The first spring of the Bush presidency arrived with a distinct Cold War nip as diplomat-spies were sent packing in Washington and Moscow, aerial jousts with Chinese fighters occurred high over the South China Sea and brittle rhetoric sounded from North Korea.
It isn't likely there will be a full-fledged revival of the tense standoff that occurred between the United States and communist regimes following World War II.
The new Bush administration, however, has engaged in sharp tiffs with onetime Cold War enemies Russia, China and North Korea - 12 years after the first President Bush declared a post-Cold War "new world order."
Questions over whether the international system that collapsed with the Berlin Wall somehow is being rebuilt emerged with the downing of a U.S. surveillance plane after it was bumped by a Chinese fighter, a major spy scandal with Moscow, open skepticism in Washington and open hostility in Pyongyang over recent moves toward a rapprochement.
"I can't see a reopening of the Cold War if you mean a world with two mutually hostile camps, at least one of which is committed to the eventual destruction of the other," said veteran diplomat Raymond L. Garthoff, who helped negotiate the seminal arms-control treaties with the Soviet Union under President Nixon.
"I think what you are seeing is a clear change of tone in Washington coupled with a series of events to which governments have been forced to respond," he said.
Even senior officials in various capitals increasingly have used the term "Cold War" in commenting on the current standoffs with China, Russia and North Korea, if only to warn against a return to the bad old days.
Adm. Dennis Blair, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, last week said China should approve a quick return of the U.S. military personnel from the downed electronic surveillance plane to show that "this is not a Cold War mentality any more."
As negotiations intensified through the week, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell both expressed hope that the dispute wouldn't poison other troubled aspects of the two nations' relationship - the hallowed "linkage" concept at the heart of Cold War diplomacy.
But Jeffrey Gedmin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and executive director of the New Atlantic Initiative, said the primary change that George W.Bush has brought to U.S. policy in his first two months as president has been the determination to "call a spade a spade."
"In the last few years, when China or Russia was behaving in a not particularly constructive way, the previous administration preferred to sweep it under the rug in order to preserve the strategic dialogue," Mr. Gedmin said. "For this administration, if they think Russia is guilty of something contrary to our interests, they're going to say so bluntly."
A prime example came when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was asked in a television interview late last month about increased Russian military cooperation and arms deals with North Korea, Iran and other unfriendly regimes, a policy the Clinton administration tried to curb through behind-the-scenes diplomacy.
"Let's be very honest about what Russia is doing," Mr. Rumsfeld said in comments that stunned and angered Moscow.
"Russia is an active proliferator. They are part of the problem," he said.
Mr. Gedmin predicted that both Moscow and Beijing will adjust, and that U.S. relations with both actually will become more stable and predictable under Mr. Bush than was the case under Mr. Clinton.
Some differences between the Cold War world and today are obvious.
The Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact is no more, and three former members of the alliance - Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic - have joined NATO. China has become one of the world's economic superstars, and a top priority of the Communist Party regime in Beijing is membership in the ultimate capitalist club, the World Trade Organization.
Still, analysts say there has been a perceptible rise recently in international tensions. Among the factors at work: conscious changes in policy and tone in Washington, domestic political tensions in each involved country, and the crush of unexpected daily headlines with which the skeletal Bush foreign policy team has been forced to deal.
As a candidate, Mr. Bush was openly critical of Mr. Clinton's handling of relations with Russia and China, and his leading foreign policy advisers privately were unhappy about the rapid rapprochement with North Korea.
Once in power, the Bush administration's early relations with all three powers have been choppy at best.
In the fallout from the February arrest of FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Hanssen on charges of spying for Russia, the United States expelled 50 Russian diplomats and Moscow responded in kind. The expulsions were the largest of their kind since the Reagan administration, when Russia was the heart of the crumbling Soviet Union.
Jacques Beltran, a researcher at the Paris-based French Institute for International Relations and a guest scholar at the German Marshall Fund here, noted that Moscow already harbored grievances over the U.S.-led air war in Kosovo and U.S. efforts to freeze Russia out of a Middle East settlement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin actively sought to undercut international support for Mr. Bush's top defense priority - a new defensive shield against ballistic missile attack. Mr. Putin has visited numerous foreign capitals seeking to promote a "multipolar world" - one not dominated by U.S. economic and military might.
The Bush team also clearly demoted Russia in its international pecking order, receiving the foreign minister of the breakaway republic of Chechnya while Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has yet to visit Washington.
In a recent commentary, Viktor Peshkov, a Communist Party delegate in the Russian State Duma, said the downgrading was a shock to Russians still reeling from the loss of the vast Soviet empire.
"When the U.S. leadership, with its awkward actions, stresses the fact that it is time for Russia to get used to its new role in the world, in a place that is far from first, it causes psychological trauma to most Russians," Mr. Peshkov wrote. "It can hardly count on Russian sympathies in this case."
Said Mr. Beltran: "Russia is trying to find its role and where it fits in American foreign policy. There's a rise in unilateralism with the new administration that isn't giving the Russians much help with an answer."
CHINA MOVES AHEAD
The Bush administration faces a deadline in a few weeks on arms sales to Taiwan amid a series of incidents that have soured ties with Beijing, even before the U.S. and Chinese planes collide high over the South China Sea.
The Bush administration actively backs a resolution at the annual U.N. human rights conference that is sharply critical of China. The administration also accused China of helping Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein to upgrade his air defenses, in violation of U.N. sanctions.
A high-level Chinese military officer defected in New York last year. An American University scholar was detained by Chinese officials in February and last week she was formally charged with spying. China also objected to a U.S. congressional resolution opposing Beijing's bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics.
All of which serves as dissonant background music to the looming Taiwan decision.
With powerful backing in Congress, Taiwan is seeking a major upgrade in the quality of the arms it can buy from the United States. Chinese senior diplomat Qian Qichen, meeting with Mr. Bush last month, bluntly warned that such an upgrade would have serious consequences for bilateral relations.
In yet another Cold War echo, China and Russia firmed up plans for a new bilateral treaty to be signed at a July summit in Moscow between Mr. Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin. The basic joint principles: opposition to missile defense, support for China's claim to Taiwan and support for Russia's war in Chechnya.
But China's economic surge in the 1990s coincided with a disastrous decline in Russian output, dictating vastly different treatment of the old Cold War principals by the new Bush team.
According to the Economist, the British newsweekly: "To put it crudely, the administration is prepared to disagree with Russia because it thinks it hardly matters. It wants to confront China because it thinks it matters a lot."
NORTH KOREA THREAT
The Bush administration put an abrupt halt to the rapid warming of ties with the communist regime in Pyongyang in the waning months of the Clinton administration. Mr. Bush did not hide his skepticism of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung's "Sunshine Policy" with the North when Mr. Kim visited Washington last month.
U.S. military officials say the threat from North Korea's massive army on the border with the South has increased in the past year, despite the rapprochement and despite the North's huge economic woes.
Gen. Thomas Schwartz, commander of the 37,000-strong U.S. military contingent in South Korea, told a Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing last month that the threat from the North is "bigger, better, closer and deadlier."
"They're training at a higher level" and buying better equipment, the general said.
Since Mr. Bush took office Jan. 20, North Korea has slowed the bilateral thaw with South Korea and resumed the harsh rhetoric that characterized a half-century of Cold War stalemate on the divided peninsula.
The new U.S. administration "only intends to step up its hostile policy to isolate and stifle [North Korea]," the newspaper for the country's ruling Korean Workers' Party editorialized last month.
"The U.S. war hawks are trying to reverse the trend of positive developments . . . by escalating their [anti-North Korea] moves to an extreme pitch," the paper charged.
In yet one more Cold War echo, the globe's smaller powers have watched the great-power jousting of the great powers in recent weeks with growing unease.
Saying that her country remained strictly neutral as Beijing and Washington argued over the the U.S. surveillance plane and its crew, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said:
"Very seldom do other countries get involved when the elephants are pitted against each other."…