The Foreign Service Journal, November 2019

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | NOVEMBER 2019 25 Calm Before the Storm It’s hard to re-create the feeling of 1989 three decades later, but I can say with certainty that in February of that year no one had a sense of what was coming. Some analysts were aware of the magnitude of the ethnic and nationalist challenges facing the USSR as it entered its eighth decade; but the notion that it could all fall apart so suddenly was certainly not on our minds. When President George H.W. Bush took office in early 1989, his transi- tion team seized on the mantra “status quo plus” as an approach for dealing with the USSR. This was shorthand for continuing President Ronald Reagan’s hybrid approach of outreach to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and his government coupled with continuing sanctions and pressure on arms control, Soviet Jews, Afghanistan and other key issues of contention. We had been through several moments that brought Ameri- cans and Soviets together in ways that opened the door to the cooperation that followed. The 1988 earthquake in Armenia led to a significant American assistance effort that was largely wel- comed by Soviet officials, and gratefully received by the suffering population of Armenia. Follow-on efforts to assist Soviet Ukraine and Belarus in the wake of the Chernobyl tragedy (after several years in which foreign assistance had been resolutely blocked) made a big difference, as well. In November 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, the effect on U.S.-Soviet relations was mostly positive. Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze seized on the momentous changes to accelerate negotiations on a long list of thorny, accumulated U.S.-Soviet disagreements. The most important aspect of the Soviet reaction to the fall of the Berlin Wall, in my view, was the very clear decision of Gorbachev not to use force to preserve the Soviet empire. The cost would have been catastrophic, and he understood that. But as Shevardnadze writes in his memoirs, it was also a civi- lizational decision. Gorbachev, together with Shevardnadze, histo- rian and politician Aleksandr Yakovlev and other key advisers, truly believed that the Cold War was a crazy state of existence for OPTIMIsM BERLINWALLPHOTOBYJAMESTALALAY