This spring, Thomas "Tom" Arms '67 flew in from the UK to celebrate the 50th reunion of the Class of 1967 during Alumni Weekend 2017. Arms is an established entrepreneurial journalist, author, broadcaster, and businessman with broad experience in British, U.S., and international affairs.
In the spring Review magazine, the veteran journalist and international affairs expert reflected on his career and some of the most pressing world issues of the moment, including relations between the U.S. and Russia. We could not include the following into the magazine due to length constraints. However, we thought many readers might find Arms' measured analysis fascinating.
1. Do you feel that the U.S. and Russia are entering a new cold war given strained relations and the controversy that continues to surround the U.S. Presidential election (re. Trump's ties to Russia)?
Absolutely, but like most things in life it is not that simple. Russia threatens the independence of Eastern Europe and the Baltic states, and feels threatened by European and American dominance in a region which it regards as its backyard. In the same way, the U.S. felt threatened by Soviet/Russian influence in countries such as Cuba, Grenada, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Chile in the 60s, 70s and 80s.
This is complicated by China, the Trump Administration's foreign policy, and changing American public attitudes. China and Russia are natural competitors for dominance in the Eurasian land mass and successive U.S. administrations are not above playing one against the other. This is one of the main reasons Nixon and Kissinger re-established relations with Beijing (then Peking) in the 1970s. At that time, China was an economic and political midget. Russia was dominant in Eastern Europe, threatening militarily with its nuclear and conventional forces, and exporting its revolutionary political ideology to other parts of the world. Opening a dialogue with China acted as a brake on Russia (then, the Soviet Union)
Now the situation is somewhat, but not entirely reversed. Russia is no longer in Eastern Europe and it is no longer exporting an opposing political ideology. Its military power is still considerable, but also considerably less than what it was, although it is growing again. China, on the other hand is now a major competitor on the economic front and is promoting its support for centralized authoritarian politics but without the communist tinge of the past. It should be stressed, however, that China's political promotions are not backed up with weaponry as was the Soviet Union's.
Given this situation, the general thrust of the Trump Administration is to reverse the Nixonian/Kissinger foreign policy and improve relations with Russia in order to put a brake on China.
However, the world is now more complicated than it was during the Cold War. We now also have the European Union emerging as a political power on the world stage. The main threat to the EU remains Russia and it needs the continued military support of the United States to hold off the Russian threat. The European Union is an economic giant, a political middleweight, and a military minnow (excuse mixed metaphors). It is trying to develop an EU-wide military capability, but Brexit and various political reasons steeped in history (such as Hitler, Mussolini, Napoleon and past imperial pretensions) are hampering the development of a military capability.
At the same time there appears to be a growing feeling in America that it has won the Cold War and can now revert to its traditional isolationism, or, perhaps, a new unilateralism (America First).
Finally, the EU as well as China, is seen as an economic threat by the current U.S. Administration. That is why the President opposes the pro-EU Germans, encourages British exit from the EU, and supports anti-EU movements in France, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Germany, Sweden, and Eastern Europe. The idea is that by weakening the EU, it will lessen its member countries' competitive edge in trade negotiations.
This is, in my opinion, wrong and short-sighted because it also weakens EU countries politically against a more powerful Russia whose history has been one of hegemonistic expansion at the expense of Western Europe. And history has also shown that because of cultural, economic, and political ties, America is inevitably dragged into wars in Europe.
I believe that China is a different case. Yes, it is an economic/trade powerhouse. Yes, the success of its political system is being offered as an alternative to democracy. But Chinese history is not expansionist. If anything, it is isolationist. The Chinese have never sought to rule the world. They have, however, sought to trade with it—with some considerable success in the past. To compete with China, the United States must—well, compete. It must produce products which are better than those produced in China.
2. Are there lessons learned from the first Cold War that could be applied or heeded now?
There were several key Cold War policies which could be applied to the current situation
1- Containment. This involved a military encirclement of the Soviet Union, and economic and political sanctions. The basic philosophy behind this was that communism contained within itself the seeds of its own destruction. To attack militarily risked a nuclear Armageddon.
2- Dialogue/Détente. Basically keep talking. Know your enemy. Learn as much as possible about them. Keep gradually chipping away. Argue and debate with them. If you believe—as I do—that Western liberal values are superior than eventually you will win the argument.
3- Nuclear deterrence or MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction). The US must maintain its nuclear deterrent. It doesn't have to be increased, but it must be big enough to deter an attack. That does not mean that there is a danger of attack. The deterrent provides political influence as well as military might.
4- Work with other countries. The United States cannot afford to become either isolationist or unilateralist. It needs to work with other countries. They provide intelligence, trade, foreign bases, troops and political contacts and support.
Would you like to learn more about Tom Arms? Be sure to check out the fall 2017 Review magazine.