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In the Cold War we knew who the enemy was...

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Global Warming, New Cold War, Take Your Pick

In the Cold War we knew who the enemy was…

Global warming doesn’t seem to be staving off a new Cold War.  In fact, if you have to choose between fact and fiction — or between Al Gore and buying more F-22 fighters –your money is safer if you bet on a new Cold War. 

We may be in a new one — with the Chinese — but Vladimir Putin’s Russia seems eager to revive the old one.

In January of this year Russia announced the first flight of its brand spanking new fifth generation fighter.  This revelation coming close on the heels of the U.S. decision not to produce any more than 187 F-22s of its fifth general fighter.  The Sukhoi T-50 or PAK FA as it is also known is reputed to be the peer competitor of the F-22 or F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Not two months have gone by since the T-50 first flight and Vladimir Putin is encouraging Russia to develop the next Russian bomber.  Reuters reports Putin saying, “Certainly we should not confine ourselves to developing just one new model.  After the fifth-generation fighter, we must think and get down to work on the next-generation, long-range aviation complex — our new strategic missile carrier.”  He said, “Long-range aviation complex, strategic missile carrier” by the way, translates into strategic nuclear bomber. 

Is it possible that these recent declarations of Russia’s intention to pursue new 21st Century military strike aircraft might herald what may be a new arms race, the harbinger of, could it be, a new “cold war.” 

You may remember that back in 2007 Putin ordered the resumption of long-range patrols by the existing Soviet era bomber fleet of Tupolev TU-95s “Bear,” TU-14s “Badger” and the TU-160s “Blackjack” bombers.  (I can’t explain why when we were doing so well with the scary forest animals,, without warning the card game got in there.)  Anyway, during the nearly four decades from the 1950s to the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the Sovs routinely flew their bombers close to the United States’ territorial limits and from bases in the Soviet Union to Cuba just skirting the U.S. territorial waters.  It was not uncommon for the Air Force to publish photos from our interceptor aircraft of Soviet bomber crews taking pictures of us taking pictures of them.  So, the new direction from Putin to resume the bomber patrol missions is real Cold War-like. 

Another Cold War foe (although more faux foe than real foe at the time) China, according to Chris Buckley of Reuters, has made very public noises that this number-one-world-power wannabe and Soviet Union cold war ally “should build the world’s strongest military and move swiftly to topple the United States as the global ‘champion.’”  Senior Colonel Liu Mingfu author of a recently released book in China, “The China Dream” doesn’t pull any punches in encouraging his country to shed modesty and displace the United States “as the top power.”  

Maybe Colonel Liu doesn’t have the cold war eloquence of Nikita Khrushchev who told a gathering at the Polish Embassy in Moscow November 18, 1956 referring to the United States, “We will bury you.” But what he did say has all the trappings of cold war rhetoric. 

You won’t find Colonel Liu’s “The China Dream” on Amazon.  And, it’s unlikely that Colonel Liu’s book will displace anytime soon Mark Halperin’s Game Change on the New York Times best seller list.   However, the fact that the Chinese government, not known for its openness to views contrary to official government positions would allow Colonel Liu such latitude may be a message to the West.

The official Cold War spanned the years 1945 to 1991.  So, are we on the cusp of new cold war?  Do we face a contemporary cold war where deterrence is the military maneuver strategy of choice?  Are we looking at another conflict of competing industries turning out ever more sophisticated and complex weaponry?   Will we see an spate of updated apocalyptic movies like “Fail-Safe” and “Dr. Strangelove”?

If so, I say bring it on.  In the Cold War we knew who the enemy was.  We knew where we stood.  The competition for more and better weapons actually motivated us to build… well, more and better weapons.  Would we have cancelled the F-22 if it had been our front line fighter during the cold war?  I think not.   During the 1950s and 1960s, people built bomb shelters that were later turned into wine cellars.  I don’t think we have enough wine cellars.  In fact we may have a “wine cellar gap.”  We had terms like nuclear freeze and nuclear winter.  Brrrrrrrr.  We needed really warm clothes just to talk about the Cold Wwar. 

The Cold War gave us Sputnik and the space race that prompted the Eisenhower Administration to encourage Congress to pass the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) of 1958.  Suddenly, during the 1960s we were awash in scientists and engineers, a lot of engineers.  Sure, a few English majors, poets and philosophers got in the NDEA act, but that to be expected with any government program. The Cold War gave energy to our activities in space and before you knew it we were landing on the moon. 

If the realization that we may be in another cold war, motivated the U.S. government to provide incentives to U. S. students to enter the science and technology disciplines, that would be a good thing.  We might get a philosophy or poetry major throwing in here and there, but it might be the price we pay for meeting the new cold war challenges with a new group of well educated scientists and engineers.  We might just need to build more and better weapons and warfighting equipment to win again. 

As I look back on the Cold War era and the real fear of a nuclear conflict, missing was  the specter of a questionable cataclysmic event that seems to be on the minds of some today.  The one notion that you didn’t hear about, or read about, or see on TV during the cold war was “Global Warming.”  Could it be that one cold war trumps one warm globe?  Of course Al Gore wasn’t around then, either. 

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Written By

Mr. Patterson is the Executive Director, National Defense Business Institute in the College of Business Administration at the University of Tennessee, and until June of last year served in the Bush Administration as the Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, Comptroller.

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