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Jewish World Review
December 26, 2013/ 23 Teves, 5774
History is back, whether we want it to be or not
“Is this a new Cold War?”
Every time I say anything to anyone anywhere about Russia nowadays, that’s what I’m asked. And there is a clear answer: No. This is not a new Cold War. Neither the United States nor Europe is locked in a deadly, apocalyptic competition with Russia, China or anyone else. We are not fighting proxy wars. The world has not been divided into two Orwellian halves, democrats vs. communists.
But although we are not fighting a new Cold War, the tactics of the old Cold War are now, at the dawn of 2014, suddenly being deployed in a manner not seen since the early 1980s. 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.
Sometimes these gestures are quite open. China’s recent, unilateral declaration of a new air defense zone in the East China Sea was a clear attempt to warn its neighbors that its navy is preparing to compete with the U.S. fleet. The Chinese naval ship that recently cut in front of a U.S. destroyer, forcing it to change course, sent a similar message. Neither of these incidents signals the start of a cold, hot or any other kind of war. But they do mean that China intends to chip away at the status quo, to undermine the faith of U.S. allies — Japan, South Korea, the Philippines — in American power and force them to think twice, at the very least, about their old economic, military and trade agreements.
Over the past year, Russia has been playing the same kind of games with NATO: no open threats, just hints. Last spring, the Russian air force staged a mock attack on Sweden, came perilously close to Swedish air space and buzzed Gotland Island. The Swedish air force failed to react — it was after midnight on Good Friday — though eventually two Danish planes scrambled to follow the Russian planes back across the Baltic. Russian officials have also made veiled (and not so veiled) threats to Finland, selectively boycotted industries in the Baltic states and dropped hints that Russia intends to put, or might already have put, longer-range missiles on its Western border — missiles designed to hit Germany.
I repeat: Russia does not intend to start a war. Russia, rather, intends in the short term to undermine regional confidence in NATO, in U.S. military guarantees, in West European solidarity. In the longer term, Russia wants Scandinavia, the Baltic states and eventually all of Europe to accept Russian policies in other spheres.
Russia and China do not coordinate these actions, and there isn’t much love lost between them, either. But the elites of both of these countries do have one thing in common: They dislike the institutions of liberal democracy as practiced in Europe, the United States, Japan and elsewhere, and they 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.
Last week, the Russian president effectively bought the goodwill of the Ukrainian president, offering him some $15 billion to prop up his budget in exchange for not signing a free-trade agreement with the European Union. That agreement would eventually have made Ukraine better governed, more prosperous — and less accessible to corrupt Russian businesses. China has also made clear that Western journalists who write about Chinese corruption are no longer welcome in the country. Good Sino-American relations are important to Beijing, but not as important as blocking Western investigative reporters who might pose a threat to China’s ruling families.
It would be silly to take any one of these incidents too seriously. But it would be equally silly to ignore them. 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.
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Gulag: A History
Nearly 30 million prisoners passed through the Soviet Union's labor camps in their more than 60 years of operation. This remarkable volume, the first fully documented history of the gulag, describes how, largely under Stalin's watch, a regulated, centralized system of prison labor-unprecedented in scope-gradually arose out of the chaos of the Russian Revolution. Fueled by waves of capricious arrests, this prison labor came to underpin the Soviet economy. JWR's Applebaum, a former Warsaw correspondent for the Economist and a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, draws on newly accessible Soviet archives as well as scores of camp memoirs and interviews with survivors to trace the gulag's origins and expansion Sales help fund JWR.
Comment on JWR contributor Anne Applebaum's column by clicking here.
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10/28/11: What Libya has inherited from Moammar Gaddafi
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08/24/11: Let Libya take charge of its revolution
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04/13/11: Will the Libya intervention bring the end of NATO?
04/05/11: Why has the State Department run into a firewall on Internet freedom?
03/29/11: Are we bombing Tripoli to keep Nicolas Sarkozy in power?
03/22/11: The Key to Success in Libya Is Setting Low Expectations
02/22/11: In the Arab world, it's 1848 - not 1989
02/08/11: U.S. deeds don't follow U.S. words on Egypt
01/01/11: When oil prices rise, Russia has freedom over a barrel
12/28/10: Jeopardizing democracy in Hungary
12/21/10: In Belarus, a slide toward Eastern aggression
12/14/10: In Britain, outrage without a thoughtful outlet
12/07/10: How WikiLeaks' new release will increase secrecy and damage democratic governments
11/30/10: In seeking free speech, Wikileaks strikes a blow against honest speech
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09/07/10: In Europe, it's no longer East vs. West
08/10/10: Take your medicine, Tom Sawyer
07/29/10: Wikileaks busts myth about the irrelevance of mainstream media
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06/02/10: Can the Brits play nice?
05/11/10: Greece's stubborn surrender
05/04/10: Another human-rights irony at the U.N.
04/27/10: Britain's spot of Tea Party
04/13/10: Out of tragedy, a detente of sorts between Russia, Poland
03/25/10: From Britain's Tories, lessons for the GOP
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03/09/10: Germany Is Tired of Paying Europe's Bills
03/02/10: Chile will survive the earthquake because its democracy works
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02/09/10: The Big Problem With Big Solutions
01/26/10: India's model of reflective patriotism
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01/05/10: How every year we waste millions on wasteful homeland-security projects
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12/15/09: The Apocalypse Is Not Upon Us
11/24/09: Superpower without a partner
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11/10/09: After the wall fell
11/03/09: Angela Merkel's Quiet Revolution
10/20/09: Will the President of Europe Be a Gifted Pol or a Compromising Bureaucrat?
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09/22/09: Letting Europe Drift
09/17/09: Greed and fear are proving stronger than companies' commitment to free speech
09/08/09: Will Obama Fight For Afghanistan?
09/01/09: The Polish Prologue
08/20/09: Why Afghans Need a Vote
07/29/09: No Burqa For Clinton
07/14/09: The Summit of Green Futility
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06/30/09: In Morocco, an alternative to Iran
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05/26/09: What a Member of Parliament Deserves
04/22/09: The Twitter Revolution That Wasn't
04/14/09: Do we really need interactive exhibits to bring Jefferson to life?
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03/31/09: What's Loud, Unnecessary, and Costs $75 Million?
03/03/09: European Disunion
02/24/09: Who cares what Hillary Clinton says to China's leaders about human rights?
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02/10/09: Our Ticket Out of Afghanistan
01/27/09:Why some foreigners can't believe Obama won the presidency fair and square
01/20/09: A Flight Test for All of Us
01/14/09: Europe's New Cold War
01/07/09: Pointless Peace Proposals
12/30/08: The magnificent rhetorical legacy of the Founding Fathers
12/23/08: Do riots in Athens portend demonstrations in Paris and Cincinnati?
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12/09/08: In praise of charismatic politicians
12/03/08: Moscow's Empire of Dust
11/20/08: Getting Past Mythmaking In Georgia
11/12/08: In Praise of Political Rock Stars
10/03/08: Election Day myths you must resist
09/30/08: Not just a metaphor: Lehman Brothers was economic's 9/11
09/04/08: Class of '64
08/28/08: Did Hillary really help the Barack cause?
08/27/08: Show of Power, Indeed
08/19/08: What Is Russia Afraid Of?
08/13/08: When China Starved
08/11/08: Two of the world's rising powers are strutting their stuff
08/05/08: How Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago changed the world
07/29/08:The Hour of Europe Tolls Again Ö But are European politicians up to the task?
07/15/08: Why Does Obama Want To Campaign in Berlin?
07/01/08: Citizen Athletes: How did a guy who can't speak Polish end up scoring Poland's only goal of Euro 2008?
06/24/08: Why do we expect presidential candidates to be kind?
06/17/08: Pity the Poor Eurocrats
06/12/08: Is the World Ready for a Black American President?
05/28/08: The Busiest Generation: America seems to value its children's status and achievements over their happiness
05/20/08: Leave Hitler Out of It: The craze for injecting the Nazis into political debate must end
05/13/08: A Drastic Remedy: The case for intervention in Burma
05/07/08: A Warning Shot From Moscow?
04/23/08: Radio to stay tuned to
04/17/08: China learns the price of a few weeks of global attention
04/01/08: Head scarves are potent political symbols
03/26/08: The Olympics are the perfect place for a protest
03/19/08: Could Tibet bring down modern China?
03/12/08: Have political autobiographies made us more susceptible to fake memoirs?
03/05/08: Why does Russia bother to hold elections?
02/20/08: Kosovo is a textbook example of the law of unintended consequences
02/06/08: A Craven Canterbury Tale
02/06/08: French prez' whirlwind romance reminds voters of his political recklessness
© 2009, Anne Applebaum. By permission of the author