The New Cold War, And Australia's Role In It

Meet the New Cold War, Same As the Old Cold War

Remember the Cold War? We basically spent half a century on the precipice of worldwide nuclear annihilation. Well, like it or not, the Cold War is back. In fact, it never really ended.

Russia is invading old Soviet countries. China has put a robot on the moon. North Korea is the prime suspect in an enormous theft of documents over an American movie that ridicules its leader. Space Espionage! Military provocation! It's like the world's most terrifying episode of That 70s Show.

That's not news; the New Cold War even has its own Wikipedia page now. People are hosting international conferences with names "The Second Cold War: Heating Up?" But what's interesting to me is how many parallels exist between the first Cold War and the one we're in now.

In reality, that's largely because the first Cold War never actually ended. It might have adopted some shiny new technologies, different borders, and a slightly different cast, but it's definitely a show we've seen in some version before.

Below, a look at some of the similarities to Cold War I, and what that might mean for Cold War II. Best case scenario: We don't blow up the entire world this time, either.

Meet the New Cold War, Same As the Old Cold War

South Korean army K-55 self-propelled artillery vehicles during a military exercise on Sunday (AP)

We're still fighting proxy wars (at least in words)

The common wisdom about the Cold War is that the United States and the Soviet Union never actually attacked each other. But that's not exactly true. The first Cold War was all about proxy wars. Sometimes very hot proxy wars, like the ones in Korea and Vietnam. There were also countless smaller proxy wars in Hungary, the Philippines, Cuba and Ghana, just to name a few.

The US hasn't officially gone after Russian interests directly, aside from some sanctions that were imposed after Putin took Crimea. But our allies certainly are making their displeasure known publicly. For example, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Putin at the G20: "I guess I'll shake your hand, but I have only one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine."

The new battle lines are being drawn, with countries like China, Syria, North Korea, and Iran aligning with Russia. Meanwhile countries like Australia, Japan, Germany, South Korea, Canada and the UK have aligned with the United States.

There's been a real human cost as well; downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet over Ukraine this past July killed 298 people, showing how messy the New Cold War could become if things get hot again. And just last month Russia conducted a surprise military readiness drill, mobilising about 9,000 troops and over 600 vehicles. These weren't some run of the mill exercises either. They came baring nukes.

South Korea has also ramped up its military strength in preparation, purchasing RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drones for $US657 million in December. And today the US and South Koreans are conducting anti-submarine warfare drills off South Korea's coast.

So no, our New Cold War hasn't yet turned very hot. But that could change pretty quickly. While the US and Russia will continue to throw their weight around with bluster, the best barometer for Cold War preparedness might be to watch the allies arm up.

Meet the New Cold War, Same As the Old Cold War

Australian satellite images released by the Department of Defence on March 16, 2014 show suspected debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner (AP)

Sputnik 2.0: Satellites, mysterious and otherwise

Remember that aeroplane that vanished without a trace back in March, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? Nine months later, we still haven't found the plane. But it did prove one thing about the New Cold Warriors: Its participants have plenty of all-seeing eyes in the sky.

It may seem incidental, but the MH370 tragedy gave New Cold War states on both sides a unique opportunity to show off a bit. For over two weeks, China repeatedly released images of debris in the ocean that turned out to be nothing. Australia followed suit, releasing satellite images of suspected plane debris way before it had been verified as anything related to the crash.

They never found that plane, but both countries (real economic up and comers in the New Cold War) did prove that they possessed sophisticated technology that could see random shit from space.

Satellites are as vital as ever. And even consumer-focused technologies that depend on satellites, like GPS and earth mapping software, have their origins in American intelligence and defence agencies. Google Earth, for example, was funded by the CIA from its earliest days.

Satellites were also an absolutely crucial element of the first Cold War. Back in 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, unofficially kicking off the second decade of the Cold War with a tiny beeping satellite. Americans were terrified that this new capability meant that the Soviets could soon see, hear, and bomb anywhere in US territory. Nowhere was safe. And instilling that feeling in the enemy was precisely the point of the first Cold War space race.

That's not so different from mysterious Russian satellites and strange American space planes landing after two years in orbit, which keep that heightened tension alive. We are watching, and we are being watched.

Meet the New Cold War, Same As the Old Cold War

A mock space shuttle is displayed in the lobby of the Mangyongdae Children's Palace in Pyongyang, North Korea in 2013. The label on the space shuttle reads "Roundtrip path to space" and "youth" on the bottom. (AP)

There's a new space race. Kind of.

Just as New Cold War has entered the national lexicon, New Space Race has become an emerging term. The Americans are cutting their dependance on Russian rockets to get to the International Space Station, awarding contracts to American companies like Boeing and SpaceX.

NASA keeps talking about putting humans back on the moon. Russia wants cosmonauts there by the 2020s. NASA raises the ante by hyping manned Mars missions. And so on. But there are plenty of new actors in the Cold War II space race redux.

Take North Korea, as one example. Sure, its space agency logo is a direct rip-off of NASA. And when I posted about their space program readers thought it was an April Fool's joke. But the country has real ambitions to make a name for itself in outer space. Or at least, a better one.

China even landed on the moon last year! Sure, the Jade Rabbit rover may not have been as impressive as the robots Americans are putting on Mars. But it's a whole new world of space exploration, and the battle lines are being drawn up in the sky as much as they are here on Earth.

Meet the New Cold War, Same As the Old Cold War

Ten booking photos for Russian spies provided by US Marshals in July 2010 (AP)

Everybody's deporting spies, but we can't call them spies

Last month, the United States released Cuban spies captured in Florida in exchange for an American spy who has been held for almost twenty years. Another American, Alan Gross, was supposedly released incidentally; the US government claims he was just an innocent man trying to bring internet equipment to Cuba. The American media doesn't want to call Gross a spy, but if the roles were reversed and he were a Cuban in the US, we'd call him exactly that.

And thus goes the tricky world of New Cold War espionage. Every news organisation has to dance around the language of their own country's spies getting caught in the act. And normalised relations with Cuba are doing little more than bringing diplomacy to the level we have with nearly every other Cold War adversary like China and Russia.

Meanwhile, America is also deporting Russian spies, which makes Russia none too happy. don't think we're special; Germany and Sweden have noticed an uptick in covert intelligence gathering by Russian agents ever since the Ukrainian crisis began. Deportation is also far from a new thing; Back in 2010 a Russian spy ring was discovered in the United States, resulting in the deportation of eleven spies, who went on to receive top government honours when they returned to Russia.

Spy exchanges like this were a big deal during the first Cold War. And we couldn't call them spies back then either. They were always innocent teachers or students just trying to learn about the Soviet Union.

The weird thing about spies is that they operate under a certain amount of complicity under the government that they're spying on. Often times the country being spied on will opt not to reveal that they know about spies in order to simply assess what kind of access the spies can gain. Look for a lot more spies getting caught on both sides of the New Cold War in the coming decade.

Meet the New Cold War, Same As the Old Cold War

Russian nationalists activists attack a gay rights campaigner at a park in Moscow on Saturday, May 25, 2013 (AP)

The propaganda machine is fully functional

The Soviets had a saying during the first Cold War to refute any American claim to greater freedoms in the United States: "And you are lynching Negroes."

It was a constant refrain in the Soviet popular press and on the street. Different variations of "and you are lynching negroes" spread throughout the Soviet Union. One way that American media combated this attack was by making Soviet agents in American movies always racist and anti-semitic.

What's today's version? Take your pick. But much of it still has to do with race relations in the United States. And, in the other direction, Russia's brutal oppression of its gay community. But there are plenty of other fights being instigated by other players.

North Korea chided the US after a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri failed to indict the police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager. North Korea is even calling on the UN Security Council to investigate the CIA's torture programs.

Americans, of course, can point to North Korea's myriad human rights violations, Russia's atrocious treatment of homosexuals, and China's suppression of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and elsewhere — though the Americans are certainly less apt to directly call out large trade partners like China. Which is again, why countries like Canada and Australia are such important proxies.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott publicly stated that he was going to "shirtfront" Vladimir Putin (a word in Australian Rules Football for a rough tackle) when he met him at the G20 in Australia. How did Putin respond? By bringing warships and parking them off the Australian coast. Needless to say, Abbott didn't shirtfront Putin.

"Are we in the middle of a new Cold War? Indeed we are," former head of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev told Time magazine recently. "It's as if a time of great troubles has arrived. The world is roiling," he would say later. He would know.

Perhaps our absolute best case scenario is that this war at least stays more cold than hot. If not, we'll all be back hiding under our desks in no time — one button-push away from total annihilation.

Illustration: Tara Jacoby


Comments

    Argh! "Baring"???

    It's "bearing"......

      I think the use of "baring" is reasonably apt for the subject matter - as in "a dog baring its teeth."

      We all know dogs have teeth in their mouths, but to show them in a threatening manner is a very clear signal that the dog is ready to attack if provoked. Do you even metaphor? :-)

        Unfortunately it was not used in that context and should have been "bearing", as in the they were carrying the nukes. Perhaps the author did intend it the way you are supporting, but if that's the case the wording was wrong, hence the context.

    Did this guy just say Australia and China are both (real economic up and comers in the New Cold War). You cant compare China's economic status to Australia.
    Shows how much you know about the world's politics.

      Australia is a significant player because we're a large, geographically isolated first-world country with strong ties to the USA and no significant territorial disputes (per Taiwan), and we're not limited in military deployments the way Japan is.

      That makes us an excellent place for military bases and reconnaissance facilities.

      It doesn't put us in the same league as China, but it does make us geopolitically important. - although perhaps not as important as we like to think we are. On the other hand, having just re-read the article, I don't see anything in there that *says* we're in China's league - just that we're both aligned with one side.

      In fact, despite the title of the article, I can see exactly three mentions of Australia's role in it.
      (1) We're aligned with the USA.
      (2) We tried to show off with MH370.
      (3) Abbott said he would shirt-front Putin (and didn't). This should surprise no-one, as he's consistently shown a lack of diplomatic nous. (Every story about Australia's diplomatic achievements is balanced by one of Abbott's blunders.)

      However, I don't think it's accurate to say China is aligned with Russia. They're playing their own game, well on the way to becoming a third superpower - a point everybody has seen coming for quite a few years.

    I agree with the Cold War not ending and with the Proxy wars theory... BUT

    "The US hasn’t officially gone after Russian interests directly" ... that is all that this is about!
    and as O.B said, comparing Australia and China economically is like putting a puppy next to the dragon.

      We export a lot of essential resources to other countries some of them virtually depend on us for their survival. It makes us more powerful than you think.

      It's totally wrong in the claim the US hasn't gone after Russian interests directly. The US never stopped going after them They sponsor right-wing opposition parties in all former Soviet countries, including Russia itself, very successfully in some cases. They lobby those countries to reduce reliance on old Russian treaties and move over to having NATO defend them instead, the whole "missile shield" things was used as a carrot to do that. They along with the EU provide funding (or at least "encourage" investors) for gas and fuel pipelines to countries surrounding Russia that reduce their need to rely on resources from Russia and also cut revenue etc...
      The campaign against Russia has been pretty devastating.

        All of which, by definition, is 'indirect'.

    How about this for an idea. All citizens in all countries demolish their government and armed forces and we can all live in peace.

      Probably because that's now how the world works - any power vacuum will be quickly filled by said citizens who will take advantage of such weakness. The idea that the government is inherently evil and the people are inherently good is so far from reality that I don't even know if you're trying to make a joke anymore.

        Engineer a rapidly-spreading, long-dormant retrovirus that alters sociopathic DNA into something friendlier – essentially, the passive, permanent equivalent of force-feeding the antisocial population with antidepressants. There really is no other way but stealth genetic modification – these guys won't take a visible offensive lying down!

        Sadly that's true. It's just a shame that some governments are so hell bent on war.

        Simple, kill all citizens that wish to fill a power vacuum. Basically, kill all the greedy and keep killing them.

      When you have hatemongers like reclaim australia, demolishing government wont do anything, some people are good some are downright malicious and just want to see the world burn, same with politicians.

      Not to mention if you demolish government, say bye to medicare, financial assistence to those that are in need, road maintenance, ambulance, fire services, police and even garbage collection to name but a tiny fraction of government services (some may be able to be privatized as a user pays system, but most would be too pricey). Anyone who says to get rid of government as a blanket statement even as an unfunny joke, has zero credibility.

        You don't have to kill the government per say, but you need to get rid of the people that are out for their own good. We need to get rid of corruption and the big boys club. Citizens should run government and it should be like court dury. No one person should be involved in government business longer than one month at a time and there needs to be a council made up of professionals, scientists and medical experts to decide on really important problems. The government should be like councils. Certain things need to be done and you don't need highly paid government officials to get these things done. Basically you could get rid of the top layer of management and things would still run fine.
        I suppose I'm just describing a socialist world where making increased profits every year would not be necessary. One third of all money going into a council right now goes straight into the pockets of the managers. This is terribly wrong and is a total waste of money.
        The current drive to make increased profits every year is killing this earth and doesn't help the workers as their job security and wages come under attack every year just so the rich can get richer. 50 years ago, people got a job in one place and stayed for life. They had regular money, houses and food was cheap. Life was good. Now everyone struggles and the only people doing well are the rich and powerful who bend the rules to rob more money from the poor.
        Things started going to shit when Reagon and Thatcher pushed for big business to control itself and that's when the holy dollar became more important than people's lives or the care of this world.

    This is all very one-sided. I don't really see anything meaningful about Australia here, just stuff about America's enemies gathering from all sides... I'd be far more interested in a more balanced picture that shoes the role the US has in damaging the interests of all those countries- cold wars are a give and take thing.
    Fair enough an article from the US is going to look at things rather blindly, but this isn't the US.

    @martyfmelb - Oh no you dont! No Zombie virus research thank you very much!

    "The US hasn’t officially gone after Russian interests directly"
    Ummmm, Brent Crude oversupply by the US? The Rouble is directly tied to the price of Brent Crude. The longer oil is cheaper, the more devastating it is to the Russian economy. If the price remains below $60 a barrel for a few more months Russian will become broke.

      To be honest - the US developing slate oil production was the one thing they knew they could cut money going into Russia (and many other countries at the same time) not having to rely so heavily on imports helps your own country in many ways.

      It was a tactical move that has been well played and props to them in doing so but...

      Yes its a bit of a d*ck move though in the end if it doesn't start a war (fingers crossed) it will end up with the rest of the world developing other technologies as a counter attack - (think like 2 Store Chains competing with each other) the competition only creates a better end product at a cheaper price for the consumer - and that is what really matters.

      What I would propose is that if any countries don't like the competition - move onto selling a different product don't retaliate with war because that's just old (barbaric) thinking and doesn't look good to anyone else who genuinely wants to be Allies with those countries.

    As a kid in the 80's I was certain the kgb had infiltrated my street in Geelong and I spent a lot of time looking for the evidence. I even hit my dad with a shovel cause one day when I was out playing he shaved off his beard and took a nap on the couch, I on the other hand thought I kgb had replaced my dad with a poor imitation cause I was so close to the truth. I rang the police but they did not take 7 year old me seriously so I had to take matters into my own hands.......hence the shovel.

    To this day I still don't think I should have gotten in as much trouble as I did. National security might have been at stake........

    How could you leave out Charlie Wilson's War where the U.S armed the Taliban via Israel and Pakistan and led to the least cold war we've had in a long time?

    Australia was barely mentioned in this article. Yet the headline suggested otherwise.
    Australia's role is to stay out of it.
    Putin has warships follow him to other countries all the time, it's just that the pathetic and ever-embarrassing Australian media jumped at the chance to make something out of nothing.

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