Is the Cold War Coming Back? Hardly

06/30/2015 12:44 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2016

With an aggressive Russian policy in Ukraine, Crimea and the Baltic States and Putin's announcement that Russia would add more than 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) to its nuclear arsenal, there is much talk -- most recently by Secretary of State John Kerry -- of the "new Cold War."

This ignores a simple fact: A weakened Russia can hardly launch a new Cold War.

During the first Cold War (1947-1987), the Korean War and the Vietnam War caused almost 100,000 American military fatalities. The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was a showdown between two superpowers. Afterwards President John Kennedy mused that the chances of a nuclear war were "between 1 in 3 and even." In all these crises, our enemies were Communist states: Soviet Union, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba.

But most of the 14 Communist states -- led by the Soviet Union, six Eastern European states and Mongolia -- are gone. The remainder, which includes China, Vietnam, Cuba, Laos/Cambodia, are reforming and dealing extensively with the West. Only a weak semi-nuclear North Korea is left in the old Communist mold. The strong international Communist movement is fading away or gone altogether in most places.

Putin's Russia is not the superpower of the Cold War era. It still retains a major nuclear capability comparable to that of the United States. But its conventional capabilities are far weaker than after World War II when it played a major role in defeating Nazi Germany and occupied Eastern Europe. The Red Army performed poorly in the first Chechen War (1994-1996) and showed modest improvement in the second Chechen War (2000-2004). Its victories have come against weak forces in Georgia, Crimea and Left Bank Ukraine. Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Red Army has been pushed back up many hundreds of miles from the center of Europe to defending Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Meanwhile the American military budget is over seven times greater than that of Russia.

Then there's the demographic problem. During the Cold War the Soviet Union controlled an empire of 400 million people, Now 50 percent of the Soviet population live in 14 independent countries and Eastern Europe is independent. With a low birth rate, low life expectancy and massive emigration, Russia may fade to 100 million people by 2050. Meanwhile, the United States will likely reach 400 million people in that same time, while its allies in Europe already number 440 million people.

While the United States has strong and wealthy allies in Europe, Asia and Latin America, Russia has a handful of poor allies, including North Korea and some former Soviet republics. The United States has over 500 bases around the world while Russia has only a few bases and exactly one base in the vital Middle East.

The economic gap is huge. The United States has 17 trillion dollars in GDP compared to Russia's two trillion dollars. The West has 15 times greater GDP than Russian GDP. American GDP/capita is $54,000, Russia's GDP/capita $15,000. The United States has the modern industrial, agricultural, consumer and high-tech sectors that Russia lacks.

Politically, the United States is a modern democratic country with the rule of law, independent judiciary, civil liberties, free press and open elections at all levels. Russia, as a petro-state and authoritarian society with aspects redolent of its Communist past, lacks every aspect of a modern Western democratic state.

Talk of a revival of the Cold War is merely rhetoric, not reality. Putin will be lucky to survive another decade in office. Greater dangers to the United States today come out of radical Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and the rise of China , but the Russian challenge, despite some small successes, is rooted in a failed past and even more likely a failed future.

The Cold War is gone, never to return.