The New Cold War Heats Up

Photograph Source: lilivanili – CC BY 2.0

At this time of all times, when the world is staggering from the shattering effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, it would be sensible for nations to pull together in order to devise policies and practicalities to counter and defeat the devastation that is taking place and seems likely to increase.  Now is the time for cooperation, compromise and mutual assistance in all spheres of medical research and in devising protective measures which can be emplaced and enforced with the minimum of dislocation.  Internationalism should be the norm, and the best brains in the world should be in harness, from Beijing to Boston and beyond.

But they’re not, because there are some countries that are resolutely resisting cooperation in the fight against world disaster and choosing to focus on confrontation. And, naturally, they are the ones that are suffering most. As of July 23, the highest numbers of deaths in the Americas were the United States with 146,200 and Brazil scoring 82,890, while in Europe the United Kingdom had a depressing 45,501. These are the countries whose “leaders” (for want of a better word to describe erratic bunglers at the head of government) have failed utterly to cope with the national aspects of the pandemic crisis.

Not only this, but concurrent with their exhibitions of domestic ineptitude, Presidents Trump and Bolsonaro and Prime Minister Johnson have ignored or even insulted and aggressively confronted nations with whom they should be most energetically working to help their own citizens return to leading normal lives.

There are two main countries with which the US, Brazil and Britain should be energetically cooperating in the campaign to alleviate and eventually overcome the virus :  China and Russia.  But forget it, because, for example, one of America’s main priorities, as reported by Stars and Stripes, is the rebuilding and extension of the Campia Turzii air base in Romania for use by US strike aircraft.  This is to cost 130 million dollars for “the biggest overseas military construction project under the Pentagon’s European Deterrence Initiative, which was initiated in June 2014.”  The build up of US-Nato forces continues unabated around the Black Sea and along the length of Russia’s borders.

Admiral James Foggo, recently departed head of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, declared that the U.S. “bottom line” is “mutual interest” with Ukraine, which is “why we regularly operate in the Black Sea. Both U.S. and NATO forces routinely operate there to send a message that we will uphold international law and norms. Our collective efforts will lead to a better and safer Ukraine, which means a better and safer Black Sea for all of us.”  In the Pentagon’s playbook, US security is enhanced when it threatens other countries by indulging in massive military build-ups and confrontational military maneuvers round their borders.  Foggo’s replacement, Admiral Robert Burke, assumed command of Naval Forces Europe and NATO’s Joint Forces Command on July 17 and promptly declared that China and Russia pose “overt challenges to the free and open international order.”

The Coronavirus campaign takes a back seat, where US power-projection is concerned. The Pentagon has over 50,000 troops stationed in Japan, of whom half are in bases on the island of Okinawa which, as CBS News noted on July 16, “sits closer to Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, than it does to Tokyo. It’s a pivotal foothold for Washington, both to protect Asian allies including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, and to project U.S. power and be able to react to increasingly aggressive military moves by China in the region, and the ever-present threat from North Korea.”  But this pivotal foothold for US power projection is experiencing “the biggest coronavirus outbreak within the U.S. military anywhere in the world . . . [on July 16] U.S. Forces Japan confirmed another 36 infections among troops on Okinawa, bringing the total to at least 136 since the U.S. military reported its first cases there last week.”  The people of Okinawa are understandably extremely worried about the threat from the virus brought to their home by US military personnel — but the Pentagon and the Washington establishment are prioritizing their activities in the region by indulging in confrontational antics in the South China Sea, where they have been carrying out massive military maneuvers involving two aircraft carrier strike groups and nuclear bombers in order to continue threatening China.  (On July 17 a further two B-1 nuclear bombers were deployed to the U.S. colony of Guam in the western Pacific to carry out “strategic deterrence missions to reinforce the rules-based international order in the region.”)

In the eyes of the Trump Administration, confrontation with China is preferable to cooperation in trying to combat the pandemic,  and this was made abundantly clear during a bizarre Trump tirade in the Rose Garden on July 14 when he announced that “We hold China fully responsible for concealing the virus and unleashing it upon the world.  They could’ve stopped it.  They should’ve stopped it.  It would’ve been very easy to do at the source when it happened.”  This palpable nonsense is U.S. official policy, and a most troubling indicator of belligerence.

Britain’s Boris Johnson once described himself as a ‘Sinophile’ but has joined with Trump in trying to confront China over Hong Kong and obeyed his orders to ban the Chinese firm Huawei from business in the UK. Further, he is enthusiastically embracing the current propaganda campaign against Russia.  Instead of cooperating with Beijing and Moscow in trying to develop a counter-virus vaccine, London joined Washington in proclaiming, in spite of there being no evidence whatever, the bogus allegation that Russia was paying the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.  While this nonsense was being refuted, there came yet another accusation from London which at first seemed extremely serious.

It was claimed by the usual anonymous sources that, as reported by Reuters, “Britain, Canada and the United States said . . . that hackers backed by the Russian state were trying to steal COVID-19 vaccine and treatment research from academic and pharmaceutical institutions.” Britain’s foreign minister promptly declared that “Russian intelligence services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” but when this was realized to be an absurd claim, even the New York Times had to state on July 17 that “Russian drugmaker R-Pharm has signed a deal with AstraZeneca for it to manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine being developed by the British pharmaceuticals giant and Oxford University.”  AstraZeneca’s international headquarters in in Cambridge, England, and it has research laboratories in the U.S. State of Maryland and in Sweden.

This was a pretty amateur propaganda operation, but in spite of the fact that the allegations were demonstrably ridiculous there is no doubt the story had the intended outcome and that the anti-Russia fire was stoked effectively.  The rift between the West and Russia and China is being deliberately widened, and a New Cold War is breaking out, with the U.S. and Britain playing down their domestic calamities and choosing international confrontation in preference to cooperation.

Trump and Johnson are not serving the best interests of their own citizens and are harming the entire world by their belligerent posture.  There are rocks ahead.  Maybe nuclear ones.

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.