The Lost Equilibrium: International Relations in the Post-Soviet Era

By Bettie M. Smolansky; Oles M. Smolansky | Go to book overview

Introduction: Interesting Times

In 1984, THE POPULAR CARTOONIST JIM BERRY PRODUCED A CARTOON for his syndicated feature “Berry’s World” that depicted then Soviet Minister of Defense Marshal Ustinov saying to General Secretary Chernenko,

Remember, Comrade, people who are willing to destroy an efficient
telephone system may not be playing with a full deck.

The reference, of course, was to the breakup of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) underway at the time as a result of the settlement of a protracted antitrust battle between the company and the U.S. Justice Department. The potential for abuse of the kind of untrammeled power represented by monopolies is widely understood, so the breakup of “Ma Bell,” then one of the world’s largest monopolies, was seen by many as a highly desirable objective.

The accord between the government and AT&T returned competition to the telephone business in the United States (presumably a “socially desirable” end), but it also led to the deconstruction of a system of telecommunications that for many years had been the envy of the world. The irony of this could not have been lost on political leaders in the Soviet Union whose own telephone system was notorious for its unreliability. Thus, Berry’s cartoon contains that kernel of truth that is the hallmark of all good political satire.

The analogy to the dissolution of the USSR is equally striking. For almost fifty years following the end of World War II, the emergence of technologies of mass destruction of such power and magnitude as to threaten the very survival of the human race, concomitant with a seemingly irreconcilable conflict between two superpowers who held most of that power, came to be called simply “the cold war.” Serious analyses of the international scene almost always contained one or more of the standard innumerable metaphoric references to the potential for nuclear annihilation (e.g., nuclear holocaust, “the nuclear sword of Damocles,” the

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