New Cold War Should Be Avoided If We Are to Learn Anything From History

The Sunday New York Times had an important and I think ominous article by William J. Broad and David E. Sanger discussing the race for the latest class of nuclear weaponry between Russia, China and the United States which the authors suggest threatens a new Cold War.

American officials have largely blamed escalating tensions on Russian president Vladimir Putin and the Chinese for their apparent aggressive drives in the South-China seas, though the authors contend that these two "adversaries look at what the United States expects to spend on nuclear revitalization - estimated up to three trillion over three decades - and use it to lobby for their own sophisticated weaponry."

When asked whether nuclear warhead miniaturization which the U.S. is currently undertaking and other upgrades to the U.S. nuclear and long-range missile arsenal could undermine his own record of progress on arms control, President Obama acknowledged that this was a legitimate question and source of concern.

Christopher Twomey, a national security expert at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey California, testified before the U.S.-China economic and security review commission that Beijing felt increasingly encircled. It sees Washington's testing of a hypersonic glider, which can fly into space on a long-range missile, as a way to attack China without crossing the nuclear threshold, and feels trepidation at Washington's nuclear modernization and the growing numbers of antimissile interceptors on American warships, along with plans for new guided bombs and advanced cruise missiles.

The Chinese have in turn responded by developing their own high-tech weapons systems, including missiles which could sink U.S. ships and space weapons that could knock out American military satellites at the beginning of a nuclear war.

In the face of a perceived American threat, Putin has at the same time begun deploying a new generation of long-range missiles with miniaturized warheads, and according to former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, may soon withdraw from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty of 1996 (which the U.S. has abided by according to the Times though the Senate never ratified).

The Obama administration came to office with great fanfare in promoting nuclear disarmament and arms control. It has not followed through, however, in part as Sally Denton details in her book The Profiteers, because of vociferous lobbying by Bechtel Corporation, which pushed a bill guaranteeing $85 million over ten years to modernize the nation's nuclear weapons after it had been given management of privatized nuclear weapons laboratories.

Pressured from the right, Obama has meanwhile goaded the Russians through the advancement of NATO towards it borders and covert intervention in Ukraine while undertaking a "pivot to Asia" policy designed to check Chinese expansion and reassert American hegemony in Southeast Asia, a region rich in mineral resources and business opportunities that strategic planners have long coveted.

If history is any guide, the Obama administration is pursuing a reckless course and should be opposed by the progressive movements' emergent in this country.

Mikhail Gorbachev once aptly commented that the original Cold War, lasting from 1917 or 1946 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 "made losers of us all."

National priorities in the United States, China and Soviet Union were warped by the competition to build the most lethal nuclear weapons and bombs which put humanity on the brink of destruction. The Soviet economy collapsed, China disintegrated into fanatical Maoism closed off for a period from the West and the United States saw the growth of a massive centralized bureaucracy devoted to national security reminiscent of totalitarian states which lay the groundwork for post 9/11 developments.

From 1946-1967, as Sidney Lens reported in The Military-Industrial Complex quoting from Senator J. William Fullbright (D-Ark), the U.S. government spent an estimated $904 billion or 57 percent of its budget for military power and only $96 billion or 6% on social functions such as education, health, labor and welfare programs; totals which grew worse following the breakdown of Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society. Congress rubber-stamped an arsenal of horror that included multi-megaton hydrogen bombs, intercontinental bombers with unmanned missiles and chemical and biological weapons while considerable portions of the population lacked access to decent schooling or health care and lived in impoverished ghettos.

Though the threat of mutually assured destruction blocked the outbreak of direct war between the major superpowers, the United States, Russians and Chinese waged proxy wars across the Third World which enmeshed the United States in endless quagmires like Vietnam, and had horrible human costs. Donald Kingsley, head of the UN reconstruction agency, called Korea in 1953 "the most devastated land and its people the most destitute in the history of modern warfare."

Odd Arne Westad's prize winning book The Global Cold War: Third World Intervention and the Making of Our Time, emphasizes how the waging of proxy wars across the Third World helped engender the rise of Islamic and other forms of political extremism and produced an assortment of failed states which have become a breeding ground for terrorism and other human pathologies.

The current escalation of tensions between the United States, Russia and China should thus be considered an ominous trend, particularly at a time of economic hardship when instead of investing in fancy high tech weapons systems we need to be addressing the social needs of our communities and assisting poorer countries with their economic development. Furthermore, in the face of runaway climate change, cooperation among the major powers rather than renewed confrontation is absolutely vital.

Jeremy Kuzmarov is author of Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (Massachusetts, 2009).