An Incremental Cold War

In 2012, Dr. Lamont Colucci was approached by U.S. News and World Report to write a weekly column on foreign policy and national security. This is under the aegis of World Report – Insights, perspectives, and commentary on foreign affairs. View the article on

From 1945 to 1991, the United States invested countless treasure and lives to fight the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

The battle was fought facing two imperatives while Americans often ignored one to justify inaction of the other. First, there were the ideological motivations whereby the Soviet Union was trying to expand its influence through communist revolutionary activity by siding with communist rebels (as in El Salvador) or helping to install communist governments (as in Afghanistan). The second motivation was often hand in glove with the first. These were Russian geopolitical imperatives, many of which stretched back centuries. The classic example of this, having nothing to do with communism, was Russia’s age-old quest for warm water ports.

The United States was continuously engaged in fighting international communism and attempting to thwart Soviet influence, but it sometimes failed to recognize Russian realism, which was often equally disturbing. It was the Reagan administration that made the clear determination that not only did you need to stop Soviet communism and Russian expansion, but you also had to create a path to victory. The Reagan administration was victorious, making the current inaction and acquiescence to Russian imperialism so disquieting.

Two recent events illustrate this disturbing trend. The first is Russia’s decision to deploy Iskander missiles to the Kaliningrad (Konigsberg) region. The missiles have a range of 440 miles, are nuclear capable, mobile and travel at hypersonic speed. The new deployment creates added danger to the Baltics, Poland and Germany, including the capital city of Berlin. The deployment bolsters not only the raw Russian military presence there, but could affect NATO planning to come to the aid of the Baltic during a conflict as this Russian military region could dominate the Suwalki gap. European national security experts see this clearly as an attempt to bolster Russian power through intimidation. The Lithuanian foreign minister is quoted as saying that the move was designed to “seek concessions from the West.”

Second is the telegraphed renewed interest in overseas basing by the Russians. They have made it known that they wish to restore their bases in Vietnam and Cuba. The Lourdes base in Cuba was primarily used by Russian intelligence against the United States. It was the largest base of its kind outside of Russia and is only about 90 miles from Florida and was closed in 2001. The Cam Rahn base in Vietnam served the interests of their navy in the Pacific which the Russians left in 2002. Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov stated that Russia was “rethinking” the past decisions to close these bases. There is further talk of Egypt and Russia negotiating the Russian return to its military facilities in Sidi Barrani. Finally, there is also chatter about a Russian re-entry into Nicaragua. This in the context of their increasing presence in Syria and their attempt at basing in Iran illustrates a clear trajectory for the Russian bear.

Reassertion of Russian power is in line with the new Putin Doctrine, which has evolved since 2008, whose aims are to reassert Russian regional hegemony while combining 19th-century Tsarist policies to justify a return to an imperial path. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters that “it’s quite natural that all countries assess these changes in line with their national interests and take certain steps in the way they consider appropriate.”

Russia is doing nothing more than furthering her geostrategic interests. They are openly telegraphing their intentions with doctrines, statements and state-controlled propaganda. These interests are also designed to intimidate American allies and push back against American primacy, and thus global stability. American inaction will fuel this until the fire will be out of control. Thus, while the American media is focused on the personal attacks, the Russians exploit a window of opportunity.