• During Donald Trump’s presidency, the term “Cold War 2.0” was popularized in the context of U.S.-China rivalry, which has been spurned by China’s economic rise. 
    • By becoming the fastest growing economy around the globe, China is challenging the U.S.-led economic system and laying the foundation to become a military superpower. 
    • As the second-largest military spender after the United States with a speculated military expenditure of nearly $250 billion, China is using its military might to assert its territorial claims in the South China Sea (SCS). 
    • China is constructing artificial islands across the SCS while also establishing its first-ever foreign military base in Djibouti at the strategic chokepoint of Bab el-Mandeb. These actions are influencing U.S. perceptions that China’s rise is a threat and, hence, a new global competition between the United States and China for hegemonic status has begun. 

Similarity with cold war 1.0 

  • The Cold War 2.0 shares similarities with the original Cold War (1945-1991) in many aspects. 
  • During the Cold War, the United States and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) were the prime contenders for superpower status; however, the threat of an active military conflict between the two was largely defused due to the nuclear deterrence. 
    • Hence, this allowed both the United States and USSR to collaborate on major global challenges, like resolving the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis. 
    • Although nuclear deterrence is still viable today, the context of the U.S.-China rivalry is far more beholden to economic interdependence—trade relations amounted to $660 billion in 2018—whereas U.S. trade with the USSR remained low throughout the Cold War. 
    • Nevertheless, the ongoing U.S.-China “trade war” has somewhat reduced their mutual dependency, providing space for more divergent foreign policy behavior. 
    • China has also sought to exclude the United States from its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative which is aimed at enhancing its economic presence through the multi-channel yet interconnected global framework. 
  • The pivot of Cold War rivalry between the United States and USSR was centered across Europe in its western and eastern parts, respectively. To prevent the expansion of USSR, the United States deployed military assets to Europe and formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military alliance. 
    • In Cold War 2.0, the epicenter of U.S.-China rivalry is Asia. 
    • The United States has formed new networks of aligned states to “encircle” China—including the Quad (consisting of the United States, Japan, India, and Australia) and AUKUS (the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia)—and routinely deploys the U.S. Navy into contested sea lanes to deter Chinese military adventurism. 
    • Moreover, the United States also shares strategic partnerships with South Korea and Japan and has troops positioned on their territories. 
    • This positioning of troops reflects the idea of “extended deterrence” which revolves around bringing the aligned states into the U.S. “security umbrella” to deter hostile states like China. 
  • The Cold War was largely dominated by proxy warfare around the globe. Instead of actively engaging in direct military conflict, the United States and USSR financed and armed the oppositional groups on foreign territories—culminating in three major proxy conflicts: the Korean War (1950-1953), Vietnam War (1955-1975), and Afghanistan War (1979-1990). 
    • Although no such proxy conflict is present between the United States and China to date, both countries are supporting rival factions abroad, either militarily or diplomatically. 
    • China opposes U.S. policies in the states like Syria and Iraq, opposing regime change in the former and seeing the U.S. presence in the latter as the main source of instability and provocation. 
    • On the other hand, the United States has a history of arming militant groups to pursue its foreign policy agenda, whether in Afghanistan during the 1980s or in the current Syria conflict. 

Is Cold war the practical result between USA and China? 

  • The Cold War rivalry was based on ideological differences. The spread of communism in the decolonized states was seen as a threat to the Western liberal order’s capitalist nature. Similarly, Western capitalism was largely perceived by the other bloc as a part of an imperialist agenda to consolidate authority over the global structure. The respective ideologies entailed emotions and fears, hence, leading towards the formation of guerrilla forces and bloc alignment. 
    • However, in contemporary proceedings, ideological differences are less present between the United States and China. 
    • China has opened up to the outside world and has greatly benefitted from capitalism. In economic terms, China has now restructured its economy in public-private partnership and neither upholds the tenets of communism nor echoes its support to communist factions in its foreign policy outlook. 
    • The United States also considers China as more of a geopolitical competitor than ideological threat. This non-ideological competition has prevented the first Cold War’s arrangement of starkly evident bloc formation. 
  • Unlike USSR, China is neither willing nor capable of confronting the United States in an armed conflict, either actively or passively. 
    • China is challenging U.S. dominance over the international economic structure but doesn’t possess any danger to the United States’ various security partnerships. 
    • Correspondingly, China is the largest consumer of energy—mainly from the Middle East—and the swift transportation of oil and gas to China is so far ensured due to the presence of the U.S. naval fleet which is perceived as the security guarantor by the regional states. 
  • Similarly, despite being the second-largest military spender in the world, China still lags behind the United States and Russia in weapons sophistication. This has narrowed down the scope of Chinese security partnerships with the middle or weak states in an effort to expand its clout. In contrast, China is dependent upon certain states in extending its economic ties with multiple regions. 

Stephen Walt gives following arguments

  • The world is not bipolar, rather lopsided multipolar.
  • There is no parity between USA and Russia. If USA is Godzilla, Russia is Bambi. The size of Russian economy is $2 tn and that of US economy is $ 20 tn.
  • Russia does not have ideological appeal and soft power at par with USSR.
  • The competition is not global, confined to few theatres. Primarily in Russia’s neighbourhood or in middle east.
  • There is a bigger concern for USA today which comes from rising China. It shows the laziness of the strategic community to call US Russia relations as cold war 2.0, it is misleading because it will push policymakers to focus on Russia as a priority and ignoring Chinese threat.
  • It is said that cold war is a nostalgic generalistic term, which should be used with extreme caution.

Michael Cofman. (Expert at Wilson center.)

  • He also does not agree to call present state of relations as cold war. The reason is Russia is no match to the image of USSR. Russia is facing its own survival crisis. Russia is actually a declining regional power. The problem with USA is the feeling of ‘enemy deprivation’. It may be a reason that US policymakers are looking for the simple threat ignoring the real challenge or diverting attention from China.

The scholars of Carnegie Endowment for Peace.

  • Dmitri Trenin believe that we are in the state of cold war. Similaraly Alexei Arbatov has given following arguments to support that the present state of relations is very similar.
    • There is a high level of mutual suspcision.
    • Communism is not relevant, yet USA should not ignore the power of the Russian orthodox nationalism, which is gaining huge popularity even the countries of western Europe.
    • Putin is a master of ambiguity. In response to the question ‘Where the borders of Russia end?’, his response was “Nowhere’. It is enough indication of the expansionist desires. Russia has its own national image, it has its own metaphysical mentality, a cultural identity which will not allow Russia to compromise.
  • West should not forget that Putin considers the collapse of USSR as the biggest geopolitical disaster. He also held that anyone who does not feel pain of the collapse of USSR does not have heart whereas those who want to rebuild USSR do not have mind. It is enough indication of Putin’s pragmatism. He has thrown ball in the court of west.

According to Alexei Arbatov

  1. There is a new cycles of US Russia arms race.
  2. There is a possibility of military confrontation from baltic to black sea. From arctic to asia pacific.
  3. We should not ignore that Cuban Missile crisis brought the world on the brink of nuclear war. Cuban missile crisis was not a planned aggression. Certain events may take up the situation of war. We should not ignore the situations which is building in middle east or eastern Europe.
  4. USA is continuing with the old policy. 1) Isolation. 2) Containment. 3) Dismantling economy. 4) Devaluing nuclear capabilities.
  • Though he finds similarities, yet he believes that ‘history does not repeat itself as a blueprint of the past. There are some changes also like Rise of Polycentric world, growth of interdependence, the rise of Islamic extremism, Climate change.
  • It is believed that there is a acknowledgement in USA that China is a bigger threat. There is a nervousness in both, Washington and Moscow about the rising China. However there is a lack of domestic consensus for political reason within USA towards Trump’s approach towards Putin. The political class in USA is manipulating the legacy of cold war, the deep animosity towards Russia found in American Public to fulfill their political aspirations.

Assessment of Cold war 2.0 

  • It is evident that the feasibility of a second cold war in the wake of U.S.-China rivalry is minimal. Instead, the more appropriate definition of Cold War 2.0 would be the formation of an anti-U.S. nexus in different spheres. 
  • For example, China is challenging U.S. economic dominance while Russia’s formidable nuclear and conventional military might pose problems for U.S. military power. However, Russia’s economy is facing challenges due to its semi-developed industrial base, leaving the country reliant upon energy and arms exports. In this way, there is a clear division of labor between Russia and China in competing with the United States. 


  • Conclusively, a potential Cold War 2.0 differs from the original Cold War in that bloc politics have been replaced by nexus politics where middle powers are seeking equidistance from the competing great powers. 
  • For example, despite being part of the Quad, Indian bilateral trade with China surpassed $100 billion in 2021. 
  • Likewise, the EU’s strategic relations with the United States didn’t prevent it from engaging China, as mentioned in its September 2021 Indo-Pacific policy paper. 
  • Wherein Sino-U.S. competition has clearly manifested in the South China Sea, the Russian role in confronting the United States cannot be overlooked, especially in the context of the Ukraine Crisis. 
  • Hence, Cold War 2.0 must be analyzed in a multipolar framework instead of through a focus on any one state. The United States faces challenges at multiple fronts which are united in counterbalancing U.S. supremacy in international politics. 

Developments After Cold War

  • 1995 – NATO bombing in Bosnia. Bosnia Herzegovina. What was the indication of NATO bombing? 1. The first operation of NATO for protection of human rights. 2. Russia knew that it will have implications for the security in the regions in Caucasus i.e. in Chechnya. West had already started supporting the war for independence in Chechnya. Caucasus remains most important because of oil resources.
  • 1996 – The negotiation for CTBT started.
  • 1997 – Russia was included in G7, making it G8.
  • 1999
    1. NATO’s expansion eastward to include Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic. Russia is concerned about eastward expansion. According to Russian officials, at the time of end of cold war, then Russia agreed for the merger of east germany with west, there was an agreement between US and Russia that there will be no expansion of NATO eastwards.
    2. 2nd NATO bombing. This time in Kosovo. This was unilateral action, not supported by UNSC. Here also the justification was the protection of the rights of minorities Albanian Muslims, another indication to provoke insurgency in Chechnya. West recognized the independence of Kosovo.
    3. So far Russia does not recognize the independence. Even India does not recognize the independence of Kosovo because of Kashmir factor.
    4. In 1999, Putin became the Prime Minister. In his speech to Russian duma (PL) he held that Russia is capable of protecting its legitimate zones. Russia is going to seek its rightful place, Russia will not allow its opinion to be ignored. Later on Putin became president of Russia.

Putin’s actions as a president of Russia

  • Nationalization of Oil and Gas – Russia accepted shock therapy proposed by west, however it made the situation of Russia worse. Western companies started looting Russian resources. Between 1992 – 1998, Russian economy saw an average decline of 6.8% per annum. When Putin came to power, Russian economy started growing at the rate of 6.9% per year, this growth had sustained between 1998 – 2008, resulting into the accumulation of huge foreign exchange. The state of Russian economy was not acceptable to US. In 2008, Global financial crisis started. It started impacting not only Eurozone but also BRICS economies. In 2010, to weaken Russia further, USA imposed sanctions on Russian economy on the ground of Human Rights violation in Russia. USA also ensured that global oil prises remain low. Hence on one hand Russia will not be able to export oil or to earn much on oil, but when sanctions remain, Russia will not be able to diversify its economy. Because of sanctions, Russia will not get foreign investment, which is needed to rebuild its industries. Hence Russia continues to be dependent on 1) Oil exports and 2) Arms exports. Even exports of arms require investment for research and development.
  • At present Russia gets huge investments from Qatar.
  • USA imposed sanctions against Russia’s oil sector and forced EU countries also. USA didn’t want economic interdependence to grow between Russia and Germany, the old geopolitics, preventing the integration of Eurasia.
  • 2002
    1. US president declared Iran, Iraq and North Korea as axis of evil. Enough indication that US will go for war against any of the country in middle east. Why cause of concern for Russia? 1) Any war in middle east will destabilize middle east, will give opportunity to non-state actors to come to power. It will have direct implication for Russia’s Cacasus region affected by Islamic insurgency. With war in Afghanistan, USA already started de-stabilization in central Asia. Central Asia and South Caucasus are interlinked territorially. Up till very recently Russia had monopoly over the oil and gas exports from Central Asia, as all pipelines go through Russia. 
    2. USA unilaterally withdrew from anti ballistic missile treaty. What are the implications? 1_If USA withdraws from Habian treaty, USA disturbs the nuclear balance.  2_ It will force Russia into nuclear arms race to maintain balance. What was argument of USA? US will be deploying the theatre missile weapons. (Short range) in Poland and Czech Republic to protect its allies from the threats emerging from the rogue states. (Iran, Iraq, Syria, North Korea). What are rogue states? 1_Which aim to acquire weapons of mass destruction.  2_Which create nuisance for the neighbours e.g. Iran for Israel.
  • 2003
    • USA’s unilateral war against Iraq. It was not approved by UNSC. Both Russia and European countries knew that the war will have negative consequences for their stability. What reason USA gave? Saddam Hussain is acquiring weapons of mass destruction. What was the actual intention? USA knows the demography of Iraq. It will open the pandora box in middle east.
    • Between 2003-2004, USA orchestrated coloured revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, Kirgizstan.
  • 2004 – another expansion of NATO. This time to include Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Slovakia.
  • 2007 – NATO summit proposed inclusion of Ukraine and Georgia. At the doorstep of Russia.
  • 2007 – Putin’s speech at Munich security council. In a way seen as a declaration of start of New Cold war. Putin warn USA, don’t overstep.
    • Same year Russia announced that it will withdraw from treaty on conventional forces in Europe and INF treaty.
  • 2008 – Russia intervened in Georgia, declared the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. What is the significance? 1) It was Russia’s answer to West’s action in Kosovo.
    • 2008 – West could not take any concrete action against Putin in support of Georgia. Russia also takes the advantage of the Russians living in these breakaway states. Georgian crisis made the relations extremely tense. USA installed two state missile interceptors on the territory of Poland. Russia planned to install Iskander short range missile at Kaliningrad, Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania. Russia forced Lithuania to provide corridor to Russia to reach its state.
  • 2009 – Reset. When Obama came to power, he tried to reset the relations. Why? Obama needed Russian support 1) In Afghanistan (Northern distribution network).  2) To control the nuclear programme of Iran and North Korea. Russian support was needed so that security council can impose sanctions against these countries. Reset resulted into New Start treaty, which will expire in 2021. One of the reason for Helsinki summit was agreement on successor treaty. New Start treaty puts limitations on number of deployed nuclear weapons. Even Helsinki summit was a way to find out the solution for the uncertainity which emerged because of the allegations against each other for violation of INF treaty.
    • INF treaty aimed at ensuring the stability in Europe. It prevents the deployment of Intermediate range Nuclear missiles. There has been allegation that Russia is developing the shorter range version of Iskander missile, Russia accuses USA for utilizing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) as a alternative to short range missiles.
    • INF treaty is a bilateral agreement. At present China is fast developing short and medium range missiles. One reason to come out is – to re-negotiate the treaty so that China also becomes part of it.
  • 2011 – NATO bombing in Libya.
  • 2012 – The beginning of crisis in Syria. The end of reset.
    • Countries found themselves at opposite ends. Crisis in Syria is called as the typical example of nature of post cold war conflicts. Example of complex interdependence.
    • In Syria both USA and Russia are fighting against ISIS.
    • However Russia supports govt. of Syria while US supports rebels in Syria.
    • Russia supports Iran and Hezbollah, US supports Saudi.
    • Saudi is against Iran, both are against ISIS.
    • Saudi supports Kurds.
    • Turkey plays zigzags.
  • 2014 – Euromaidan movement in Ukraine
    • US accused Russia for violation of INF treaty.
    • Russia expressed anger at USA’s deployment of Aegis Ashore Missile weapons in Romania.
  • 2015 – Russia militarily intervened in Syria.
  • 2016 – Russia comes out of Plutonium disposition agreement.
  • 2016 – Trump’s election and allegations of Russia’s intrusion in the elections.
  • 2017 – The first meeting between Trump and Putin at G20 summit. Discussion on Syria and Ukraine. (July 2017).  Nov 2017 – Second meeting at APEC summit, Vietnam. 
    • Dec 2017 – National Security Strategy released by Trump administration. It explicitly mentions Russia, China, Iran and North Korea as enemies of USA.
  • Feb 2018 – Nuclear posture review released by USA. It again targets Russia, USA will develop credible deterrence against any sort of aggression. It denotes the decision to further strengthen missile defence, deny the advantage of nuclear first use to Russia.
  • US dept. of defence has authorised the funding for the program.
  • 2018 Summit at Helsinki – No agenda was published for discussion and no communique was issued. There was huge resentment against Trump.
  • 2018 – Imposition of sanctions against Russia. Trump had to give ascent to CAATSA (Counteracting America’s… ) They are expected to meet at G20 summit, scheduled to be held on 30th Nov 2018 at Argentina.

List of Russia’s grievances in new cold war

  • Expansion of NATO eastwards.
  • Expansion of EU eastwards.
  • Coloured revolutions in Russian near abroad.
  • USA’s policies in middle east.
  • US involvement in domestic affairs.
  • USA’s unilateralism.
  • Arbitrary sanctions.

What are USA’s grievances?

  • Poor Human Rights in Russia.
  • Russia is not a democracy.
  • Putin is dictator.
  • The development of Russia is being hampered because of Putin’s protectionist policies.
  • Putin terrorizes Europe, supports rogue states and does not not observe the rule of law.

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