Since the dawn of the Cold War, peace has been maintained by implementation of a strategic balance of power. Though the United States and Soviet Union were both fierce and formidable threats, neither power could decisively defeat the other in a direct, full-scale confrontation so long as both powers maintained equivalent arsenals. An Arms Race ensued, with each state striving to match the capabilities of the other in every category. Fighters, bombers, tanks, ships, missiles, nuclear warheads; whatever the opposition had, you met or exceeded.
This was the maintenance of the strategic balance of power. If these two vastly powerful yet equal militaries had been thrust into conflict with one another, the outcome would have been destruction on a level never before seen. Such a war would have predictably meant Mutually Assured Destruction, because these two equal forces would have in all probability annihilated one another. Five-thousand tanks against five-thousand tanks; ten-thousand nuclear warheads against ten-thousand nuclear warheads. There could be no clear winner so long as balance was maintained, and for that reason war never happened. To initiate such a conflict would be insane. It would’ve in-fact been M.A.D.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, Americans could breathe a sigh of relief for the first time in half a century. The Red Menace was gone. The Soviets were finally defeated after decades of proxy warfare, information warfare and economic warfare, but never direct warfare. It was over, and America was one again safe. While Russia’s hegemony was in rapid decline, America’s was expanding. The future seemed bright, but in truth the Bear was just in hibernation. It was licking its wounds after decades of struggle and eventual defeat. Like a school-boy after losing a fist-fight, Russia began the process of picking itself up off the floor, and not being one to hold a grudge, extended its hand in friendship.
In 1996 the Russian military joined NATO forces in Bosnia to take part in peacekeeping operations in the region, and to improve relations between the Russian Federation and its former Cold War adversaries. Though disputes arose between the Russian and American military commands during the campaign, the stabilization effort was a success. For the first time since World War II, Russia and America had fought together against a common enemy, and the two nations shared a mutual victory.
In 1998 another war had broken out in Europe. The Russian Federation again joined NATO as part of a joint effort to stabilize Kosovo. The operation produced many disagreements between Russia and NATO, and relations between Washington and Moscow began to sour. Moscow supported the government, and Washington supported the rebels. The situation led to an intense standoff between Russian and NATO forces, which very nearly became a direct military confrontation with the Pristina Airport Incident.
The year 2000 saw the Kursk Submarine Disaster. A Russian submarine was participating Russia’s first major naval exercise since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Like the Titanic, the Kursk was said to be “unsinkable.” Never the less, the Kursk sunk. The Russians weren’t sure what happened, but they knew that three NATO submarines had been operating nearby, possibly shadowing the Kursk. The Kursk was found to have suffered massive damage, and there was speculation among Russian commanders that the NATO submarines had attacked or collided with the Kursk. NATO offered to aid in the rescue efforts, but a nervous Russia refused any assistance. After failing to gain entry to the sunken submarine, Russia reluctantly agreed to NATO help. NATO provided Russian divers with access to the sunken submarine, who reported that all hands were lost.
After the terror attacks of September 11 2001, the Russian Federation again offered to join forces with NATO. President Putin offered President Bush his condolences, and also offered to participate in the operation in Afghanistan. President Bush refused. Three months later, on December 13 2001, Bush withdrew from the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty between the United States and Russian Federation. The ABM Treaty had ensured the balance of power between the two nations, preventing either party from pursuing an advantage which would make Mutually Assured Destruction an obsolete concept.
The Bush administration began the process of producing a missile shield capable of intercepting ICBMs launched against the United States and its allies. This struck terror into the hearts of Russian military strategists, because such an advantage would mean that America would theoretically be capable of launching a first strike against Russia, without the risk of meaningful retaliation. America would be capable of launching a nuclear attack against Russia, and Russia would be unable to respond. For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia faced an existential threat in America. To allow the United States to complete its missile shield would be to entrust its Cold War nemesis with the safety of the Russian people.
This was the beginning of Cold War 2. This was the day when America poked the hibernating Bear with the proverbial stick. The Bear has awoken.