Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, (R), and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gesture while speaking with media members during a tour around a Russian warship in Venezuela, Nov. 27, 2008, where Medvedev agreed to help start a nuclear energy program there.
"A New Cold War? Western Hemispheric Manuevers"
An NRO Symposium
Op-Ed, National Review Online
December 8, 2008
Author: Thomas M. Nichols, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program/Project on Managing the Atom, 2008–2011
Tom Nichols was one of the experts on Russia who contributed to a National Review Online Symposium on these questions: What does Russia docking in the Panama Canal this weekend mean? What should the Obama administration be thinking about it?
Read the entire symposium here.
Here is what the incoming Obama administration should do about the increased Russian naval presence in Caribbean and South America: nothing.
Visiting the Panama Canal and sending bombers and ships to Venezuela might seem like a flexing of Russian muscle in America's backyard. But these acts are nothing more than mere stunts, expressions of a wounded Russian national ego.
Getting those two Blackjack bombers, for example, all that distance from Russia to Venezuela (something the U.S. Air Force can do as a matter of routine) probably kept most of the Russian Air Force busy for weeks, not least with fierce prayers that the planes would not suffer an embarrassing malfunction somewhere over the Atlantic. Even in the Soviet Navy's best days, there was no danger of a Russian naval presence in South America. There isn't one now.
More to the point, there will be no return to the Cold War, because there is nothing left to fight about. The violent, revolutionary ideology that was the mainspring of Soviet mischief is long dead, a punchline to a bad joke no one remembers. Moscow's current posturing is largely for domestic Russian consumption, a chest-thumping response not only to their questionable military performance in Georgia, but — it must be admitted — to the brusqueness of American policy toward Russia under both Bush 43 and Bill Clinton. From NATO expansion to European missile defense, U.S. policy has clumsily poked the Kremlin in the eye for no good reason and to no good effect, and it was only a matter of time before the Russians returned the favor.
Irritation, however, is not the same as a death struggle. The new administration should ignore Russia's juvenile, attention-seeking behavior and return to a discussion of matters that are far more important to both of us, including terrorism, nuclear security, and better cooperation in the midst of a global economic crisis.
Besides, if the Russians want a friend like Hugo Chavez, isn't that their problem?
Tom Nichols is a professor of national-security affairs at the Naval War College, and a fellow at the Belfer Center of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. The opinions are those of the author.
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