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Prof. declares emergence of second Cold War

Recent events have set new Cold War in motion between Russia and United States, professor claims

The United States and Russia have “entered a new Cold War,” announced Robert Legvold, professor emeritus in the department of political science at Columbia, in a lecture Monday to an audience of approximately 50 students, faculty members and community members in the Watson Institute’s Joukowsky Forum.

The lecture, entitled “A New Russia-West Cold War: What it Will Mean for Us All” covered the implications of recent events involving Russia’s acquisition of Crimea in Ukraine.

Richard Locke, director of the Watson Institute, introduced Legvold as “one of the country’s leading experts on the Soviet states and on the Ukraine.”

“Knowing something about a place — having deep knowledge — is really important,” Locke said, commending Legvold’s area studies.

Legvold began his discussion by referring to the recent geopolitical events in Eastern Europe as a “historic shift in international politics.” But rather than the politically driven Cold War of the 20th century, Legvold said, the new Cold War will instead be fueled by the dispute over “basic civilizational values.”

And the new Cold War will not be waged under the fear of “nuclear armageddon,” he added.

But similarities can be drawn between the two Cold Wars. The “overarching framework is … adversarial,” he said, explaining that each side undisputedly sees the other as an enemy. While over the last 20 years, each side saw the other as “neither friend nor foe,” and the relationship was unclear, “now the ambiguity is gone.”

Like the first Cold War, each country maintains an “essentialist” view of the conflict — each side believes the problem lies in the “nature and behavior in the other side” and not the “interactions” between the two sides.

The United States and Russia have already returned to policies similar to those followed during the last Cold War, Legvold said, citing several examples including the United States’ recent decision to stop negotiations about missile defense and the NATO-Russia Council’s decision not to give a maritime escort to a ship bound for Syria on a mission to neutralize chemical weapons.

Legvold then explained why identifying this next stage in international politics is important.

The new Cold War will “seriously warp” both U.S. and Russian foreign policy, he said. As the conflict progresses, the United States will find it necessary to prioritize the new Cold War over other major foreign policy issues, such as the war on terrorism, global warming and the threat of weapons of mass destruction. And Russia, having just lost its “Western option,” will be “increasingly dependent on its relationship with China,” he added.

The new Cold War will also “contaminate” dynamics in the international system, leaving “no chance of dispensing with tactical nuclear weapons,” and may even result in a blow to recently achieved progress on nuclear weapon inspections, he said.

“We are very rapidly rolling the world back to where we were in the 1970s,” Legvold said.

Given changing international dynamics, Legvold said Russia and the United States are likely to respond “competitively” to China, another major geopolitical power.

Legvold also spoke about the consequence of lost opportunity, especially in terms of decreased international cooperation. He said that this new Cold War signals a lack of cooperation between the United States and Russia about important issues, such as climate change, cyber-warfare and the Iranian nuclear problem.

Legvold’s conclusion focused on possible approaches to the new Cold War. Both sides should endeavor to “make this new Cold War as short and shallow as possible,” he said. The focus should be on “management rather than victory,” and each side should try to manage the conflict instead of setting out to win it, he added.

“Mistrust is as large as the malevolence that we see in the other side in terms of the problem,” Legvold said.

The “pathology in interaction” is more important than the “pathology in the behavior of the other side” in this conflict, Legvold said, suggesting that the United States should “assume that Russia’s behavior is more determined by events than pre-determined plans or the genetic code.”

Brown students expressed mixed feelings about Legvold’s lecture, arguing with his assessment of the conflict qualifying as a new Cold War.

“To me, the Cold War entails the threat of violence,” said Emily Petrie ’17, acknowledging that though there are tensions, she does not believe there is yet a conflict on the scale of the Cold War.

Michael Lin ’14 said he would not call the situation a new Cold War “simply because there are not as many major players involved” as during the 20th century, adding that the involvement of much of the world was a “prominent feature” of the last Cold War.

Lin said he found the lecture “informative,” but felt the opinions expressed were skewed toward liberal and Western perspectives. “I just want to hear what the other side’s perspective is.”



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