Environmental Ethics
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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- March 6, 2007

Oh What a Lovely (Cold) War!

Ernest Partridge

On February 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin startled the Munich Conference on Security Policy with a speech that was strongly critical of United States foreign and military policy. The speech drew an immediate and harsh reaction from the U.S. media. However, after reading the entire speech (found here), I must say that it was, if anything, restrained. Some extended quotations from Putin's speech are in order:

What is a unipolar world? However one might embellish this term, at the end of the day it refers to one type of situation, namely one center of authority, one center of force, one center of decision-making.

It is [a] world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within...

We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law....  One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes this? Who is happy about this? ...

This is extremely dangerous. It results in the fact that no one feels safe. I want to emphasize this – no one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them. Of course such a policy stimulates an arms race....

Putin expressed particular concern about the expansion of NATO up to the borders of Russia itself:

[NATO] represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? Where are those declarations today? ...

The stones and concrete blocks of the Berlin Wall have long been distributed as souvenirs. But we should not forget that the fall of the Berlin Wall was possible thanks to a historic choice – one that was also made by our people, the people of Russia – a choice in favor of democracy, freedom, openness and a sincere partnership with all the members of the big European family.

The new American Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, followed the next day with assurances to Putin and the Russians that “we all face many common problems and challenges that must be addressed in partnership with other countries, including Russia... I think no one wants a new Cold War with Russia.”

Though I may be earning myself a world of hurt, I must say that I am unconvinced by Gates’ reassurances and I dare suggest that Putin’s apprehensions might have some justification.  (Standard disclaimer: while I find much to admire in Russian history and culture, I detest Soviet Communism.  In my frequent visits to Russia, I have seen what Communism did to Russia and to my Russian friends).

For a validation of Putin’s concerns, one need look no further than the published objectives of the neo-conservatives, and particularly of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), the policies of which have been largely adopted intact by the Bush Administration. For consider:

  • Putin complains that a “uni-polar world” is a world with “one center of authority, one center of force, one center of decision-making ... one master, one sovereign.” But isn’t this precisely the published objective of the neo cons and PNAC?  As William Kristol and Robert Kagan put it, the time has come for the United States, the “sole remaining super-power,” to impose a “benevolent global hegemony” upon the world. They explain, “a hegemon is nothing more or less than a leader with preponderant influence and authority over all others in its domain. That is America's position in the world today.” This is a virtual paraphrase of Putin’s complaint.

  • Putin is also alarmed by “a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law.” This disdain is exemplified by The Bush Administration’s unilateral abrogation of the test-ban and anti-ballistic missile treaties, its violation of the Geneva Conventions against torture and of the Nuremberg Accords forbidding unprovoked war, and its refusal to allow American citizens to be tried in international criminal courts. What is all this, if not a “disdain .. of international law”?

  • Putin asks: “[NATO] represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust... Against whom is this expansion intended?” A worthy question. Why indeed need NATO expand up to the very borders of Russia, and within the borders of the former Soviet Union? Why include the Baltic Republics (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and Georgia? Why attempt to add Ukraine to the alliance? Why should NATO install “defensive”missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic? Why, except to provoke and, perchance, humiliate Russia for its alleged “loss” of the Cold War? Otherwise, these developments must appear to the Russians as a revival of the Cold War “containment” policy.

It would seem that Cheney, Rumsfeld and now Gates are old Cold War dogs incapable of learning new tricks. They just can’t adapt to a post-Cold War multi-lateral world. “Just like any war,” Putin observed, “the Cold War left us with live ammunition, figuratively speaking. I am referring to ideological stereotypes, double standards and other typical aspects of Cold War bloc thinking.”

Let’s be perfectly blunt: Not everyone suffered because of the Cold War, and not everyone was elated by its demise.

Most significantly, of course,
the Military-Industrial-Academic-Media-Congressional Complex (thus expanded since Eisenhower’s original 1961 warning about “the military-industrial complex”), flourished during, and because of, the Cold War and then was hit hard and immediately by the ending of it.

The ending of the Cold War was especially painful in the defense-industry-intensive state of California. In a March 29, 1991 San Francisco Examiner article, “State’s Finances Collapsing,” we read:

California’s budget crisis has mushroomed into a full-blown, $12.6 billion emergency requiring quick and drastic action, a somber Governor Wilson warned... During a morning news conference, Wilson said the state is sinking deep into recession, resulting in a sharp drop in state business and personal income taxes. At the same time, rising unemployment and welfare rolls are placing greater demands on costly state services.” (Unfortunately, not online).

Not mentioned in the article was the primary cause of this economic setback; namely the canceling and reduction of billions of dollars worth of defense contracts, following the end of the Cold War. As a result, thousands of defense workers joined the unemployment rolls, and with the loss of profits, tax revenues from defense industries dried up. Due to the state budget crisis, thousands of state employees were “let go,” including state college and university faculties – Yours Truly among them.

Is it no wonder, then, that to many of our citizens, a disproportionate share of whom are very wealthy citizens, “Peace” is a mixed blessing?

And so, with the dissolution of “the evil [Soviet] empire,” and the consequent cuts in the defense budget, the unreconciled Cold Warriors desperately looked about for new enemies. Then, just in time, Osama bin Laden came to their rescue. Next, Iraq, Iran and “Islamo-fascism.” And then, perchance, Russia-redux?

If the 9/11 attacks had been treated as the criminal acts that they were, the entire world would have joined with us to track down and capture those responsible for these crimes. Instead, the Busheviks chose to declare a “war on terror” (against no nation, against no army, with no end in sight), and to go it alone. So we restored the defense budget to unprecedented levels and built more aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and jet fighters, to do battle against brigands hiding in caves. Now we find that with this mighty high-tech military we are unable to defeat Iraq, a small nation of twenty-two million possessing no army, navy or air force.

Nonetheless, for the military-industrial-academic-media-congressional complex, “My Gawd, how the money rolls in!”

A perpetual warfare economy and political order is a choice and not a necessity. Careful planning for a transition into a peacetime economy can ease the worst of the dislocations and suffering such as we saw in the early nineties. Such planning did so at the end of World War II. But that kind of planning must be done by the federal government, which is now anathema since Ronald Reagan convinced many of us that “government is not the solution, government is the problem.” (See my “Swords into Plowshares”)

Despite the arrogance and bullying of the Bush/Cheney regime, few nations and people around the world wish the American people ill. Surely not Russia. Only a few hundred, increased now to several thousand, Moslem fanatics want to do us in.

To Vladimir Putin and his government I would urge: “be patient.”  "The American public is waking up at last. Bush and his neo-con collaborators have the support of less than 30% of the public, and their time in office is running out – perchance faster than they realize. More and more of us share your disapproval of American imperialism and American international bullying, and have no desire whatever to see a return of the Cold War.  But also be careful: given our recent history, 'friendly advice' from the Russian government, however well intentioned and well founded, might not be well-received here, and might even backfire." (Consider the consequences of bin Laden’s cynical “endorsement” of John Kerry in the last election).

Far better that the American people be the instruments of political and economic reform in the United States. For if not, the rest of the world might, as it surely can, demolish the American economy without firing a shot, by depriving the United States of essential resources (primarily oil) and abandoning the dollar as the primary world currency.  (See my "The Vulnerable Giant").  In short, "the outside world" simply will not, and need not, submit to the neo-con's "global hegemony."

Furthermore, the world need not fear a return of the Cold War.  Bush, Cheney and the neo cons seem incapable of appreciating the simple and stark reason why this is so: the U.S. economy stands in the same relationship to the world economy, as homo sapiens to the planetary ecosystem.  We Americans cannot survive alone as an advanced industrial nation apart from the world economy, while the global community can manage quite well without us. 

In the final analysis, the phrase "benevolent global hegemony" is a "tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Copyright 2007 by Ernest Partridge

Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .