We are in a frightening new era analysis

Opinion | Russia’s Ukraine Invasion: This Cold War Will Be Worse Than the Last – The New York Times 4/11/22, 1:55 PM
https://www.nytimes..html Page 1 of 3
March 1, 2022
By Mary Elise Sarotte
Dr. Sarotte is a professor of historical studies at Johns Hopkins University and the author of Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate.
Keep the airspeed, altitude and course steady: That was the mantra for American pilots who regularly encountered Soviet
aircraft during the Cold War. And the Soviets often returned the favor. Off the coast near the Russian port city of Vladivostok,
helicopter pilots from U.S. Navy frigates kept an eye on the Soviet fleet in the 1980s by flying regular surveillance missions. The
Americans came to expect a pattern of behavior: Usually within 20 minutes or so of their helicopter becoming airborne, Soviet
MiG-27 fighter jets would zoom out for an initial visual identification of the U.S. aircraft. Two Soviet Mi-24 Hind helicopter
gunships larger than the American helicopters would follow behind, flying alongside the Americans for about two hours.
Even though they were adversaries, the Soviet and American pilots abided by a tacit code of conduct, rooted in patterns of
predictable behavior. At the end of the day, everyone got home safely.
Ive been thinking a lot about this code as I watch the war unfolding in Ukraine. I am awe-struck by the bravery of Ukrainians.
But as a Cold War historian, I fear that Russias invasion, regardless of its outcome, portends a new era of immense hostility with
Moscow and that this new cold war will be far worse than the first.
That 20th-century conflict was characterized by avoidance of direct Western-Russian engagement, producing instead proxy wars
in other countries. President Vladimir Putins brazenness calls this practice into question. If he is reckless enough to pulverize
Ukrainian civilians and risk popular rebellion, he may be reckless enough to provoke NATO.
Russias vastly larger military along with its stifled domestic political opposition, free press and free speech means that
there will be few checks on Mr. Putins carnage beyond what the outgunned Ukrainians can bring to bear. And if his conduct in
Chechnya a territory Russia mauled militarily in the 1990s is any example, a potential occupation of Ukraine will be bloody
and brutal, with additional spillover risks.
Nor should observers watching war unfold from afar assume they are safe. In addition to the economic consequences for the
West increased oil prices, possible stagflation there are worse scenarios. Thirty years after the end of the Cold War,
Washington and Moscow still control more than 90 percent of the worlds nuclear warheads more than enough to devastate
most life on earth. The missiles that deliver those warheads have the ability, through their immense speed and reach, to shrink
the world into a very small place. Mr. Putin has already put his nuclear forces on high alert and made veiled threats about using
them if the West intervenes in Ukraine.
Im a Cold War Historian. Were in a Frightening New Era.
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Opinion | Russia’s Ukraine Invasion: This Cold War Will Be Worse Than the Last – The New York Times 4/11/22, 1:55 PM
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/01/opinion/russia-ukraine-cold-war.html Page 2 of 3
Another problem is how quickly we have spun back up to Cold War-like hostility. During the old Cold War, which lasted from the
late 1940s until around 1989, settled patterns of non-engagement had time to evolve. Those patterns did not disappear entirely in
the 21st century; during the conflict in Syria, for example, Western powers made extensive efforts to deconflict with Russia. But
when the fighting is closer to home for Moscow, all bets are apparently off.
Last year a Russian Su-24 jet buzzed the U.S. Navy destroyer Donald Cook in the Black Sea, at one point passing as near as 100
yards. And last month, Russian Su-35 jets came close to American P-8A surveillance planes on three separate occasions. (One of
the Russian aircraft passed within five feet of an American plane, according to U.S. officials.)
Even if a similar close call does lead to a collision, it need not necessarily escalate to war. But Russias cavalier attitude becomes
more dangerous in the context of its Ukrainian invasion and hostile intent. Picture this scenario: Many modern Western aircraft
can detect an enemy aircraft acquiring a target. If they encounter a Russian pilot in acquisition mode for instance, while flying
in contested airspace over the Black Sea they may conclude that theyve become the target and act accordingly, leading to a
potential incident with casualties.
If treated as a violation of NATOs Article 5 which deems an attack on one NATO member as an attack on all such contact
and potential casualties could draw the alliance, and therefore the United States, into the conflict. Of course, the alliance could
choose not to view the incident as a violation, or to pursue only a minimal response. But that could call NATOs resolve into doubt,
frightening frontline allies and emboldening Mr. Putin.
The longevity of the Cold War also gave both sides time and incentive to negotiate arms control agreements. Washington and its
allies concluded a host of detailed treaties with Moscow that, while flawed, at least provided predictability and monitoring all
while serving to build a long-term relationship in managing nuclear danger.
In recent years, however, both sides rashly shed many of these accords, seeing them as outdated and inconveniently
constraining. The New START Treaty is now the only restraint on the number and types of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons
and it expires in 2026, with little hope of renewal. Already gone are the , which George W. Bush
abrogated in 2002, and the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, from which Mr. Putin suspended Russian
participation in 2007. And, most relevant to todays crisis, in 2019 President Donald Trump abrogated the Intermediate-Range
Nuclear Forces Treaty over U.S. claims of Russian violations and Chinese arms buildup (though China was not a party to the
Signed by President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces
Treaty eliminated that class of weapons entirely. Now that it is no more, Mr. Putin claims to fear that the alliance could deploy
such weapons on Ukrainian territory against Russian targets. He has cited that possibility, along with denying that Ukraine is a
separate country, among his motivations for invading Ukraine.
Even if Moscow can be brought back to the negotiating table, which seems highly unlikely for the foreseeable future, it would
take years of painstaking talks to resurrect these treaties. Their disappearance is especially grievous in light of other losses of
, expelled embassy and consulate staff members and the development of new forms of
weapons, such as hypersonic missiles and cyberwarfare. Two of the worlds largest military powers are now functioning in neartotal isolation from each other, which is a danger to everyone.
Another problem is cultural. The threat of thermonuclear conflict was omnipresent for those who came of age during the Cold
War. Yet after decades of peace between the West and Russia, that collective cultural awareness has largely dissipated even
though the threat of nuclear conflict remains, and has, in the past week, ramped back up to levels unseen since the Cold War.
The Russian president has now definitively put an end to the post-Cold War era, which rested on an assumption that major
European land wars were gone for good. It is abundantly clear from his invasion that Mr. Putin is not going to hold the
geopolitical equivalent of a constant airspeed, altitude or course. If, following his reckless lead, his pilots again veer toward NATO
Opinion | Russia’s Ukraine Invasion: This Cold War Will Be Worse Than the Last – The New York Times 4/11/22, 1:55 PM
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/01/opinion/russia-ukraine-cold-war.html Page 3 of 3
aircraft or provoke any of the four NATO member-states bordering Ukraine whether through showboating or on command
it could drag the West into combat. And not just in a limited way.
This time, the United States and its allies would have to contend with Russia along with the rising powers of China, Iran and
North Korea.
For that reason, Western troops, already trained in and acutely aware of the way that tactical incidents can have strategic
implications, must continue to avoid inadvertent escalation. And Washington needs to communicate clearly with not only its
allies but also the American public on the risks involved if spillover from Ukraine into Article 5 territory verges on a casus belli
an event that provokes a war.
Becoming a historian requires the ability to develop a sense of periodization. I sense a period ending. I am now deeply afraid that
Mr. Putins recklessness may cause the years between the Cold War and the Covid-19 pandemic to seem a halcyon period to
future historians, compared with what came after. I fear we may find ourselves missing the old Cold War.
Mary Elise Sarotte (@e_sarotte) is a history professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the author, most recently, of Not One Inch:
America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate.
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