Why Another Cold War Between Russia And America Won't Happen (Hint: Neither Can Handle It)

There are no circumstances under which a full-on military conflict between Russia and the U.S. would be a good idea, but this much is certain: neither America nor Russia can afford another Cold War. On Monday, the Russian government was forced to admit for the first time that Russia's economy is in real trouble. And if it came down to it, the U.S. military is in no shape to go charging in either.

Over the past few weeks, the financial markets in Moscow have lost billions of dollars in state and corporate money, putting them in a very vulnerable position. The economic sanctions and assets freezes promised by the European Union and the U.S., confirmed by President Barack Obama in a statement on the White House South Lawn Thursday, could be a burden too heavy for the Russian economy to bear.

In his statement, Obama announced that he had taken steps to impose sanctions on more than just Russian senior officials and those providing them with material support:

I signed a new executive order today that gives us the authority to impose sanctions not just on individuals but on key sectors of the Russian economy. This is not our preferred outcome. These sanctions would not only have a significant impact on the Russian economy, but could also be disruptive to the global economy. However, Russia must know that further escalation will only isolate it further from the international community. The basic principles that govern relations between nations in Europe and around the world must be upheld in the 21st century. That includes respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity -- the notion that nations do not simply redraw borders, or make decisions at the expense of their neighbors simply because they are larger or more powerful.
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Russia has been struggling with weak economic growth since its 2009 recession, and its involvement in the situation in Ukraine is putting a huge stress on the country's $2 trillion economy. Economists are slashing their growth forecasts as capital drains out of the country.

But President Vladimir Putin, whom one could generously call "stubborn," is plowing ahead regardless of the red flashing sirens telling him it's a REALLY BAD IDEA. On Tuesday he signed a treaty declaring that Crimea is a part of the Russian Federation.

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But, for its part, the U.S. better hope that these sanctions Obama announced today actually have the desired effect, because the Pentagon is completely under-prepared for such a conflict. Which is kind of surprising, what with the U.S. having one of the biggest military budgets out there.

In 2012, 39 percent of the $1.756 trillion world military expenditure came from the U.S., while Russia was only responsible for 5.2 percent, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Almost $700 billion of spending ought to make you ready for anything. Apparently not.

Nobody in the Pentagon has even been thinking about the potential for another conflict with Russia. It took a long time for the U.S. to reconfigure its military from the types of equipment and training used during the Cold War to those more suited to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The highly-sophisticated dogfighters (think Top Gun) that were an integral part of the Cold War strategy have given way to drones which, at a tenth of the cost, are more suited to combat in the Middle East.

Russia, meanwhile, is about to launch its new generation fighter plane, the T-50, an agile and ferocious aircraft that can fire long-range missiles while zipping through the air at lightning speed. The U.S. — and NATO for that matter — doesn't really have anything that could take this on.

Of course, it's highly unlikely that the situation in Ukraine is going to lead to full-on military combat between the U.S. and Russia — for starters, we can't see Congress going for it. But it could be a problem if Russia gets wind of the fact that the U.S. is not in a position to successfully follow through on any threats of military action it might make if Putin doesn't wind his neck in.