Information Warfare: Old Cold War Cons Revived

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September 14, 2016: It would appear that the Cold War, which was thought to have ended with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union (which triggered the first one in 1948), began again in 2001 when Chinese aircraft and ships began harassing American espionage aircraft and ships operating legally off their coast. China continues that practice and a few years ago Russia resumed it. Back in the 1950s and 60s these incidents frequently got American sailors and aircrew killed along with several aircraft lost and even one ship that was captured by North Korea. This sort of thing declined when the U.S. quietly informed the Russians that American warships and combat aircraft would return fire. That led to less of this stuff and it was officially eliminated by a 1972 treaty.

This time around the cast of characters is a little different. In the 1960s Russia (as the Soviet Union) was one of two superpowers and China was undergoing a political and economic crises that did not get resolved until the early 1980s. North Korea was on the Russian payroll and did not have nukes. This time around China is seeking recognition as the second superpower and is allied with an uncontrollable North Korea and an independent minded Iran that is playing the wildcard role the Russian sometimes allowed North Korea to play during the Cold War. Russia still has some nukes but lost 80 percent of its armed forces in the 1990s and is having a hard time rebuilding them. Cold War attitudes are apparently undiminished.

But there is one aspect of the new Cold War that is very déjà vu. That is the way American military commanders are responding to all the military theatrics by solemnly declaring that the enemy (Chinese, Russian, North Korean, Iranian) military threat may be more than the United States can handle. This sort of thing is reminiscent of the Cold War exaggerations of Soviet (Russian) military power. Even during the Cold War, many civilian analysts pointed out the tendency to overestimate the effectiveness of Soviet weapons, equipment, leadership and training. This distortion became pretty obvious after the Cold War, when much was revealed.

But the puffery is back now with regard to China and Russia. It's no secret that China and Russia have long found it impossible to create effective military forces in peacetime. Not to underestimate them, but both nations have a long history of spectacular failure in this area. The Soviets proved that the historical lessons still apply.

But there were still a lot of military secrets and untried weapons (and troops) that make it an easy matter to report the other side's weapons as being, if only potentially, more lethal than they actually are. This culture of exaggeration, even during the Cold War, was often just called "professional courtesy." The Russian intelligence agencies also exaggerated the capabilities of American weapons. Thus the generals on both sides of the Iron Curtain had a better chance of getting more money out of their respective governments. Now we have the Cold War attitudes returning and with that the return of professional courtesy when it comes to evaluating the state of the Chinese and Russian armed forces. North Korea and Iran suffer from the same form of self-deception. The goal of this self-serving spin (to get a larger defense budget and less criticism over corruption) appears to be the same as it always was.

 


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