Emily is a senior from Charlotte, NC double majoring in Political Science and Spanish.This summer, she worked at the Department of Justice in the Office of International Affairs. Additionally, she was the Undergraduate Research Fellow at the Latin American Public Opinion Project here at Vanderbilt. She is interested in international politics and American foreign policy. This year, she is serving as the Managing Editor for VPR.
Russian aggression against the United States is certainly not an unfamiliar phenomenon for the United States. Indeed, the recent past provides many examples of situations in which the United States and Russia have—sometimes subtly—shown their distaste for one another by their divided loyalties on either side of small-scale conflicts receiving global attention. As a result, it might seem unsurprising that Russia has been discovered to be operating submarines near crucial cables on the ocean floor that harbor crucial information that gets transported across borders every day. The United States is deeply concerned about the implications of Russia’s actions, for if Russia’s motives lie in severing those cables, the threat of quite literally isolating the United States from international affairs is real. Choosing to assert itself over the United States in this way would imply an incredibly modern, 21st century means of aggression against the United States on the part of Russia. However, the element of this recent discovery of Russian activity that some fear could lead to the destruction of this critical piece of modern infrastructure is really reminiscent of Cold War activity, according to an article in The Washington Post. The question remains: is Russia’s suspect submarine activity evidence of archaic Cold War methods of aggression against its longtime foe, the United States? Or is it a definitive departure from the Cold War, typifying the new modes of a technology-based struggle for global domination? While there is some evidence that Russian action in cutting the cables, if it were to take place, bespeaks actions directly resembling those that took place during the peak of the Cold War, in reality, any Russian action against the United States in this manner would constitute direct renewal of Cold War tensions imposed upon modern infrastructure. Thus, if Russia were to cut the cables, a 21st century Cold War using unconventional methods of modern warfare would officially commence.
The type of submarine activity that Russia is conducting is not unique just to Russia. Indeed, the United States conducted this same type of activity in seeking information by searching for Russian Soviet wires and cables. Operation Ivy Bell, as described by The Washington Post article, serves as a convenient precursor during the height of the Cold War that closely resembles Russian action today. However, the implications of the submarine activity are markedly different. Cold War motives on the part of the United States in seeking the Soviet cables were solely to gain private Soviet government information. Cutting the ocean cables, however, on the part of the Russians, would imply direct aggression against the whole of the United States populace, for their contact with the rest of the world could be severed. Thus, while the Russian action is indeed a renewal of Cold War tensions and aggressions, the imposition of these motives upon modern technological infrastructure of asserting global domination indicate a decided difference with the Cold War – now, it is not government against government, but government against civilian.
Although the Russian actions would imply consequences on a scale previously unseen in the Cold War—global isolation via severance of the United States’ means of communication with the rest of the world—the cutting of the cables might not actually have effects that would spell complete disaster for the United States. According to an official quoted in an NPR article, “The world’s submarine cable telecoms infrastructure is vital; it’s the heartbeat of the Internet.” However, the force required to destroy that infrastructure would have to be immense, according to the article, for the network of cables is immense. Thus, the implications of potential Russian activity of cutting the underwater cables would renew Cold War-style tensions, but on a scale previously unseen due to the role of modern technology that binds the world in a manner that was simply nonexistent during the Cold War.
[Image Credit: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/11/what-obamas-second-term-could-mean-for-us-russian-relations/265426/]