Russian spies poisoning people in the UK…
US intelligence agency NSA keeping tabs on world leaders…
China infiltrating giant US corporations Amazon and Apple with tiny chips…
The plot of the new James Bond film is writing itself!
Judging from all these “incidents” you’d almost think the Cold War is back after 30 years (or maybe it never really ended).
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson said as much at the Labour conference in Liverpool last month. He warned that the UK is on the frontier of a “new cold war” that Russia is winning.
Watson pointed to Russian hackers interfering in democratic elections, something he called a “Blitzkrieg for the digital age”.
Regardless of whether we’re really headed towards a new cold war, there’s evidence to suggest the West is losing ground on the world stage.
For years the West closed ranks to uphold its hegemony.
Now new superpower China and old foe Russia are uniting to challenge the West at a time when American-European relations are fraying.
Could the West breaking ranks herald the end of the American century?
The West is breaking ranks
On 9 November 1989 the biggest symbol of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall, was torn down.
The wall had separated East and West Berlin for nearly three decades. After it fell, the end of the Cold War was in sight.
The world went from two superpowers to one. For a while the US reigned supreme. But a lot has happened since the end of the Cold War.
The EU incorporated a host of former Soviet satellite states and got bigger and bigger. Its combined GDP is now almost at par with the US.
China’s come out of its shell and has emerged a new worthy adversary, both economically and politically.
And Russia regrouped under President Vladimir Putin to once again become a geopolitical force to be reckoned with.
If a new cold war is brewing, like Tom Watson suggests, who’s battling whom?
The Cold War of the 20th century was being “fought” in a binary world split into East and West, capitalist and communist.
Today’s alliances aren’t as clear-cut as they were then.
Europe and the US still side together in NATO, both oppose Chinese dumping on the world market, and jointly impose financial sanctions on Russia.
At the same time Europe sides with China against the US in the global trade war, while it’s working together with China and Russia to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive – thereby directly defying US wishes.
“Without any powers to contest American influence for two decades, Washington rightfully took advantage to build what it wanted, Michael Kofman, senior scientist at non-profit research organisation CAN, told the BBC.
“But all expansion of influence and power must eventually come with increasing cost, and those costs are starting to multiply in spades.”
China and Russia are manifesting themselves on the world stage, right at a time when the West is breaking ranks.
American-European relations have cooled in part because of US President Donald Trump’s protectionism and belligerent diplomacy.
With American supremacy crumbling and the US-Europe axis under pressure, China and Russia now have a realistic chance of ending Western hegemony.
Divide and conquer
Tom Watson’s talk of a “new cold war” and “Blitzkrieg” sounds a tad dramatic, but it serves to make a point.
Tensions and mistrust in global politics haven’t been this high since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
The West especially looks a lot more fragmented compared to the Cold War era. It could lead to a global regime change.
The US and Europe have dominated world affairs for a long time. Now this age-old partnership is showing cracks just as other countries are flexing their muscles.
Change is afoot, says Kori Schake of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London:
“If the history of the end of the American century is written one day, President Trump’s performance at the G-7 and NATO summits earlier this year, and his driving our closest allies into the arms of potential adversaries like China and Russia by sanctioning them, are likely to be important milestones.”
China and Russia are more than “potential” adversaries. They already have big incentives to end American dominance.
China finds itself in a trade war with the US, while Russia faces financial sanctions from the collective Western world.
During the Cold War, the US and Europe formed a united front, while China and the Soviet Union competed against each other to be the most influential communist state.
This time it may be the West that’s splintering.
Trump has binned the Iran nuclear deal and threatens his European allies with sanctions if they continue to do business with the Islamic republic.
It’s pushing Europe into the arms of the anti-dollar coalition that wants to end the era of the US currency as global reserve currency.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire recently confirmed Europe is working on independent financing instruments that will allow countries to sidestep US sanctions.
“Trump acts like there is no downside or negative consequences to the chaos he is creating but he is wrong. The United States is increasingly seen as a destabilising and unpredictable force in international affairs, and that is forcing foreign leaders to make decisions that run counter to our interests.”
Claims that we’re headed towards a new cold war are exaggerated, but it sure looks like forces are uniting to drive a wedge between the US and Europe.
History has shown time and again that the US and Europe need each other. The deterioration of this alliance only stands to hurt the US, Europe and their collective global interests.