Without fanfare elements of a new cold war are being put into place by the Trump administration, the European Union and China. Although the disconnected components separately make headlines, the underlying pattern is evident despite the carnival-like distractions of the Mueller investigation and the reluctance to declare the old order dead.
The most obvious indicators are military. After decades of focusing on low intensity,War on Terror conflict the Army is frantically retooling to face a great power opponent (read Russia) in Europe. The Navy, after decades of deploying single carriers to predictable peacetime schedules is now fielding the fleet as if it had to face an actual enemy.
A typical carrier deployment from Norfolk follows a predictable cycle. Those days might soon be coming to an end.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has offered a very different vision for how the Navy will be used in the future ... What Mattis is after is less predictability, a desire to keep potential adversaries on their toes, preserve the ability to surge strike groups to nontraditional places at unexpected times, as well as the ability to do so on short notice.
A second indicator is the growing restriction on the international movement of data, scientific personnel and the re-officialization of news. A Foreign Policy article described the new visa limitations on Chinese scientists as part of "a global cold war over tech ... the State Department is expected to adopt new limitations on Chinese researchers in the United States, including the shortening of student visas in high-tech fields and additional security clearances for work visas. This new measure comes on the heels of the National Defense Authorization Act in May, which included a murky provision prohibiting Defense Department grants from going to researchers who participate in China’s talent recruitment programs."
Even the nascent trade war has a cold war dimension. "A trade war could be brewing, with tit-for-tat tariffs being applied by the US and China, spurred by Donald Trump’s concerns about China stealing American IP" wrote the MIT Technology Review. The erection of the US border wall, the breakdown of Europe's refugee policy and even Brussels' plan to create its own army are all subtle signals the world whose image of intactness president Obama sought to preserve is moving into a new and possibly darker phase.
It did not happen overnight. The roots of today's new tensions have roots deep in Obama's and even George W. Bush's term. Yet so great was the establishment's commitment the post Cold War order it seemed irresponsible or unlucky to admit things were breaking down even when they manifestly were. Time and again when challenged by China's naval island building, Russia's expansion into the Ukraine, Beijing's theft of the classified OPM database, the shootdown of MH17 and the disintegration of Syria, Obama with remarkable sang froid maintained the air of business as usual.