Welcome to Cold War II


Andrew Cockburn has an interesting article (paywall) in the January 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine where he talks about how the military industry, alarmed by the fact that the end of the Cold War led to a reduction in the need for things like fighter planes, tanks, and other highly profitable heavy armaments, set about creating a new cold war and succeeded.

[T]he end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union had posed a truly existential threat. The gift that had kept on giving, reliably generating bomber gaps, missile gaps, civil-defense gaps, and whatever else was needed at the mere threat of a budget cut, disappeared almost overnight.

For the defense industry, this was a matter of urgency. By the early 1990s, research and procurement contracts had fallen to about half what they’d been in the previous decade.

While things like the war on drugs and the war on terror (America is always at war with something or somebody) were helpful, neither required the demands for the kinds of massive heavy equipment that wars between nations generate. The problem was that when the Cold War ended, the US and Russia apparently agreed that NATO would not seek to expand to the east.

There was one minor impediment: the Bush Administration had already promised Moscow that NATO would not move east, a pledge that was part of the settlement ending the Cold War. Between 1989 and 1991, the United States and the Soviet Union had amicably agreed to cut strategic nuclear forces by roughly a third and to withdraw almost all tactical nuclear weapons from Europe. Meanwhile, the Soviets had good reason to believe that if they pulled their forces out of Eastern Europe, NATO would not fill the military vacuum left by the Red Army. Secretary of State James Baker had unequivocally spelled out Washington’s end of that bargain in a private conversation with Mikhail Gorbachev in February 1990, pledging that NATO forces would not move “one inch to the east,” provided the Soviets agreed to NATO membership for a unified Germany.

But the US set about breaking those promises, with George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Geroge W. Bush, Dick Cheney (of course), a coterie of neoconservatives, and the heavy arms industry led by former Martin-Marietta CEO Norman R. Augustine, pushing the process of trying to encircle Russia, with the Baltic states being among those recruited, with the goal being to defeat Russia totally. Naturally this infuriated the Russians.

The Russians certainly thought they had a deal. Sergey Ivanov, later one of Vladimir Putin’s defense ministers, was in 1991 a KGB officer operating in Europe. “We were told . . . that NATO would not expand its military structures in the direction of the Soviet Union,” he later recalled. When things turned out otherwise, Gorbachev remarked angrily that “one cannot depend on American politicians.” Some years later, in 2007, in an angry speech to Western leaders, Putin asked: “What happened to the assurances our Western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? Where are those declarations today? No one even remembers them.”

The Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili was someone ho thought he could ride this wave of anti-Russian sentiment in the west and prematurely challenged Russia in South Ossetia in 2008, with the result that he was roundly and quickly defeated.

The US and NATO then decided to put Ukraine into their camp and engineered a putsch that overthrew the government and replaced it with a pro-western one and this resulted in Russia moving into Crimea to make sure that it continued to have access to the Baltic ports for its fleet. And we still have a continuing struggle for control of Eastern Ukraine.

So there we are, in a new Cold War with Russia. But not everyone is unhappy about this new state of tension.

In any event, the vision of Augustine and his peers that an enlarged NATO could be a fruitful market has become a reality. By 2014, the twelve new members had purchased close to $17 billion worth of American weapons, while this past October Romania celebrated the arrival of Eastern Europe’s first $134 million Lockheed Martin Aegis Ashore missile-defense system.

When the Cold War ended, some people dreamed of a ‘peace dividend’ where all the vast sums of money being spent on armaments would be now available to actually improve the lives of people. As long as the military-industrial complex is around to pour vast sums of money into the pockets of members of government to keep the war fever high, that will never happen.

Comments

  1. mnb0 says

    You know, before drawing conclusions you might check some actual numbers. I thought this was regular practice among scientists, but perhaps not when physicists argue for a predetermined political conclusion?

    http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0904490.html

    From 1990 until 2000 (ie 8 years of Clinton government) the military budget was decreased with no less than 25%. Sure Clinton deserves criticism, but fighting a second Cold War doesn’t seem to be one.
    Btw the withdrawal of American soldiers from bases in Europe (many have been closed) doesn’t support your conclusion either.

  2. Nick Gotts says

    mnbo@2,

    The only place Clinton is mentioned specifically in the OP is in relation to the expansion of NATO, contrary to the promises given at the end of the Cold War. This began under Clinton, with the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary joining in 1999. It is true the military budget fell during his Presidency, but the military-industrial complex has succeeded in more than reversing this fall since. The prospect of a peace dividend has thus been successfully warded off – and the expansion of NATO begun under Clinton laid the groundwork for this remarkable achievement.

  3. atheistblog says

    The problem is still lot of people believe that kiev coup is some kind of people uprising, all the war in eastern europe has nothing to do with nato expansion, it’s all just about one single person putin and his earning to bring back soviet, gosh, no other reason.
    Obama proved over and over again that he is worse than bush in many ways. I bet somewhere in future in one of those declassified docs it will show how cia aided kiev coup.

  4. says

    A lot of the emphasis on “cyberwar” is because the military/industrial/intelligence complex were looking around for a new source of fear, uncertainty, and doubt after the USSR threw its hand in. Winn Schwartau wrote a book (“information warfare”) which was, ironically, a pile of disinformation – making it an act of information warfare itself – that was chock full of crap about making airplanes crash and frying people’s computers from miles away with high energy radio frequencies (Winn doesn’t know about the inverse square law) and so forth. I remember when it came out, in 1994, and suddenly every single DARPA project had “information warfare” in the title. At Trusted Information Systems, where I worked at the time, we joked about having to go through and put IW in proposals using search and replace. The result, of course, was that the war boys built toys and then they had to test them. So they tested them on the US’ communications infrastructure, China, Russia and Iran. And complained bitterly about the horrible unfairness of Chinese cyberattacks.

    I have switched to “default: disbelieve” when it comes to anything out of Washington. If someone from inside the beltway told me water was wet, I’d stick my finger in it to check.

  5. says

    But the US set about breaking those promises, with George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Geroge W. Bush, Dick Cheney (of course), a coterie of neoconservatives, and the heavy arms industry led by former Martin-Marietta CEO Norman R. Augustine, pushing the process of trying to encircle Russia, with the Baltic states being among those recruited, with the goal being to defeat Russia totally.

    Don’t forget Yeltsin, who was practically a CIA puppet. If not in fact, in act. If the US had been able to continue to force Russia into capitalist servitude by encouraging more privatization of industry (the standard vulture capitalist playbook) Russia would not have had the oligarchs and Putin would not have been able to take over the government so easily. Once again, the US’ meddling in foreign affairs produced the exact opposite of what was intended.

  6. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    I’ve mentioned it before, but I can repeat it: the USA is good at making enemies. Which is exactly what the military industry needs. Their best salesman is Putin with his frozen conflicts.

    Forget what von Clausewitz said. Nowadays a good war is a long war, because it offers more business opportunities.

  7. kraut says

  8. dmcclean says

    The US and NATO then decided to put Ukraine into their camp and engineered a putsch that overthrew the government and replaced it with a pro-western one and this resulted in Russia moving into Crimea to make sure that it continued to have access to the Baltic ports for its fleet.

    I’m certainly no expert on the situation, but this strikes me as something of an overstatement in that it totally erases all agency from the Ukrainians themselves.

    I’m against further NATO expansion because it’s dangerous, but a Ukrainian move to the US/EU/NATO “camp” that doesn’t include mutual defense guarantees doesn’t seem problematic. It seems reasonable that some Ukrainians don’t want close integration with Russia’s “camp”.

    NATO expansion to Ukraine is against the security interest of NATO member states, is the thing. I agree that it might be in the financial interest of major defense contractors, for essentially the same reason that it is against the security interest of their client state(s). I agree that there is enormous influence on defense policy decisions by those contractors. I agree that the Yanukovych ouster was a coup/putsch. I’m holding out judgement on the “engineered” part, although there is certainly evidence for something like “assisted”, “influenced”, or “supported”. If it was “engineered”, it seems to have been done much more skillfully than most any other US-engineered change of government that I can think of, as the new government seems to enjoy significant popular support in the regions it controls and isn’t nearly so dependent on military, logistical, or even financial aid as are the others I can think of.

    Speaking of the danger of defense guarantees, the ones provided in the 1994 memorandum were already somewhat risky. Although certainly the non-proliferation advantages of the Ukrainian concessions secured by them were quite valuable. That one would’ve been a tough call. The lax adherence to/narrow interpretation of those guarantees that the US/UK have shown in the present conflict is definitely sensible even if it will undermine the value of similar assurances in the future. But the existence of those guarantees somewhat speaks against the theory in the OP: why wouldn’t nefarious actors that want war be hammering on that agreement in the press? It hardly ever seems to even be mentioned.

    One last thing. The OP quotes the Cockburn article as saying: “By 2014, the twelve new members had purchased close to $17 billion worth of American weapons,…”. The twelve new members referred to joined in three groups in 1999, 2004, and 2009. So let’s say that they’ve been in for 10 years. $2 billion/year is a lot of money, but it’s also a drop in the bucket of US defense expenditures on military hardware. Surely there are easier ways to make a buck as a major defense contractor?

  9. Nick Gotts says

    isn’t nearly so dependent on military, logistical, or even financial aid as are the others I can think of. – dmcclean@11

    Really? From what I’ve heard, Ukraine is bankrupt. And if the Russians wanted to and were prepared to take the risk of western countermeasures, they could overwhelm Ukraine within a week.

  10. dmcclean says

    Both true, but name another place that isn’t worse. All the ones I can think of are bankrupt after we’ve given them truckloads of money, and are losing ground to various terrorist/drug groups even though we have “military advisers” and hardware helping them. Ukraine is bankrupt and militarily weak, but largely (we gave them some money) they’ve achieved that level of success on their own.

    Also, there’s a lot of places that a lot of countries could overwhelm within a week if it weren’t for risk of countermeasures. But that’s not how the game is played, because there is risk of those countermeasures, and using someone’s unwillingness to take that risk is a legitimate move. You could take my knight, if you were prepared to lose a rook and two pawns, but you don’t, because you aren’t, and that’s not me being weak, it’s just the game.

  11. kraut says

    I give up – this wordpress is about as idiotic as it gets. I tried to post yesterday and today several times – and none showed up, but was told by the wordpress server I had double posted after repeating a posting.
    It is not important anyway, and giving up on FTB is not much hardship considering that this blogger Mr. Singham is one of two on FTB I still respect.

  12. Nick Gotts says

    dmmcclean@13,

    Ukraine is already billions in hock to the IMF, which is dictating “reforms”* and is begging for more:

    Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said Kiev, facing the additional financial burden of the rebellion in its eastern territories, risks defaulting unless Western donors come up with more funds in addition to what has already been pledged.

    Russia could also shut down what remains of Ukraine’s economy by turning off the gas supply – although again, at significant cost to itself, when its own economy is not in great shape – largely as a result of the economic side of the new cold war.

    *When the IMF says “reform” it means “Grind the faces of the poor! Harder!

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