Cold War 2.0?

Interesting essay by Robert Skidelsky bringing an element of historical knowledge to bear on the current crisis in Ukraine.

Before we drift into Cold War II, we would do well to recall why we had the first one. The end of Communism removed one important reason: the Soviet Union’s expansionist thrust and the Western democracies’ determination to resist it. But other reasons remain.

American diplomat George F. Kennan identified them as neurotic insecurity and Oriental secretiveness on the Russian side, and legalism and moralism on the Western side. The middle ground of cool calculation of interests, possibilities, and risks remains elusive to this day.

Kennan is reckoned to have laid the Cold War’s intellectual foundation – at least in the West – with his “long telegram” from Moscow in February 1946, which he followed with his famous Foreign Affairs article, signed “X,” in July 1947. Kennan argued that long-term peace between the capitalist West and communist Russia was impossible, owing to the mixture of traditional Russian insecurity, Stalin’s need for an external enemy, and communist messianism.

Russia, Kennan argued, would seek to bring about the collapse of capitalism not by an armed attack, but by a mixture of bullying and subversion. The correct response, said Kennan, should be “containment” of Soviet aggression through the “adroit and vigilant application of counterforce.”

During President Harry Truman’s administration, United States officials interpreted Kennan’s view as requiring a military build-up against a potential Communist invasion of Western Europe. This gave rise to the Truman Doctrine, from which sprang the logic of military confrontation, NATO, and the arms race.

These developments dismayed Kennan, who claimed that containment was meant to be economic and political, not military. He was one of the main architects of the post-WWII Marshall Plan. He opposed the formation of NATO.

Skidelsky thinks that the West is playing this wrongly and ineptly. We’re doing what Kennan warned against — foreign policy that is “utopian in its expectation, legalistic in its concept…moralistic…and self-righteous,” The goal of Western policy today, he thinks, “should be to find the means to work with Russia to stop Ukraine from being torn apart”. This means

talking and listening to the Russians. The Russians have presented their ideas for resolving the crisis. Broadly, they propose a “neutral” Ukraine on the model of Finland and a federal state on the model of Switzerland. The first would exclude NATO membership, but not admission to the European Union. The second would aim to secure semi-autonomous regions.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphSuch proposals may be cynical; they may also be unworkable. But the West should be urgently testing, exploring, and seeking to refine them instead of recoiling in moralistic horror at Russia’s actions.

Makes sense to me.

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