A new cold war in the making?

Putin in Kazan in June 2000


There is a principle that is rarely ever discussed before an event, but is frequently cited afterward to demonstration the fragility of human logic – the principle of unintended consequences.  We may be witness just such a result in Libya. Not every country in the world supports intervention in Libya; in fact, with India joining the opposition the majority of the world’s population is opposed.  It is simply a matter of mathematics, China and India standing together on any issue represent a majority.  If their representation in the United Nations was more like the House of Representatives and not the Senate – they could  easily control any vote because they would have many times more representatives than the smaller western states.  The one state one vote rule, especially when honed down to a controlling Security Council, means states with the most political and economic muscle can dominate weaker states with larger populations.  It also produces some interesting coalitions both inside and outside of any issue – the United States, Great Britian and France are working diligently to build up the coalition against Gaddafi.  And while they are at it a coalition is silently building against any military action in Libya.  As an aside, within a decade or so the economic muscle will probably also be in the camp of the country with the most people – China and India.

A third nation in that silent coalition is Russia.  It is not surprising, Russia and the United States rarely agree on issues, no matter how many times their leaders meet, shake hands and gaze into each other’s eyes. The Cold War chill has never really warmed up and both countries are quick to criticize the other.  On most international, and on many internal issues, Russia speaks with two voices.  I guess in international affairs so does the United States, certainly Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, has been very vocal on Libya.  But one hopes that the secretary and the president agree on what is to be said and who will say what.  That may or may not be true in Russia.  The two voices in Russia are the present president and the past president, the president and the prime minister; they are flipping a coin at the moment trying to decide which will be the next president, or maybe flipping a coin to decide when to tell everyone else what they decided a long time ago.  It is never clear if Dmitry Medvedev even knows what Vladimir Putin is going to say, much less approves.

Regardless of how it works behind the scenes, Putin is the spokesman on Libya.  He is very outspoken and forceful in his articulation of Russia’s opposition to the intervention.  Like a good Islamic scholar – he does not pretend to be one – he describes the action of the United Nations and the air-strikes as a modern crusade.  You know the forces of Christianity called to arms by the Pope to attacked the infidel-Muslims and retake the holy city of Jerusalem.   Even, Putin seems a little uncomfortable with the metaphor and only used it once.  And then he moved on to the real subject – spending $700 billion on building up Russia’s armed forces.

Putin may not be an Islamic scholar, but he does  know the recent history of the Middle East.  He walked his audience through each of the military actions by the American government in the region in the last 20 years – oddly he left out Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan.  Putin said it was just too easy for the United States to decide to take military action against any government it opposed – and then even easier to drum up a list of willing accomplices.  The only answer for Russia is to build a much stronger military force, while helping in little ways to stir the pot – like building nuclear reactors in Iran.  A Cold War anyone?


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