Remember “Protect and Survive“, the ridiculous government information pack that told us how we might survive a nuclear attack by doing stuff like painting our windows white? I wonder if it’s going to be reissued. It’s not time to start diving under tables yet but one of the legacies of the Bush and Blair era seems to be a return to the Cold War. That’s quite an achievement after a well over a decade of thawing relationships with Russia. This comes, of course, with the news that President Putin of Russia has threatened to target European cities with nuclear weapons if America goes ahead with its missile defence shield which would include installations of radar and missile batteries in the Czech Republic and Poland. The relationship between the USA and Russia has been deteriorating for a while now, largely because of America’s insistence on continuing with this lunatic program, which Russia obviously sees as a threat, but also for other reasons. Indeed, things have got so bad that Condoleezza Rice, a supposed expert on the Cold War, had to deny last month that a new Cold War was taking place and then two weeks later accuse Russia of having a Cold War mentality. This was before Putin’s recent announcement, if Russian missiles are going to be aimed at us it will be hard to dismiss the idea that we are returning to the bad old days before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Bush’s continued insistence that the proposed missile shield is not against Russia and is merely a defence against North Korean or Iranian attacks is not believed in Russia as neither country has the capacity to successfully target the USA. Russia’s argument against this seems quite reasonable. After all, how would the USA react if missiles were placed in a neighbouring country with a string of assurances that it was defence against some other state? Using Bush’s logic, all Castro and Khrushchev would have needed to do in 1962 is insist that the missiles in Cuba were a precaution against a possible attack from Canada. Tony Blair was always enthusiastic about the missile shield and lobbied for parts of to be installed in Britain making the country a potential target.
At the heart of all this is the neocon credo of “Full Spectrum Dominance“, an unrealistic plan for America to have total control of land, sea, air and space. This is what Tony Blair approvingly refers to as a “unipolar world”. To most other people it’s simply an empire and is already pretty much scuppered as a plan. America can only get away with this kind of dominance if compliant states let it and Russia has now drawn a line in the sand. Obviously this will cause the Bush administration to go into one of its periodic episodes of chest-thumping histrionics but in reality there is little it can do other than either back down or resign itself to this new reality.
If this is a new Cold War, there are some differences from the last one. The Soviet Union was bankrupted by the arms race which America started. The new Russia, on the other hand, has some of the world’s largest reserves of natural gas, a commodity desperately needed in Europe and we have already seen how Russia can use this resource as a weapon. This will make it somewhat harder for European countries to fall into line with every insane command from the White House. The stark reality is Europe needs to maintain good relations with Russia or face a severe energy crisis.
That’s not to say that there aren’t legitimate disputes with Russia that need resolving. Among these is the fate of Kosovo which might be solvable, and the trail of contamination left across London from the polonium 210 poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko which probably won’t be solved. For its part, Russia has genuine security concerns. Not only is it angry over the so-called defence shield, it is also angry about the broken promises concerning NATO expansion into eastern Europe.
What we seem to be presented with is two choices, neither of which are particularly appealing. The first is the unipolar world Blair is so enthusiastic about where America is the only power on the planet and we all ally ourselves to America’s benevolent protection and defer any disputes over to its jurisdiction secure in the knowledge that it will always act fairly and impartially as we have seen so often. The other option is the Bipolar world where another power (Russia in this case) acts as a counter-balance to American hegemony resulting in America’s allies having nuclear weapons pointed at them as we experienced in the last Cold War. There is a third option, and I’m not sure if this is any more appealing than the other two. That is a multi-polar word where there are several superpowers that can keep each other in check. Obviously this still means that someone or other will still be pointing missiles at us but it might allow us a bit more independence from the de facto occupation of so much of the world (particularly Europe) by American forces. This would mean that Europe would have to stand up on its own two feet and refuse to be a pawn in a game between America and Russia. I think this is eventually what we may end up with as China also flexes its muscles. The downside is that this all sounds very 1984 with three large blocks permanently at war with just the alliances changing from time to time. There don’t seem to be many other alternatives at present. Nuclear weapons are not going to be un invented, some states will always be more powerful than others and alliances will always be formed and broken. Also, the prospect of further conflicts is very real the more scarce the World’s resources get.
How ironic that the destruction of Iraq over fictitious WMD and the sabre rattling with Iran over potential WMD has led to a serious threat of real WMD raining down on Europe’s cities as the world’s last superpower insists on pointing its WMD at Russia. And what a coincidence that this current crisis flared up shortly after Britain decided to renew its Trident WMD program. No doubt we will now be told that with Russian missiles aimed at London, renewing Trident was the correct decision and the original cause for this new arms race (America’s provocation of Russia) will be glossed over.