arm local forces.
Of course, practically no one in Europe sees at present any direct military threat from China, and it’s unlikely anyone, with the exception perhaps of Great Britain, is prepared to send any military forces into the Asia-Pacific region once China is marked down as a potential threat in NATO’s new concept. But they don’t have to: The Americans are creating a different anti-Chinese NATO with Japan and Australia, which have become mighty military powers in recent years, as well as with India, which is rapidly moving closer to the U.S. on an anti-Chinese basis. Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea may also join. Many fear and dislike China. By the way, Germany is proposing the creation of a Trade and Technology Council, which obviously is intended to slow down the scientific and technological progress in China and Russia as much as possible using coordinated licensing and various embargoes and sanctions, so that the future of mankind is defined by democracies, not authoritarianism.
While one U.S.-led alliance will be containing China, NATO will be concerned with containing Russia in Europe, in the surrounding seas, in Africa and in the Middle East. In the second cold war, as in the first, an ideological confrontation has now been outlined and a system of conventional and nuclear deterrence is being formed as well, so that the war remains a cold one. Over the last 10 years, owing to a program of rearming, restoring and modernizing the Soviet legacy, Russia has achieved overwhelming superiority in the European theater in tanks, army artillery and missiles, as well as in tactical nuclear weapons. Europe, meanwhile, until 2014 reduced military spending and disarmed, seeing no threat from the East. Now the process of Europe’s unilateral disarmament has ended, and the technological gap between Western armies and the Russian armed forces is rapidly growing, but with the remaining significant numerical superiority of the latter. As a result, an extremely unstable balance has developed in the potential European theater of military operations. In the event of even a small skirmish or a local conflict in the western, northwestern or southwestern directions, the military headquarters in the East and the West will insistently demand the political leadership sanction carrying out large-scale preventive (preemptive) strikes against the enemy, since any delay is guaranteed to lead to complete defeat. In such a scenario, non-strategic nuclear weapons will most likely be used almost immediately.
The risk of a possible sudden escalation in the event of any direct conflict and a catastrophic “unfreezing” of the second cold war will be so great in the coming years that both sides will probably try to avoid any skirmishes. With the constant balancing on the brink of war, there is a chance that the confrontation between Russia and NATO will remain “frozen” in the main theater, though proxy wars on the strategic periphery are practically unavoidable.
In the fall of 2020, a bloody, 44-day war took place in Karabakh. Now an escalation has begun in Donbass. In his Munich speech, Biden declared that both the U.S. and the EU should jointly support Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity, which will undoubtedly be followed by a response from Moscow. The probability of a direct military clash with the U.S. and its NATO allies in the event of an escalation of hostilities in eastern Ukraine is low, and it is this region that may become an arena for a serious proxy war between Russia and the West — like Vietnam, Afghanistan, or the Middle East during the first cold war.
The USSR was a superpower and it had allies in the Warsaw Pact and among Third World countries, but they all scattered as soon as the opportunity presented itself, and a number of former Soviet republics have officially become adversaries. Today neither China nor Russia actually has any capable allies, while the U.S. has dozens of big, small and medium-sized allies around the world. In the Middle East, Washington even managed to put forward a de facto anti-Iran alliance between the conservative Arab regimes and Israel.
Biden lumped Russia and China together as the two main authoritarian opponents of the global community of democratic countries, but they don’t consider themselves “allies,” but only “partners.” China and Russia don’t trust each other at all; they actively spy on one another, refuse to develop weapons systems together and share sensitive technologies; and the Chinese and Russian militaries haven’t forgotten, just to be on the safe side, to prepare for a possible two-way nuclear war. Russian diplomats excel at giving their foreign colleagues the cold shoulder in public, but Russia can’t build stable and long-term allied relations even with Belarus and Kazakhstan.