The world is an ever changing place, and this is certainly the case with the geopolitical reality that the globe is currently facing. Although, there seems to be some throwback to a bygone age. Russia is engaging in expansionist policies, China is excising its muscle in the Pacific ring and both Africa and South America is engaged in more domestic troubles. So what happened at the end of the Cold War to bring all this on? The undisputed fact is that the problems and issues that existed before the brinkmanship of the East and West were never really dealt with and therefore, were left to simmer until the Cold War was over. Add that to the fact that America went on an ego trip with the second Gulf War and didn’t take the situation in Europe as serious as it should have and you have the makings of a New World Order or the potential for Cold War Version 2.0.
Russia and China
China has had an advantage in the fact that many of its resources both in minerals and labor were underdeveloped for generations. As more and more Western companies took advantage of this and the controlled social strata of the Communist government eliminating many uncertainties, China was able to gain more and more economic potential to the point of moving from a regional player to a global player in a few short decades. The West has had trouble coming to grips with the fact that China is more concerned about internal strife than other security issues but that very fact leads them to use foreign issues as a way to distract the populace from the problems at home. This alone means that China has and will continue to promote a foreign policy agenda that typically runs counter to the West. It is a very simple mechanism for the Communist government in China to keep the population focused on external problems.
With that in mind, the reality on the ground is that China will act as an expansive power yet claim that it has no expansive designs. This is going to trouble China’s neighbors for some time to come as the only way to contain this expansion is to eliminate the opportunities for China to act. However, this has to be done in such a way as the whole process plays to the Chinese populace and not to the hands of the Chinese government. By contrast the U.S. needs to return to the two front military planning and take a serious look at the harm current and previous deployments have had on both the military and the American people.
Russia, as opposed to the Chinese are operating from a fear. This fear was one that was obvious at the end of the Cold War and one that America didn’t take seriously. There has always been an inherent fear of the West in Russia. This goes back to the days of the Tzar’s but for some reason the West discounts this fear. This is the fundamental problem with East/West relations as the West does not understand why and where this fear comes from. Russia knows it has plenty of raw materials and resources and a small population. This, in their eyes, makes them a tempting target for control and domination by external powers. Coupled with the basic desire by the populace in the smaller towns to be left alone and the fear rises from the basic farmer all the way to the top of the Kremlin. To protect themselves, they want and need a buffer that in their mind would give them ample time to protect themselves. Ukraine is a prime example. Having a hostile enemy on the borders, within striking distance to Moscow and St. Petersburg keeps Russian planners up at night. Look at it from a Russian point of view, in 1941 if Hitler could have started Operation Barbarossa in Kiev, The Wehrmacht would have have been in Moscow in the matter of weeks. This would have given them no time to prepare.
Of course to those of us in the West, this might seem a little silly but the fact is the Great Patriotic War is still very much in the minds of Russia and even the ordinary citizen who wasn’t born during that time. Add that with the fact that Putin was head of the KGB and understood the fears of the West by his people and it makes sense that Russia would act out and appear to be an expansionist.
In the case of Russia, lets look at the situation in the Georgia War. The Russian military, even though it performed at less that expected levels could still have taken the entire country of Georgia. While it would have take a large occupation army to control Georgia, the fact on the ground would have be solidified and for the most part the West would not have cared. Sure, there would have been the normal complaints from the West but physically nothing would have been done. In short, Russia could have had the whole pie but didn’t take it. Why? Because Russia isn’t interested in expanding Russian territory as it is protecting itself from potential enemies on the border. By taking in the two breakaway republics of Georgia it creates a condition where there is a buffer zone but now it is an active participant in that region. Enough to give it ample warning of potential problems.
Contrast that with the expansionist problems with the South China Sea and it is easy to get the clear picture that China is interested in keeping the conflict, at least in words, going between it and the surrounding countries. This keeps the Chinese population focused and builds nationalist pride at the same time. That is why China is not interested in arbitration or mediation of any sort over the islands in the South China Sea. The cries of containment by the West from the Communist government is meant for domestic consumption and are not really directed towards either the U.S or the other Asian countries.
Cold War 2.0
So in effect what we are facing is a Cold War 2.0 but with different rules and players. Europe will focus and aim it’s attention at Russia as many in the EU were once former Soviet states and have no desire to return to the Russian bloc. The Asian countries will focus on China as they are afraid of the Chinese muscling their way into control of the Pacific Rim. Where does that leave the United States. Well in all honesty, screwed if we don’t get our act together. Right now the United State political regime is fractured and has little direction or control. The blame for this can be as wide or varied as a person wishes but it doesn’t change the reality that currently the United States can’t see its hand in front of its face. Until that situation is resolved, both China and Russia are going to continue to follow their current path. America has to challenge both Russia and China but at the same time make overtures that illustrate to the Russians that we are no threat, that NATO is defensive only. To China we have to show that we are willing to allow China to be China but that on the world stage, they must adhere to International standards and work with the International Community to solve problems. First and foremost, as American’s we have to stop thinking we are so great we walk on water.