Two days before this issue went to press, I watched The Courier, a thriller starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Rachel Brosnahan, based on the real-life story of the well-known spy Oleg Penkovsky and the little-known courier (who was a businessman, not a spy), Greville Wynne, who helped him get his secrets out to the West. It is a gripping, well-produced movie (with real Russian spoken and the Georgian actor Merab Ninidze doing a fine job as Penkovsky), and notable for making the case that Penkovsky’s betrayal of the USSR and Wynne’s unexpected courage may have helped keep the Cuban Missile Crisis from getting out of hand.
Two days after I am sending this column and this issue off to the printer, the current US and Russian presidents are convening in Geneva for their first summit meeting. It is only the fifth such summit since 2000.
While June 2021 is not October 1962, it is safe to say that the level of “good feelings” between the US an Russia have fallen to their lowest level since the end of the Cold War.
There are those who would like to focus on the problems that got us here, saying we need to fix those problems (expansion of NATO, Russian annexation of Crimea, doping scandals, election manipulation, sanctions, hackers…) before we can move on.
But those are some very difficult problems to fix in a situation of deep and mutual distrust. I would argue that it might instead be easier to fix the bits that are broken by working on constructing something entirely new.
What if there were a larger enemy that Russia and the US could unite in defeating, something that would bring good to the entire planet as a result of their collaboration? Would it not be possible, by battling that enemy together, by achieving something big, that some of those things previously thought to be so difficult could be found to be more doable?
This was very much the spirit behind the détente that cooled the Cold War, and the disarmament work that ended it.
I have said this sort of thing here before, and repeat myself at the risk of being labeled both tedious and redundant: What if the US and Russia could enter into a truly deep, meaningful collaboration – the kind of collaboration that built the ISS – to achieve two things that could be readily framed as “above politics”: vaccinate the whole world against coronavirus, and excavate the roots of Islamic terrorism.
Can you imagine the goodwill that would come from collaborating to make both our nations safer by making the whole world safer?
Enjoy the issue.
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