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Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Heading Towards a Damned Cold Winter – The Snowden Effect

If someone believed that a sole insignificant man would have no effect on the broader global scale or even the relations between two countries, Edward Snowden is proving the exact opposite. However, he is not doing it in a beneficial way. The consequences of his behaviour are, in fact, severe, edging towards disastrous.

US President Obama’s cancellation for the US-Russia meeting in Moscow as a reaction to Russia’s decision to grant asylum to Snowden was mostly regarded as a short-sighted reaction. The Obama administration has repeatedly articulated its “disappointment” and stated a disturbed relation with the Russian Federation under Putin. Some commentators even argue that the Snowden effect is so severe that it would lead to a “new Cold War”.
But, is it actually that new or even renewed?

The never ending Cold War
During the East-West antagonism, it was almost certain that the US and the former USSR would try to prevent any kind of escalation of the Cold War, knowing that otherwise it would lead to catastrophic consequences in the worst case. Since the “end” of the Cold War, everyone expected in a hysteric enthusiasm move that future antagonisms would be over and would never come back again – a rather naïve assumption.

An arch enemy remains an arch enemy, even though the pretences change. The end of socialism in the Eastern hemisphere did not lead that the main rival suddenly disappears. In Russia’s case, it only changed its system, and especially with Putin in office the US has to face a global power that has been coming back to the arena after a prolonged absence.

The Snowden case shows the US that they cannot determine global politics without being challenged by an equal power. While the world was unipolar for almost 20 years, it is turning at least bipolar again – a required constellation in the view of the developments since 1991.

The Re-challenged Superpower
The US has been in an outstandingly comfortable situation, without being challenged by any other power in the world. That was mostly the case until 9/11. After the terrorist attacks, it became aware that the US was neither unlimitedly powerful, nor untouchable. In its renewed paranoia, any administration (Bush and Obama) struggled to maintain its self-appointed ultimate leadership ambitions and not accepting any other power to challenge it – neither by China, not by Europe, and not at all by Russia.

President Obama’s decision not to attend the US-Russian summit in Moscow is a rather immature one, which proves the lack of the US’ unwillingness to face the new challenges on the international stage. Obama’s furious reaction has to be, however, considered as reasonable reaction for the US perspective as it is facing a severe security breach. Snowden not only revealed a few information about what the US has observed about people or organizations over the past years, but above all the entire surveillance system. More significantly, on Snowden’s route to Russia via Hong Kong, it is apparent that he might have sold certain information to the Chinese or even the Russian government. Having this in mind, the US sees itself in an in-deep reconciliation discussion of its relations with Russia – especially pushed forward by the Republicans.

One more Olympic boycott for nothing?
Recently, discussion about a possible boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi are under way, as a reaction to Russia’s new “Anti-Gay” laws. Like this, history is repeating itself one more time, even though under different pretences. While 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow have been boycotted by the Western World as a reaction to the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan, Sochi would be directed against an internal legislation process. In the end, it would not have the same impact as the 1980’s boycott. Evidently, the US might use this “excuse” for not participating in next year’s games.

From ideology to self-focused power
The situation is more than clear: the US will have to deal with a strengthened Russia one more time and even make concessions to Russia’s rekindled ambitions for global leadership. Obama and Putin will meet anyway, at the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg. The question remains: how substantial will the Snowden effect affect the G20 agenda? Which direction will the US-Russian relations take and how will the US deal with the new level of international competition?

From an ideological standpoint, the new antagonism is completely free of any ideology. It is no longer a question of predominance of one or two political ideologies, as both systems are more or less identical – assuming that there is any “ideology” at all. Now, it is about power and power preservation, and mostly the preservation of the monopoly of power enforcement.

The Bear slaps the Eagle
Being “slapped in the face” is something the US has to re-learn from scratch. Putin is not only showing to Obama that the US’ power, domination and mass control has its limits. Above all, the Snowden case shows that the US cannot and must not claim the entire world as their own legal territory where US laws apply unrestrictedly. Particularly, this applies to the US’s observation and surveillance structures which have been disclosed by Snowden.
Is the US ready to face this new reality? It does not look like that, not the way the Obama administration is reacting on the whole subject.

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