A nice Washington Post opinion piece by Anne Applebaum on the prospects of a new cold war between the US on one side and China and Russia on the other. While she knocks down comparisons to the historical cold war, the piece focuses on the growing split between the US view and the views evident in Beijing and Russia.
We in the United States may not believe that we are engaged in an ideological struggle with anybody, but other people are engaged in an ideological struggle with us. We in the United States may not believe that there is any real threat to our longtime alliance structures in Europe and Asia, but other people think those alliances are vulnerable and have set out to undermine them.
She points out that while Russia and China aren’t coordinating their actions (and the Snowden affair could raise doubts about this claim), the elites in Moscow and Beijing share a dislike for liberal democracy and “are determined to prevent them from spreading to Moscow or Beijing.”
These same elites believe that Western media, Western ideas and especially Western capitalism — as opposed to state capitalism — pose a threat to their personal domination of their economies. They want the world to remain safe for their particular form of authoritarian oligarchy, and they are increasingly prepared to pay a high price for it.
I would argue that it’s not so much western capitalism but western political and social values that threaten the Chinese and Russian order. I think both China and Russia would be happy to have Western-style capitalism if it brought no risk of undermining the political order. In other words, China and Russia would embrace an economic system that could create a game-changing social media companies such as Myspace, Facebook and now Twitter without game changing consequences, like Obama’s win of the White House in 2008, which was largely made possible by organizing and outreach conducted on social media. While Obama’s reception has been rocky for some, Americans by and large respect the outcome of the election.
The WaPo piece ties together a number of events, many of which would have eluded many American readers, including the targeting of Western journalists in Beijing and Russia’s move to swing Ukraine back into its orbit. But Applebaum concludes on a startling note, that justifies reading this piece, printing it out, and putting on the fridge door.
We spent the 1990s enjoying the fruits of post-Cold War prosperity, the early 2000s fighting the war on terrorism. We are intellectually, economically and militarily unprepared to contemplate Great Power conflict, let alone engage in the hard work of renewing alliances and sharpening strategy. But History is back, whether we want it to be or not. Happy New Year.
Beijing (and Moscow) have been sending messages to the West about their impatience with the post-Cold War order for some time. The immediate question, of course, is, does this message rise about the rancor that has gripped US domestic politics in the past two decades. The division in the US is seemingly endless, and like the recent flap over the Duck Dynasty, focused on controversies that are full of sound and fury but often with little at stake. The US is itself a sort of Duck Dynasty – powerful yet parochial at heart, like the subject of the show. Can this country recognize ideological foes beyond its own borders? That’s the big question. At least someone in the US mainstream media is asking.