A New Cold War?


Perhaps not, but the recent developments attest otherwise. In the aftermath of U.S.-China summit, there are indications that a new alliance opposed to America is in offing. Is the growing Chinese-Russian cooperation to be termed as anti-U.S. axis is a puzzling question?

Of late a few pundits on the subject of Sino-Russian relations as well as U.S.-Russia relations have authored a number of articles suggesting that America’s bilateral relationship with Russia, which President Obama worked hard to reset during his first term, is worryingly drifting downward. President Obama’s success in negotiating and finally concluding a landmark strategic arms reduction treaty (New START) with Russia has been considered a great milestone, however, latest events in particular, the Syrian crisis, the two countries seem to be diametrically opposed.

There is a nasty proxy war going in Syria for about two years where the major nuclear powers i. e. America and Russia have frequently clashed at the UN Security Council. In this regard Matthew Rojansky and Nicolas Gvosdev, in their piece “The Reset That Wasn’t” have opined that U.S.-Russia relationship has deteriorated sharply hostage to a downward spiraling crisis and retaliation in a worsening war in Syria.

The continuing war in Syria has been overshadowed by the most recent so-called civic society coup against a first democratically-elected government of Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt. Nevertheless, human tragedies seen in Syria deserve urgent international action for saving innocent lives.

Besides Syria the spy saga with the revelation of U.S. surveillance of EU officials, among others, by National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward J. Snowden, who is still in Moscow aspiring asylum in America’s backyard, has complicated Obama’s endeavors of resetting relations with Russia. Both Rojansky and Gvosdev have compared the Snowden affair to an incident that sucks up oxygen in the bilateral relationship of America and Russia.

Commenting on the possible implications of Snowden affair, the former Foreign Minister of Spain and senior Vice President of the World Bank, Ana Palacio has pointed out that the spy scandal has three elements: U.S.-Russia relations, U.S. influence in South America, and U.S. relations with Europe. In her Project-Syndicate piece “The Snowden Effect”, she has said that the Kremlin’s handling of the affair is indicative of the tense state of U.S.-Russia relations. She too believes that Russian President Putin regards anti-Americanism as an effective tool for short-circuiting domestic discontent.

While none can dispute that U.S.-Russian rapprochement can make a lot of difference in successfully handling global problems like climate change, rising cyber security challenges and potential effects of pandemic diseases, their existing perceptions of each other are the real problems. As opined by Rojansky and Gvosdev in their article “The Reset That Wasn’t”, Russians perceive the U.S. as hegemonic and hypocritical.

It is difficult to totally disagree with them as seen by the American position in the coup of Egypt. Had they been not on good terms with the Egyptian military, they would have clearly come out against the coup. This good coup as referred to by some would not have been possible without the military that receives an annual military aid of $1.5 billion from the U.S. Similarly, America often dismisses Russia as irrelevant and the Russian state as a caricature of autocracy and illegitimacy.

Against the background of deteriorating U.S.-Russian relations comes the news that China and Russia have edged closer in dealing with global issues and not coincidentally the new Chinese President Xi Jinping paid his first visit to Moscow in May last.

Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and Dimitri K. Simes, President of The Center for the National Interest and Publisher of its magazine, The National Interest, have viewed the flight of the leaker Edward J. Snowden from Hong Kong to Moscow would not have been possible without China-Russian cooperation. Their views have been expressed in The New York Times with the title “A New Anti-American Axis”. To them this demonstrates Sino-Russian assertiveness to take action at America’s expense.

The emerging new alliance between China and Russia has been bolstered by their common position to oppose an international action against Syria, in which case both of them have voted against censuring the Bashar regime for latter’s repression of the Syrians. Understandably, Chinese and Russian leaders have apprehension that supporting international action against the regimes like the one done in Libya in 2011 backed by UN resolutions could someday backfire on them as well. Their sovereignty have been challenged by some so-called separatist movements.

Gelb and Simes contend that China and Russia feel less risky in challenging the U.S. rather than cooperating with it. Two dangerous perceptions in their opinion are responsible for this.

One of these is America’s unilateral withdrawal of forces from Iraq and Afghanistan with no victory laurels. This has put a question mark to U.S.’s military superiority, which hitherto has remained unquestioned.

More importantly, American pursuit of democracy’s promotion has often been perceived as a selective crusade to undermine governments that they deem to be hostile to them. Hence their emphasis on democratic principles has not been always portrayed as the reflection of genuine commitment to freedom.

Unsurprisingly, the U.S. support for the neighbors of both China and Russia has contributed to the latter’s anxieties because America has sometimes failed to be neutral vis-à-vis some bilateral disputes. Glaring example of this is the American position in the South China Sea maritime disputes involving China and The Philippines and Vietnam.

When the 2002 military coup against the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, whom the U.S. administrations  derided for years, was not against democracy in America’s view and with their acquiescence to the recent military-backed coup in Egypt, there is bound to be an allegation of hypocrisy against the U.S.

Notwithstanding the differences in perception of existing superpower (U.S.), a rising power (China) and a power fighting to stay in the big leagues (Russia) as described by Gelb and Simes, one should not be alarmed at the possibility of the world lurching towards a Cold-War, which dominated the world for decades until the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Their interdependence indeed will induce them to work more collaboratively and help tackle global issues ranging from environmental degradation to cyber war, from international terrorism to espionage effectively.

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