Hot and Cold

There is a sil­ver lin­ing for world peace in the evolv­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween the USA and Rus­sia.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Shab­bir H. Kazmi

In­di­ca­tions for world peace.

The USA and Rus­sia, it seems, are now be­ing pulled to­gether by the ex­i­gen­cies of the times and, in the in­ter­est of world peace, are ex­plor­ing ways to co­op­er­ate with each other rather than fol­low their old ad­ver­sar­ial tra­jec­to­ries. This was more than ob­vi­ous in the greet­ings mes­sage that Pres­i­dent Putin sent to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama last Christ­mas. The US Sec­re­tary of State, John Kerry’s visit to the Krem­lin is also a case in point. And this was all hap­pen­ing de­spite Putin’s Crimea cam­paign and the fact that US ally Turkey shot down a Rus­sian fighter jet over Syria.

Rus­sia (as the USSR) and the USA have been tra­di­tional ri­vals since

the end of World War II. Both were con­tem­po­rary su­per­pow­ers in their time. When the USSR was dis­man­tled, some say, fol­low­ing Amer­i­can machi­na­tions, the USA was left as the world’s only su­per­power. But while the ri­valry pro­gressed in the 50s, 60s and 70s, it pro­duced some in­ter­est­ing aspects. Both tried to one-up each other dur­ing this pe­riod. They raced against each other on the ground in terms of mil­i­tary forces and arms and in space with their re­spec­tive rock­ets and satel­lite pro­grams.

In fact the US and Rus­sia have a long his­tory of try­ing to outdo one an­other. Many bi­lat­eral ri­val­ries have oc­curred be­tween the two through­out their tu­mul­tuous his­tory.

Af­ter World War II, an arms race be­tween the US and the Soviet Union ig­nited, with both pow­ers vy­ing to be kings of ad­vanced weaponry. This tech­no­log­i­cal ri­valry nat­u­rally evolved from mere rocket-based arms to the ex­plo­ration of the cos­mos, as both na­tions raced to put a satel­lite, an an­i­mal, and a man into or­bit. The Sovi­ets darted fast out of the gate, launch­ing the Sputnik 1 and Sputnik 2 ( with Laika the dog in tow) into or­bit in 1957. How­ever, when the US as­tro­nauts, the Soviet cos­mo­nauts and pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy en­tered the pic­ture in the 60s, the race re­ally heated up. On April 12, 1961, the Sovi­ets cat­a­pulted Yuri Ga­garin — a pi­lot in the Soviet Air Force who had once fled his vil­lage from a Ger­man in­va­sion — into or­bit.

Not to be out­done, Pres­i­dent Kennedy soon ad­dressed Congress and the na­tion and de­manded that the US put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Heed­ing the call, Amer­i­can as­tro­naut John Glenn one-upped Ga­garin by or­bit­ing the Earth three times in 1962. The next year, Cos­mo­naut Valen­tia Tereshkova be­came the first woman in space. And so a back-and-forth power-and­pres­tige grab en­sued and lasted un­til the end of the decade. On July 20, 1969, as­tro­nauts Neil Arm­strong and Ed­win Aldrin touched down on the moon. Mo­ments later, when Arm­strong an­nounced that “the Ea­gle has landed” and stepped onto the moon, the space race had been won.

In 1972, chess player Bobby Fis­cher took it on him­self to topple the Soviet Union’s al­most 25-year dom­i­nance in the sport when he went up against cur­rent world cham­pion Boris Spassky. Given the bi­lat­eral re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries at the time, it’s no sur­prise that the 21-game match in Reyk­javik, Ice­land, drew world­wide in­ter­est. De­spite some in­fu­ri­at­ing dis­ap­pear­ing acts and seem­ingly high-main­te­nance de­mands from Fis­cher, the ec­cen­tric Amer­i­can ge­nius ul­ti­mately proved vic­to­ri­ous (and even won a re­match against Spassky in 1992) and is con­sid­ered by many to be the great­est chess player who ever lived.

In the 80s, Ron­ald Rea­gan chal­lenged Mikhail Gor­bachev, the leader of the Soviet Union. Stand­ing in front of the Bran­den­burg Gate in Ber­lin on June 12, 1987, Rea­gan firmly com­manded Gor­bachev to “Tear down this wall!” This was the in­fa­mous Ber­lin Wall, which sep­a­rated East Ger­many from West Ger­many. Twenty-nine months later the wall fell.

The thaw­ing re­la­tions be­tween the Amer­ica and Rus­sia were marred af­ter Turkey shot down a Rus­sian fighter jet. It was feared that Rus­sia would re­tal­i­ate but it de­cided not to in all prob­a­bil­ity be­cause a Rus­sian at­tack on a Nato coun­try would have been akin to an in­ter­na­tional war. The change in US pol­icy to­wards Rus­sia be­came too ob­vi­ous when US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry vis­ited Moscow. This was pur­suant to the ef­forts be­ing made to or­ga­nize talks aimed at end­ing the Syr­ian civil war.

His­tor­i­cally Pak­istan has hardly en­joyed cor­dial re­la­tions with the USSR. Af­ter frag­men­ta­tion of the USSR into smaller re­publics, Rus­sia was al­ways seen by Pak­istan’s rul­ing junta as a foe rather than a friend. Lately, the Rus­sian regime has been mak­ing a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to bridge the con­fi­dence gap but an­i­mos­ity spread over decades is not likely to turn into friend­ship eas­ily through Pak­istan has re­cently pur­chased some ad­vanced mil­i­tary he­li­copters from Rus­sia. Both coun­tries need to work harder to for­get the past but many fac­tors con­tinue to haunt the re­la­tion­ship, the worst be­ing the ever-chang­ing geopo­lit­i­cal sce­nario which of­ten turns friends into foes or the other way round.

Since its in­de­pen­dence, Pak­istan has re­mained un­der the um­brella of US for­eign pol­icy. It pro­vided air­bases to the US from which spy planes would snoop on the USSR. At one stage, the USSR even threat­ened to at­tack th­ese bases. One im­por­tant fac­tor that ru­ined po­ten­tial Pak­istan-USSR re­la­tions right in the be­gin­ning was can­cel­la­tion of Prime Min­is­ter Li­aquat Ali Khan’s visit to the USSR as he chose to go to the US at the eleventh hour.

Pak­istan al­ways en­joyed cor­dial re­la­tions with China and is known as its ‘ time-tested friend.’ This of­ten re­stricted Pak­istan’s re­la­tions with the US, In­dia and the USSR. Later, Pak­istan’s re­la­tions with China were con­doned by the US due to its grow­ing trade ties but Rus­sia has al­ways re­mained a foe in the Pak­istani per­cep­tion.

Rus­sia and the United States have al­ways main­tained diplo­matic re­la­tions, but the al­ready strained re­la­tions be­tween Rus­sia and the U.S. have greatly de­te­ri­o­rated due to the Ukrainian cri­sis and the Syr­ian Civil War. Even then, de­spite the ten­sions be­tween both coun­tries, the United States and Rus­sia are still will­ing to co­op­er­ate and work to­gether on in­ter­na­tional is­sues such as se­cu­rity and in­ter­na­tional peace – and that is the sil­ver lin­ing for world peace. The writer is an eco­nomic an­a­lyst. He writes for var­i­ous lo­cal and for­eign pub­li­ca­tions.

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