Cold War: Sanctions and Effects Diplomatic Relations

Today, modern rhetoric prevents improvement between the United States and Russia, especially during the Trump administration. In terms of sanctions, the Cold War has never ended. Sanctions range from financial, economic, diplomatic, personal, and corporate, and seem to follow one after the other like a game of retaliation. The consequences of the evolving sanctions and the predicted likelihood of more sanctions between the United States and Russia are returning us to Cold War levels of tension; different but potentially just as volatile. Could another war be in our future if diplomatic relations don’t improve, and what other consequences could arise if this is ongoing? Sanctions, in short, are measures taken to express disapproval, protect national security, international law, and international peace. Sanctions are imposed in many ways, this could mean a ban on trade, a limitation of immigration, military intervention, changing the level of diplomatic ties, and more. The US has a long history of sanctions against Russia and vice versa. Focusing on sanctions against Russia solely in 2018, sanctions were imposed on 231 individuals and nine companies in January, on 19 individuals and an order to close a Russian consulate in Seattle in March, a visa ban on 38 Russian businessmen in April, and the most recently controversial, a ban on arms sales and financial and foreign assistance on August 27.

The cited reasons for these recent sanctions are a fear of Russia pursuing dangerous policies, suspicions of US electoral meddling, other hacking incidents, and overall response to what is believed to be malicious activity. Why does the US impose sanctions against Russia? Looking at the recent activity, fear, and punishment. Origins of the modern intensity of US and Russian tensions can be attributed to the Cold War. A clash of superpowers, the Cold War was a confrontation between the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies. Fearing one another’s power and fueled by distrust, the Cold War was caused by ideological differences (communism vs. capitalism), geopolitical interests and a big power rivalry supporting the prospects of a nuclear war. The Cold War era lasted from 1946-1991; however, current tensions reiterate the fundamental differences between the two major powers and echo the era we’ve since left. There are relevant and apparent differences between Russia and the Soviet Union, especially since the end of the Cold War being the disintegration of the SU in 1991. Still, they are greatly related, thus, the Cold War lending historical context to current US-Russia relations. Once allies, the US and SU worked together when the common enemy was Nazi Germany; however, the superpowers soon turned to each other and the tension has remained.

Sanctions not only show disapproval and a harsh rift in diplomatic relations, but they hit economic growth and have collateral damage outside of the explicit participants. For example, sanctions targeting Rusal, a large aluminum producer, caused a disruption of the global supply chain and had repercussions that were felt by everybody involved in the aluminum trade. Sanctions in Russia have also had repercussions in the European Union, causing Trump to turn his attention to German and other European companies, and threaten sanctions. There is consequence simply in the creation of a sanction, explicitly how those in charge will look whether they sign a bill. Although Trump rarely speaks on Russian sanctions, he will happily sign a bill to avoid negative accusations and the embarrassment of a congressional override. Further, the increase of tension with every sanction has convinced some that another war is on the horizon. Vladimir Vasiliev, a senior fellow at Moscow’s Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies, said: we are sliding toward an economic war, we are reaching a point of no return in our relations and I don’t see any base for improving them. Another article from the Financial Times suggests that commerce always triumphs over morality, meaning things will never reach such an intense negative relationship that war could arise because the US needs Russian resources.

A specific consequence that could arise from sanctions is in regards to the triangular relationship between the US, Russia, and China. Every split, ideological difference, and overall threats led to the eventual collapse of this triangle. There is a long history between all parties, specifically in the Cold War era, the US refused to recognize the People’s Republic of China under Mao’s communist rule, and the SU and China split between 1956-1969. Chinese-US relations improved once the PRC was recognized and started to normalize between 1971-1979. Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 spurred a realignment but has since reversed. In 2018, things have flipped and US relations with China are worsening, resulting in some common ground for China and Russia. The US has targeted both countries with sanctions and the trade war in China gives China reason to make Russia their biggest trade partner. With the common irritants of the US and complementary economies, Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, have become friends. If the worst possible consequence, a war, comes to fruition, it will likely be the US against Russia and China.

If policies and outlooks don’t change soon, the implication of a new Cold War may become a reality and although American military supremacy is impressive, facing an angered and powerful Chinese-Russian duo, nobody could truly predict the outcome and devastation that would result. Before I chose this topic, I had zero clue what sanctions were and how they affected diplomatic relations, and the extent of my knowledge of modern conflict was the alleged election meddling. Still, without extensive research and specific knowledge of why sanctions are imposed and no idea of the true intentions of said countries, I don’t feel like I can make a true determination on whether they are valid. However, now I can see the implications of these sanctions and agree that they have some negative consequences. With the uncertainty and spontaneous nature of both the Trump and Putin administrations, sanctions might be necessary to avoid a more dangerous and violent confrontation. Analyzing modern relations and the relevance to the Cold War era, I feel I have a deeper understanding of happenings in both time periods. Two massive superpowers with volatile tensions doesn’t seem like it will end well, which is worrisome given the likelihood of future sanctions and proven consequences resulting from previous ones. Whether another Cold War will happen is as uncertain as the powers involved but I feel I can say, without a doubt, other consequences are set to arise.

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