Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The cold war and proxy wars

At the end of World War II, the conflict between the Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc, the Western World and NATO allies became known as the Cold War. A common time frame for this conflict is 1947 until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. During that time many proxy wars between the two factions took place. Once the USSR collapsed there was some form of quasi peace as the United States became the only superpower. With the rise of Vladimir Putin as Russian leader, we are now entering a new Cold War era but this one is very different and possibly more dangerous.

During the period of the Cold War there was no direct military conflict between the two Super powers, except in the sixties, when the U.S threatened the Soviets during the Cuban missile crisis. However, each country got involved in their own wars. More importantly, the U.S got directly involved in Vietnam, and the USSR in Afghanistan. Both countries were involved in covert actions such as providing and selling arms to different warring factions around the world. The U.S supporting right leaning governments while the USSR backing up socialist revolutionary regimes. It was a constant war of ideology, capitalism versus socialism. Proxy wars continued for a long time until the collapse of the USSR and the Eastern bloc. During that time there was a constant web of reciprocal spying, including meddling in elections by both sides. The Russians lost much of its influence around the world as they also lost control of Eastern European countries. This downfall was never forgotten by the new Russian President Vladimir Putin, who for a decade has been plotting the resurgence of a Russian super power. 

The rise of China as an economic power and hence a military power we have a new player on the geopolitical scene. In addition the new world threat of radical Islamic terrorism has created a new environment for a new cold war, which is being used to start proxy wars. While the U.S and its allies are mainly preoccupied with Islamic terrorism, Russia and China have been gradually building themselves as the main rivals to the U.S. Helped by a feckless Obama administration and foreign policy, Russia has increased its sphere of influence. Putin took over Crimea and has now been involved in Syria. Russia now has access to naval bases in the Mediterranean and airfields in Iran. Meanwhile China has aggressively flexed its muscle in the South China Sea, building artificial islands with air strips. Gaining more influence in Western Pacific.

The most concerning situation is the military rise of Iran and North Korea, both countries already named by the new Trump administration as significant threats to world stability. These two countries have Russia and China as ‘defacto mentors’. They are used as surrogates by the two U.N Permanent Security Council members, who have veto powers. China very mutely supports North Korea, while Russia is increasingly helping the military buildup of Iran. The new proxy war does not involve direct military offensives, but Iran and North Korea are used as U.S irritants. While they preoccupy the Western world they allow Russia and China to increase their military might and territorial influence. The greatest proxy war threat will come through cyber-attacks on power grids, water supplies, and on banking and economic infrastructures.

I believe that it is this cat and mouse play by Russia and China, indirectly helped by the rise of Islamic terrorism, which gave rise for Trump’s call on NATO countries to increase their contributions. Today it is clear that The U.S bears the brunt of the military costs for being the policeman of the world. Out of the 28 members of NATO only 5 actually fulfill their 2% of GDP contribution commitment. The other 23 countries, including Canada, are mostly ruled by leftist Liberal governments who have curtailed their military budgets, and instead have invested in costly social programs which are difficult to roll back. Autocratic governments like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea on the other hand continue to build their arsenal and sponsor terrorism. Most importantly Iran and North Korea pursue a policy of nuclear buildup and proliferation, which I believe includes collusion and cooperation between the two countries. This covert cooperation can be seen in the nuclear and missile test by North Korea and missile test and terrorism sponsorship by Iran.

Where do we go from here? What can the world do to stem these global and dangerous threats? While very difficult and demanding I believe that there are some strategic alliances that should and can be built to make real strides to prevent another world war.
In my humble opinion, I see a number of possible solutions:
 On defeating Radical Islamic terrorism, there is a possibility of a coalition between Russia, China and the Arab world. There are many common interests in doing a deal. Russia has to worry about Chechnya, China battles Uyghur militants, as for the Arabs, despite the divide between Shia and Sunni factions there still exists the desire among some to defeat the terrorists.

Iran and North Korea are a different proposition. Obama’s deal with Iran has created a major problem for Israel, the Middle East and the world. North Korea is a dictatorship supported by China which is a major destabilizing threat in South East Asia, mainly to its neighbours Japan and South Korea. The actions of these two countries can only be resolved through UN sanctions backed by both Russia and China. Unfortunately the UN has become a dysfunctional organization which no longer has any will, credibility or teeth left.

A Korean solution can only be achieved with the help of China. One way to get this done is through new trade relationships with China. It is possible that the Trump administration could get something done on that front. Otherwise the only alternatives left are either a regime change led by China, or war with North Korea, which is not the preferred solution.

The post-Obama era is worse than the post-Carter years. The world and nations are divided. We have reached a dangerous point in our history and it is not Trump’s fault if the world gets into a real war. It would be the bad deals and agreements made by Obama and previous administrations such as the failure to curtail North Korea before they acquired nuclear weapons, and the return of billions of dollars to Iran who can now sponsor terrorism at will. The Western world should wake up and acknowledge the real dangers that the world faces. We must abandon political correctness and appeasement; resort to strategic alliances to find lasting solutions.
Remember that the ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’. The real issue is choosing the right friend.