The Dawn of the Next Cold War

Article excerpt

Byline: Ian Bremmer (BREMMER is president of EurAsia Group and author of "The J-Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall.")

The 32-minute blast Vladimir Putin delivered at a recent security conference in Munich will go down as a classic. America's "uncontained" militarism, the Russian president declared, has created a world where "no one feels safe anymore," and where other nations feel almost forced to develop nuclear weapons in their own defense. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates tried to laugh it off, joking that "as an old cold warrior" the speech had "almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time"--and went on to tout Washington's preference for partnership and good relations.

Make no mistake, though. Putin delivered a message, and the White House heard it loud and clear. It goes something like this: in the 1990s, America pushed us around. On NATO expansion, we asked you to consider our national interests. You answered with an advance into former Soviet territory in Eastern Europe. You spoke of energy partnership yet built new pipelines to bypass our territory. Western companies took advantage of our economic troubles to buy access to our natural resources at cut-rate prices.

We asked you to respect the antiballistic-missile treaty; you destroyed it. You expect us to sit quietly while you make trouble in Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus and Central Asia--lands that existed within the Russian sphere before America was a nation. You ask our help in the war on terror but condemn our fight against the Chechen terrorists. Now you want to deploy missile-defense systems in Central Europe. Yes, we hope for friendship with America. But ours is a new Russia. If you treat us without respect, you will discover that we can say no.

All this built-up resentment was clear in Putin's speech. A decade or so ago, the United States didn't really have to take Russia into account. The cash-strapped Kremlin was preoccupied with rebellious provincial governors, grasping oligarchs, embittered communists and Chechen separatists. The erratic and alcoholic Boris Yeltsin inspired little confidence, the Russian economy even less so. Today, all that has changed. Putin has cowed the oligarchs and tamed all political rivals, including the once independent Duma. Oil prices tripled between 2002 and 2006, filling Russia's coffers with cash and powering growth of 7 percent annually. Putin's approval ratings hover around 75 percent.

Russia's willingness to demonstrate its newfound strength has prompted some to speculate that we're looking at a new cold war. …