On the passing of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin spoke fondly of the great statesman and his herculean efforts to reconcile Europe and Russia. Putin said he agreed with the late German leader’s view that the Cold War between West and East had been largely brought to an end. The Russian president added, however, that international relations are bound to swing like a pendulum, oscillating between bad and good.
«Now the pendulum has swung a bit back towards frost, but I am convinced that it will inevitably find the right balance and we will be joining efforts to face today’s challenges», Putin told reporters.
This is commentary not meant to be pedantic nitpicking, but there are important reasons to point out why the pendulum analogy is mistaken. That model for relations is based on the false assumption that the dynamic can go from bad to good, and vice versa.
If we take the peak of the Cold War running from the 1950s to the end of the 1980s, during which there was the constant specter of nuclear war, then if the pendulum analogy holds, one would expect that there should be at some stage of history an opposite state of relations in which mutual, peaceful coexistence eventually prevails.
Unfortunately, history has shown us that more than 25 years after the presumed end of the Cold War, relations between the West and Russia have not proceeded towards any substantial improvement. Indeed, it seems clear that over the past five years or so, relations between the West and Russia have deteriorated to a level of hostility comparable to the peak of the Cold War.
This grim condition of relations is illustrated by the constant imposition of new economic sanctions on Russia by the US and its European allies ever since the Ukraine conflict erupted in early 2014. Also, the relentless build-up of military forces by the US-led NATO alliance on Russia’s border. In the past week, a NATO F-16 warplane made the highly provocative move of buzzing the aircraft carrying the Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu while in international airspace over the Baltic Sea.
President Putin last week in an interview aired with American film-maker Oliver Stone deplored the possibility of a nuclear war, saying that nobody would survive such a catastrophic event. It is a measure of how foreboding relations between the West and Russia have become when Putin is obliged to make such a dire warning.
The Russian leader went on to point out, rightly, that NATO always needs to find an enemy in order to justify its existence. The military organization – despite claims of protecting Atlantic security – is wired for war ever since its inception in 1949.
So, let’s not delude ourselves. The question of whether the Cold War ended around 1990 or not seems incontestable. It didn’t. That war continues – albeit expressed in different ideological language and propaganda terms.
Instead of alleged Soviet Marxist-Leninist expansionism, we hear of accusations that Moscow is «undermining the liberal world order» and «interfering in Western democratic elections». Or, allegedly, that Russia is threatening the security of the Baltic states.
This is not to dispute the genuine convictions and sentiments of many Western and Russian politicians for global cooperation. There seems little doubt that the late, great German Chancellor Helmut Kohl wholly believed in a vision of West-East reconciliation and unity. During his 16-year leadership (1982-1998), Kohl oversaw the reunification of West and East Germany and he spoke of a future where Europe and Russia would work together.
Putin reflected on personal conversations he shared with the German statesman. «Unfortunately, not everything from the dreams, we used to dream and talk about, is being implemented. However, I am convinced that his [Kohl’s] analysis is correct and those positive processes, without which neither Europe nor Russia has any future, will be developing in the European and, I can say, Eurasian continent», remarked the Russian president.
The question is: why have these reasonable, laudable aspirations not been implemented?
And this leads us to the nature of US leadership among the Western states. American dominance is about hegemony and maintaining control over its perceived unipolar position of global power. This worldview in turn stems from the condition of American-led Western capitalism. It is a zero-sum worldview in which a multi-polar world is simply not tolerable. American domination necessarily dictates to subordinates, not «allies».
The emergence of other world powers – no matter how legitimate that emergence is – is seen as a threat to American hegemony and the hierarchical structure of the capitalist world economy in which US interests are the apex of importance.
American-led antagonism towards Russia did not originate after the Second World War as conventionally thought. It began with the Russian revolution in 1917 and the fear of international communism spreading to threaten the capitalist order. While modern-day Russia does not profess to be «socialist», and China’s polity is debatable, both are nevertheless still perceived as a threat to the American unipolar worldview because they represent a multipolar rivalry.
The only period during which Washington appeared to extend a non-hostile hand towards Russia was during the Boris Yeltsin leadership years of the 1990s when Russia was in effect a vassal state for US-led Western capitalism. Under the later more independent political leadership of Vladimir Putin, in which Russia has repudiated vassal status, the US has reverted to its standard position of overt hostility. Thus, the Cold War was definitely not ended. It was merely suspended for those years when Russia was subservient. Now that Russia is no longer subservient, the US-led Cold War is resumed.
Western politicians like Helmut Kohl and some present-day European leaders may sincerely aspire to a normalization of relations between the West and Russia. Of course, it is a reasonable aspiration given the common history, culture and mutual economic interests. However, the relations between the West and Russia, and for that matter other global powers such as China, will always be subject to hostility. That is because of the intrinsic hegemonic condition of US-led Western capitalism demanding total dominance.
The analogy of relations modulating like a pendulum between negative and positive, or good and bad, or war and peace, is flawed. Because relations under a sought-after unipolar world of American domination will inevitably be subject to antagonism and, if needs be, all-out conflict and war.
Rather than a pendulum, perhaps a more fitting analogy is a giant wrecking ball. The would-be American hegemonic power says: «Do as I demand and the wrecking ball is held back. If not, then here comes the force of destruction».
How to transcend this appalling situation is the challenge of our times. But one surmises that the emancipation depends on ending American-led capitalism and its hegemonic dictate to the rest of the world.