Cold War Chill in the Air

Article excerpt

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."

RISING TENSIONS

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. …