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Slouching Towards The New Order

An optimist is one who thinks this is the best of all possible worlds while the pessimist fears that this …

An optimist is one who thinks this is the best of all possible worlds while the pessimist fears that this is true. After hosting our CE roundtable focusing on The New Germany, in Berlin in early December, I traveled directly to Moscow to firm up plans for our second Soviet roundtable to be held this time in St. Petersburg in June 1992. It was my fourth and most chilling trip to a country that literally changed before my eyes. The day my CE colleagues and I landed at Sheremetievo we were in the Soviet Union. When we left less than six days later it was the Commonwealth of Independent States.

We arrived in Moscow at the same time of year Napoleon’s Grand Army abandoned it. You have no idea what cold is until you walk down Marxa Prospekt with the wind turning minus 5° C into minus 30° C. Nonetheless, the queues are longer. Milk is scarce. For many, eggs are nonexistent. A hamper of tinned food and Maxwell House coffee is welcomed by Russian friends who joke about how long it has been since they’ve seen such items in their local shops. “We have to joke about our shortages,” says Alla. “Otherwise we would go crazy.”

Berlin, where we had just been, could not have been more of a contrast. The shops burst with goods. Unification methodically marches on, yet here too apprehension lingers. The cost of salvaging the new federal states will be 10 times the early estimates. West Germans are beginning to grumble under the burden of high taxes, and for Germany, high inflation-4.9 percent. German CEOs privately confide that their biggest concern is not the eastern lander, but the rising wage levels of labor in the west. To some degree one mitigates the other, but just the same, productivity of the German worker isn’t rising fast enough to offset some of the increases.

Were it not for the recession and its attendant inward demands, America would be seen as a primary beneficiary of these events. The disintegration of the former union could not be prevented and poses no additional danger to the West. The inertia of the Soviet military industrial axis is gone. One former chief engineer of a Soviet nuclear attack submarine operating in the Pacific fleet told me that only one out of 10 submarines are operating at capacity. Without continual maintenance most Soviet missile sites are likewise falling into disuse.

Everyone realizes the world is changing. Even the Germans, absorbed as they are with unification, made clear that they would like to see more North American involvement in their development. In the first place they can’t do it by themselves, and secondly, it mitigates attention directed at an all-German economic juggernaut. If President Bush has a vision where the U.S. can contribute to the future of the new Western world, he ought to raise his voice now or the order will take shape without us.

About J.P. Donlon

J.P. Donlon
J.P. Donlon is Editor Emeritus of Chief Executive magazine.