A Cold War again? – No, and we need a new vocabulary

This is a translation of Miika Raudaskoski‘s column “Tämä ei ole kylmä sota, sillä vanhat käsitteet eivät tässä ajassa riitä” in Karjalainen newspaper on April 1, 2015 (also in his blog). Raudaskoski is a PhD student in history and a project researcher in the Karelian Institute of the University of Eastern Finland. 

There are varying interpretations on the end of the Cold War. On one hand, people say it ended with the bringing down of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980’s. On the other hand, according to others, the Cold War era was finally brought to a conclusion with the eastward expansions of NATO and EU in 2004; the Baltic nations were the first former Soviet states to become NATO members.

Figure by Spiegel 48/2009 http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/nato-s-eastward-expansion-did-the-west-break-its-promise-to-moscow-a-663315.html

Figure by Spiegel 48/2009

Edward Lucas in 2008 in his book The New Cold War presented the return to the Cold War.

Russian politics had then numerous facets demonstrating intentions for a position of power. The EU-Russia relations had deteriorated and that was seen in practice with problems e.g. concerning border crossings. The collapse of the post Cold War order came finally also to the Finnish discussion during the Georgian war.

The concept of a return to the Cold War have risen ever more forcefully with the Ukraine crisis. The familiar vocabulary of the Cold War with terms like East, West, spheres of influence, geopolitics and neutrality have been resurrected in the political rhetoric.

Cold War dinosaurs like Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger are partly to blame, but digging up old concepts, without much qualms, has also been easy in Finland.

I participated at the end of last March in a congress on political science in Turku, Finland, where the return of the Cold War terminology was among major topics.

Professor Tuomas Forsberg gave an excellent lecture on the finlandization in a current political dialogue where he analyzed the meaning and use of the term. Such critical review and critique is sorely needed as the language of the day easily flattens both the vocabulary of the Cold War and our understanding of the current situation in international politics.


As a matter of fact, we have not returned to the Cold War. That historical period ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union because one end of the bipolarization ceased to exist. However, the world of the Cold War era despite all its tensions was a static one.

The Soviet Union was a stiff monolith where the rate of change was glacial.

Russia, on the other hand, is an agile, amoeba-like system that is hard to grasp. Also the nationalism and the rise of the national boisterous bravado sets it apart from its socialistic predecessor.

There are much more unpredictability and worrisome developments with Russia than there were with the stagnant USSR. Thus also the political situation that has now reached a crisis is much more complex and harder to predict than the Cold War probably ever was.

Bringing old descriptors directly to modern rhetoric oversimplifies the world and our perception. For instance, the talk about the East and the West is nothing if not problematic.

The West as it existed during the Cold War is no more and the trans-Atlantic connection has suffered many blows in recent years – not the least of them was the Iraq war. Despite the institutional integration and expansion today’s Europe is divided. EU is more fractured than in the 1980s and new borders have been drawn both outside and inside the EU.

Neutrality has become a word rife with issues in the new political order. The EU membership and the partnership with NATO have stripped it from any significant meaning for Finland and Sweden.

The term has seen some efforts of revival e.g. during the current Parliament elections in Finland by the Left Alliance. Nevertheless, its content would sorely need redefining should its use be deemed necessary.


Old concepts foster old ways to do things. The search for solution paradigms using a world of polarity has lost its usefulness in the globally-connected world. There is a crisis in today’s international politics, but to deal with it we need a new view of the world facilitated by the creation of new concepts.

EU must, for its part, rethink its strategy with Russia, but that should not be based on the thought patterns inherited from the Cold War. A changing world needs new concepts to allow us to grasp it and to make the needed changes and additions to the political tools to affect it.


2 thoughts on “A Cold War again? – No, and we need a new vocabulary

  1. Thanks for translating Miika’s great column.

    It seems to me the new Cold War proponents are making comparisons on two inherently incomparable eras. People seem to forget, that the Cold War did not just appeared out of thin air. Things were pretty unclear and fluid right after the war and it took about a ten years before the both blocks were fully formed and the situation finally stabilized into the Cold War we remember.

    If anything, the current situation resembles the time just after the WWII. Just like then, goals and intentions of Russia are pretty much unknown and uncertain. Growing tensions, uncertainity, fear and unanswered questions were the order of the day back then just as they are today.

    Even the explanation of the seemingly odd and unpredictable behaviour of Russia may turn out to be quite similar. George Kennan’s long telegram (1946) does a good job of describing the deep underlying theme of nationalism, feeling of encirclement, false premises and insecurity in Russian thinking, not to mention their almost paranoid world view. Those things have not changed a bit, even if the circumstances are quite different now.


    However, there is one important thing in the current situation that is different to pre Cold War era. The Soviets didn’t use the tools of political warfare – active measures – immediately after the war. The tools that were initially used against perceived internal threats were turned and perfected against the outside enemy only after the death of Stalin. However, the basic reason for their use still remains the same. Russia is an underdog now like the Soviet Union was back then. It just can’t afford to challenge the West directly.

    Major Timothy B. McCulloh has developed a theory of hybrid conlifct that is quite useful when thinking about Russia’s behaviour and their justification for the use of “active measures”. To cut long story short, I’ll just list some of his seven principles of hybrid conflict with my own comments. (My order is different from that of McCullochs)


    3. “A hybrid force perceives an existential threat by a potential adversary. This perceived threat drives the hybrid force to abandon conventional military wisdom to achieve long-term survival.“

    Talking about Russian paranoid world view which seems to find enemies everywhere. Nowadays Russia seems to perceive a threat against their authoritarian model of government in general and against the current ruling silovic clique in particular.

    4. “A capability overmatch between the hybrid force and a potential adversary exists. The hybrid force contains less conventional military capability in comparison to its adversary and therefore must seek a way to offset this apparent advantage in military capability.”

    This is true for both Soviet Union circa 1946 and Russia today. Moreover, during the Cold War proper, the threat of mutual destruction effectively prevented direct conflict between the East and the West. And that still holds, of course.

    2. “There exists a specific ideology within the hybrid force that creates an internal narrative to the organization. This ideology is inherently linked to the strategic context and is grounded within the socio-cultural, religious identity of the hybrid force. The resulting narrative serves to redefine the extant rules within the strategic context.”

    Russia has been in search of its identity since the collapse of the Soviet Union. And now they seem to have found what they were looking for. It does not matter if the ruling class believes the current nationalist-orthodox propaganda themselves. What matters is that the Russian people buy it. For the ruling elite the common thought pattern is more likely related to anti-western sentiments together with their desperate cling on power and money.

    1. “Hybrid force’s composition, capabilities, and effects are unique to the force’s own specific context. This context relates to the temporal, geographic, socio-cultural, and historical setting in which the given conflict takes place.”

    Much of the ruling elite of Putin’s Russia has the KGB (or similar) background. They have been indoctrinated to KGB style of thinking, have experience utilizing KGB toolkit (active measures), have access to world class military strategist and so on and so forth.

    5. “A hybrid force contains both conventional and unconventional elements. These elements often comprise “accepted” military technology and nonmilitary, guerrilla type technology. The elements may also include the use of terrorist or other criminal tactics. These combined capabilities create an asymmetric advantage for the hybrid force. “

    Russia’s hybrid force is not limited to realms of military and intelligence. Russia applies the same thinking and methods also in economic, diplomatic and political realms. General Gerasimov’s paper outlines this well.


    6. “Hybrid organizations rely on inherently defensive type operations. The hybrid force seeks to defend its existence and employs an overall strategy of defensive operations. These operations will often include offensive components, but the overarching intent is still one of defense.”

    7. “Hybrid organizations use attritional tactics in the employment of the hybrid force. These tactics manifest in both the physical and the cognitive domains in order to continually whittle away the adversary’s forces and his will to use them.”

    “Therefore, hybrid war theory may be best summarized as a form of warfare in which one of the combatants bases its optimized force structure on the combination of all available resources—both conventional and unconventional—in a unique cultural context to produce specific, synergistic effects against a conventionally-based opponent.”

    In my opinion, Russia is currently engaged in hybrid conflict with the West and we (westeners) are largely in denial, reluctant to accept that to be true. If we’re to avoid a new cold war (or a hot one, god forbid), we need to forget our illusions about Russia and their ruling elite. That is precondition for finding a safe route out of the current situation.

    Related reading:
    Soviet Influence Activities: A Report on Active Measures and Propaganda, 1987-1988. by U.S. Department of State

    Deception, Disinformation, and Strategic Communications: How One Interagency Group Made a Major Difference – Cold War, COINTELPRO, CHAOS, Reagan, Soviet Active Measures, KGB, Gorbachev by U.S. Government

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s