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Is the Cold War over?

By Jim Camp
web posted February 2, 2009

Those of us born in an earlier era recall the Cold War that lasted from shortly after the end of World War II until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It was the era of Mutually Assured Destruction with massed nuclear missiles pointed at one another. It was an era when Americans were rightfully concerned about Soviet espionage inside the U.S. and Soviet expansionist ambitions throughout the world.

The expression is “You had to be there to understand it.” The Cold War turned hot when North Korea invaded the south and was fought to a stalemate that exists to this day. I was around when it turned hot again in Vietnam during the 1970s, serving as a fighter pilot against which Soviet-made weapons were aimed.

I have since concluded that the Vietnam War contributed greatly to the end of the Cold War. Just as the race for space began with the Soviet launch of Sputnik, escalating our fears that the Russians had got the jump on us technologically, the Vietnam War convinced the Russians that the vast technological leaps the U.S. had made in the waging of war—particularly an air war—were such that they would always be at a disadvantage.

Beginning in the 1970’s both the U.S. and the Russians took steps to put the nuclear genii back in the bottle. Following the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 and a succession of aged leaders of the Communist Party, the best remembered of whom was Nikita Krushchev, the wheels began to come off the Soviet wagon. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, it was only a matter of time before the Soviet system failed entirely.

I had a glimpse of what was coming in the 1970s when, as an airline pilot, I gave a guided tour to a Russian Aeroflot captain and his crew of my brand new Boeing 747 while in Stockholm, Sweden. They were flabbergasted at the immense size of the commercial airliner and even more at the triple autopilots, the Inertial Navigation Systems, duel radar altimeters, color coded weather radar, and countless other operational elements. The Aeroflot captain knew instantly that U.S. technology and even the manufacture of such an aircraft had left Russia far behind.

That realization was slow in coming to the Russian leadership, if not to the Russian people. When I visited in 2004 at the invitation of the Russian Supreme Court in my capacity as a negotiations coach, Russia was every bit as grim a place as our popular and news media portrayed. People went about without smiling or looking you in the eye. Passing through customs was frightening and the car that came to pick us up came with an armed guard. My first book was, however, a bestseller in Russia and they were eager to learn how to apply its fundamentals.

One of those fundamentals is the necessity of having a vision and a purpose before you sit down to negotiate and “Start With No” advocates the readiness to say “no” if the deal is not mutually beneficial and one’s goals are not being met.

By 2008, however, the Russian mood had changed. Visiting Moscow was like being in New York City. Even the people in the streets were smiling. This time, during the Christmas season, I was there to conduct seminars at the invitation of Russian bankers and their view of America was one that was filled with admiration. Capitalism is being embraced in Russia despite the difficulties imposed by efforts to centralize government control and by the failure of its justice system to bring about the impartial rule of law.

The Russian newspapers carry criticisms of Vladimir Putin, the former President who took over from Boris Yeltzin in 2000 and is now the Federation’s Prime Minister and prime leader despite the role of Dmitry Medvedev as the elected President. The brutal regime of Stalin and his successors are widely acknowledged. The present problems private enterprise encounters are decried.

The American news channel, CNN, is widely watched where English is virtually a second language. The Russian bankers were impressed and enthusiastic about the Bush administration’s efforts to deal with the financial problems and believe that the Obama administration will continue vigorous efforts.

The Russian leadership is learning, albeit slowly, to work within the international framework of various institutions. I can say with complete confidence that Russia will not return to communism. Capitalism is the new Russian vision and purpose. America needs to do what it can to encourage and support it. The Cold War is over. ESR

Jim Camp is an author of two books on negotiation and an internationally recognized negotiations coach providing counsel to nations, corporations, and individuals. He is the CEO of The Camp Negotiation Systems, www.startwithno.com. © Jim Camp, February 2009

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