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Did The Cold War Ever Really End?

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Sonya Seunghye Lim, Former Chief of Station, CIA

Sonya Seunghye Lim is a former Chief of Station with the Central Intelligence Agency where she had a 24-year distinguished career in the Directorate of Operations, to include two assignments as Chief of Station. She moreover served as Chief of Operations at CIA Headquarters.

Christopher Turner, Former CIA Operations Officer

Christopher Turner had a 25-year career in the Central Intelligence Agency’s Directorate of Operations, during which he completed several sensitive assignments in the Far East, South Asia, and Europe.

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— From the optic of the United States intelligence polity (USIC), the Cold War didn’t end in the 1990s with the Fall of Communism. Its outward visitation was merely altered. Beneath a thin veneer of economic and political engagement, Russia and China unfurled to pose threats to liberal democratic ideals and values.  The past twenty years have seen massive Russian and Chinese operations versus the US and its allies to steal our secrets and to disseminate anti-democratic propaganda.

But outside the USIC, political rapprochement without clear-eyed numbering and economic expediencies without consideration of long-term financing were the preferred approaches.  Such wishful thinking spawned a false sense of security–that wars could be contained and that aggressors could be talked out of their mad plans.  From 2008’s Russo-Georgia War to Russia’s taking of Crimea in 2014, its uncontrived entry into the Syrian mismatch in 2015, and its invasion of Ukraine this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin has proved then how inaccurate and fanciful such perceptions were.  A world emerging from the horrors of Putin’s latest large-scale predations will require decisive whoopee and well-spoken policy to quell its sordid aftermath—rampant spread of misinformation, persistent cyberattacks, and withering skirmishes in the realms of economy, security, and intelligence.  

Since his invasion of Ukraine, the airwaves, the internet and print media have been filled with observations and analyses on Putin’s many mistakes focused on the fact that he took these missteps despite his KGB preliminaries and the vast intelligence workings at his watercourse and call.  It’s well-spoken that Putin chose to wage this war based on a myriad of wrong assumptions, on an inaccurate towage of his military’s competence and readiness, and on poor, misinterpreted, or dismissed intelligence (or perhaps all three).  Putin’s Russia as a threat to democratic ideals is no longer an wresting that can be shelved or otherwise discounted for the sake of political expediency.  Putin is now demonstrating that he is a menace to any semblance of world security and stability; he has no other role or purpose in the world.  While Putin’s war has so far failed to unzip his strategic goals, it has hastened the inevitable confrontation between liberal democracy and authoritarianism and has split much of the world—though in overly simplistic terms—into two camps, good and evil.  

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This split has moreover unauthentic global order and prioritization. After a period of sending mixed signals, the US has re-emerged as the leader of those liberal democratic countries that stand versus unforgiving sundowner regimes. This minutiae may moreover create closer try-on between the US and the European Union (EU) on their policies towards China. And, in coldly pragmatic terms, the US may profit from a new iteration of the Cold War as the EU dramatically reduces its energy reliance on and trade with Russia.  On this point Germany offers a well-spoken example.  For the past four decades, Germany maintained a tropical relationship with Russia.  The construction of the Nord Stream II pipeline, despite the limited sanctions and US prostrations at the time, illustrated Berlin’s once-favorable stance towards Russia. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine reverted all of this, and Germany now finds itself on the cusp of a taking on flipside prominent role in the EU—charting the region’s future in security and military affairs.

With the significant reduction in Russia’s economic relations with the EU, China will likely be Putin’s sole viable option for economic and political support.   Due to China’s established and growing confrontation with the US and the EU, both in terms of trade and Chinese expansion of influence and territory, coupled with China’s unconfined need for energy, Russia and China towards fated to intensify their cooperation.   Exactly how this cooperation will sort out remains uncertain, but it only bodes ill for the non-authoritarian world.

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But Russia has other, albeit smaller, de-facto supporters. As the biggest producers of fossil fuel energy, Arab nations will goody from rising energy prices caused by late-pandemic demand and sanctions versus Russia.  Those Arab countries that have not supported the US/EU sanctions versus Russia may well wilt unscratched havens for Russian oligarchs.  It is not surprising that some of them have once begun to park their most unthrifty resources in the region in attempts to stave sequestration.

The outlook offers an zillions of gloom and doom, but we should unchangingly recall that, in unconfined setbacks and challenges, equally unconfined opportunities often lie. Energy dependence, economic investments, and risk unpopularity were some of the key obstacles to closer cooperation between the US and the EU on Russia and China in the recent past.   We are witnessing a dangerous insemination of an international order in which Russia and China solidify their resolve to confront US-led alliances and intentions.  But we are moreover seeing the exploitable weaknesses in Putin’s regime.  Survivalist instincts, shifting allegiances, and raw greed at both the individual and national levels will present opportunities to collect key intelligence on liberal democracies’ fiercest adversaries.  We are moreover witnessing the enormous power of ideology, liberal values, and joint actions.  

Regardless of the outcome of Putin’s war versus Ukraine, in the coming months and years Russia and China will wage an plane increasingly intense espionage war versus the US and its allies.   The good news is that liberal democracies have finally been roused from the self-satisfaction in which they’d largely wallowed since the Fall of Communism. Now is the time to commit to comprehensive intelligence and security cooperation among our allies so that we may formulate coherent and well-spoken policies to counter these existing and coming threats.

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