The issue goes beyond old worries during the Cold War that the Russians would tap into the cables — a task American intelligence agencies also mastered decades ago. The alarm today is deeper: The ultimate Russian hack on the United States could involve severing the fiber-optic cables at some of their hardest-to-access locations to halt the instant communications on which the West’s governments, economies and citizens have grown dependent.
While there is no evidence yet of any cable cutting, the concern is part of a growing wariness among senior American and allied military and intelligence officials over the accelerated activity by Russian armed forces around the globe. At the same time, the internal debate in Washington illustrates how the United States is increasingly viewing every Russian move through a lens of deep distrust, reminiscent of relations during the Cold War.
The USA is now the world’s largest oil producer, and its economy is not as dependent on energy as other major producers. At the other end of the spectrum Russia and Saudi Arabia are also major producers but their economies are close to totally dependent on energy. Just how much of a gamechanger unconventional oil and gas supply is cannot be underestimated as the geopolitical implications continue to unfold.
In early 2004, shortly after I joined David at Fullermoney, we headed off to the World Money Show in Orlando where David had been invited to give a number of talks. We had a stand next to the delegation from the Russian trade mission. They were a chatty bunch and over a few drinks I helped proof the speech the consul general would be delivering which they were translating from Russian. The most telling aspect of the talk was the apologetic tone, the sense that Russia had been wrong and was trying to do whatever was necessary to regain international trust. That was half way through Putin’s first stint as President. Today that navel gazing is done with, Russia is back on the front foot geopolitically.
The USA, through the Obama and now Trump administrations, is disengaging from very active engagement in the Middle East. Russia and other countries have taken this disengagement as an indication of US and NATO weakness or disinterest and there is ample evidence that they are pushing back against US geopolitical hegemony. So far Russia, China, Iran and North Korea have been correct. Expansions into the Ukraine, South China Sea, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and nuclear tests have been met with little overt push back.
Eventually that pendulum will swing back in the other direction and that represents a potential challenge for globalization and offshoring. It’s not in the price right now and the situation has not deteriorated into an overt Cold War again but that is the calculation used by the West’s opponents. They conclude that the West will not risk economic growth for geopolitical position. Long-term that calculation will prove incorrect.
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