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Politics

Is a new Cold War in the making?

TOKYO -- In mid-October, the Swedish military rapidly deployed ships, helicopters and other resources to track down a suspicious submarine-like object spotted in waters off the nation's capital, Stockholm.

     It was the first such large-scale military operation in the Scandinavian country since the end of the Cold War in 1989. Concern mounted amid speculation that the object was a Russian submarine.

     Shortly after that scare, on Oct. 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin made comments lambasting the unipolar, U.S.-dominated post-Cold War world order. He said America had plunged the world into conflict and confusion by creating an international system based on its own interests.

     Even as tensions build between the West and Russia, U.S. President Barack Obama's prestige has declined in the wake of the devastating defeat of his Democratic Party in the Nov. 4 midterm elections.

Destructive era     

On the night of Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall, a symbol of the Cold War, fell, and the global landscape was quickly redrawn. The end of the Cold War was followed by the unification of East and West Germany in 1990 and the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991.

     The fall of the Berlin Wall also changed the fate of Angela Merkel, who was then working as a physicist at a research institute in East Berlin. On the day the wall came down, Merkel, now the German chancellor, stuck to her usual routine, which included going to the sauna and drinking beer with her friends after work.

     Looking back on that time, Merkel once said she had still thought West Germany was a very dangerous place. But she eventually decided to venture into West Berlin. There she encountered a shopping district brimming with goods. After fully realizing how different the two Germanys were, Merkel quit her research job and entered politics. Her political skills caught the attention of then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl. After unification, Merkel steadily solidified her position and eventually became Germany's first female chancellor.

     Merkel has had more direct contact with Russian President Putin this year than any other foreign leader, with four face-to-face meetings and about 40 telephone conversations. Behind Merkel's diplomacy push is her concern about the Ukrainian crisis. The German leader is intimately aware of the negative impacts of the Cold War and probably feels an urgent need to prevent the historical clock from being turned back.

     The U.S. and Europe have been pressuring Russia to change course over the Ukraine issue through a series of sanctions, but Russia is turning a deaf ear to their demands. Instead, Putin has stepped up his criticism of the U.S. and Europe for their moves to strengthen the role of the NATO. Moscow regards the Western military alliance as a legacy of the Cold War and sees the strengthening of NATO's role as proof that the West is hostile toward Russia.

     The mutual distrust between the West and Russia is deep-rooted. With its relationship with the West souring, Russia has turned to China, which has also distanced itself from the U.S. and Europe. It is becoming increasingly likely that a confrontation will erupt between the U.S. and Europe on one side and Russia and China on the other.

Turning icy   

There are even signs that a new Cold War is emerging. It may be different from the days when the East and West faced off against each other over sharp ideological differences and with huge nuclear arsenals. But Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said the situation will be more dangerous this time around due to the lack of an effective deterrent.

     As the global order undergoes a shakeup, crises have broken out not only in Ukraine but also in many other parts of the world. That includes conflicts involving the Islamic State militant group, which has recruited young people from over 80 countries, including the U.S. and European nations.

     The international community has yet to find effective ways to cope with these new threats. The world is adrift, but where is it heading?

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