What Were the Cold War Fears of the American? Essay

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In early 2018, in the idyllic southern English city of Salisbury, two Russian citizens Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia fell dangerously ill. After extensive investigation, the British government accused Russia of using a type of Novichok, which it said was developed by the Soviet Union, to poison the Skripals. Russia has vehemently denied these allegations and claimed that the Novichok agent could have originated in other European countries. With what may have seemed like the introduction to a 1960’s spy thriller, began the greatest threat to Anglo Russian relations since the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution to the USSR in 1991. It has been claimed a new Cold War between the West and Russia could lead to disastrous consequences, as tensions between Vladimir Putin and both the UK and US rise. I would argue that history is close to repeating the mistakes of the past by creating an impasse between East and West.

In the wake of the alleged poisonings, the UK expelled 23 Russian Diplomats and were supported by 18 European member states; the USA and Canada also expelled Russian representatives and Ambassadors. This coordinated effort exhibited significant diplomatic support for the UK in the face of Russia’s strenuous rebuttal of accusations and subsequently resulted in retaliatory expulsions of UK Diplomats from Russia.

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The expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats from American Embassies, could be viewed as a politically overt challenge to the Russian Premier, Putin, and a return to tensions not seen since the Cold War. I would argue however, that the tensions in Russian and world politics have never really gone- that the concept of “Glasnost” (the Russian theory of openness and governmental transparency) was only ever a temporary solution to a centuries old mistrust between the East and West. That solution has been eroding for some time now, and my fear is that we are edging ever closer to a Second Cold War.

The origins of the first Cold War came in to being after World War II; the United States and Russia had fought together as allies, however, the relationship had always been based on necessity rather than comradeship. Russia had initially sought an alliance with Germany, however, after Hitler’s expansionism had encroached into Russian territory, Russia looked to be allies with the UK and USA. After the war ended, tension and mistrust grew; a grudging entente developed out of necessity rather than desire. The terms agreed by Churchill (the British Prime Minister), Roosevelt and Stalin soon disintegrated as post war Russian expansionist tendencies divided East and Western Europe into distinct economic and political blocs.

As Russia’s territory and political power expanded to be known as The Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), Americans’ fears of Russia grew. Churchill expressed deep regret in relation to the terms set out in the Yalta Treaty, soon after its ratification, and recognised that the individual agenda of The USA and USSR would ultimately lead to future hostility. No single nation or cultural theory was entirely to blame for the Cold War- it was a culmination of historical territorialism, economic, social, ideological and political mistrust. Ultimately it was the disintegration of a marriage of convenience.

The Cold War spread, and hardened like a frost, impacting on American and British domestic life. This distrust spread across political relationships, leading to the disastrous conflict between the US and Vietnam, Cuba, China and North Korea, whose invasion of South Korea was backed by Russia. A temporary political and economic truce came in to place with the election of President Nixon who recognised the benefits of political and economic peace and attempted to reduce the threat of a nuclear war. However, after the election of President Reagan, anti communist sentiment became evident again. However, as Reagan “fought” communism, declining economic stability and political unrest, necessitated Soviet political openness, and “Perestroika,” or economic reform. The Berlin Wall and Communism fell. East and Western Europe enjoyed a sense of peace and economic prosperity.

Since the Salisbury poisonings, it appears that the Cold War is no longer confined to the history books and is more of a political “palindrome than a straightforward narrative” (1). History it seems is destined to repeat itself.

When President Trump met Angela Merkel in 2017, the German chancellor warned of rising Russian expansionist politics. German political analysts and the Media have expounded the theory that Putin wants to “go back to the good old days”. Putin regularly condemns the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), and has gone against their agreements and direction. He has used military force in Georgia and Ukraine in order to quash social and economic unrest against the Russian state and in the Middle East, Russia has intervened in Syria on the side Bashar al-Assad. NATO, as well as German, French, and U.S. leaders have expressed concerns after Putin announced that his country has deployed or is developing an array of new nuclear-capable weapons; it is a muscle flexing trajectory towards another war. It seems evident that the theory that German advisors told the sceptical American president back in March 2017 that Putin was “back to fighting the Cold War,” even if we in the West are not” has become a reality.

The concept of a second Cold War was signalled by UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats. Russia then declared via Twitter that “Cold War II has begun.” Will this Second Cold war differ from the first? History paints the first Cold War, as an era of espionage, atomic weapons and secret deals rather than traditional warfare. It is more than likely that the Second Cold War will be played out on Social Media, through computer hacking and on the Political stage.

The biggest concern is the reach and influence of Russian politics- the impact Russia allegedly had on elections; the impact on British institutions (Russian hackers are alleged to have crippled the NHS computer Network in Summer) and public safety which was put at risk by the attack on the Skripals in Salisbury. This did not only impact on the Russian Nationals, but one of the first responders, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, was also poisoned by the nerve agent as were two other members of the public in the weeks that followed- Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess, who later died.

The list of Russian Nationals attacked on British soil is ever increasing and constitutes a wider threat to the public: after the Salisbury attack, police found the body of Nikolai Glushkov, a former executive of a Russian airline, who was granted political asylum in 2010. He -like Alexander Litvinienko - poisoned by Polonium in 2006-had links to other Russian exiles who have died in mysterious circumstances in the UK. This is evidence that the cold war has never really ended and that Russian political schemes have never been far from the surface.

Prior to the Russian elections, Putin issued defiant warnings to the West, who he accused of trying to hold Russia back. This was a clear declaration of war. A new Cold War is exactly what the West could and should expect, sparked by the events in a peaceful English village. With the growth of political egos, “shows of strength” and instability in the UK, USA and Russia, we must see beyond the threats and accusations, and seek peace, reconciliation and unity before it is too late for a thaw to occur. Politics should not be about the rise of pure naked power. History teaches us we should have loftier aims, that democracy should not be forced into reverse and that we should strive for a better future- not to relive the mistakes and mistrust of the past.

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