The Foreign Service Journal, December 2011

F OCUS ON THE B REAKUP OF THE S OV I ET U NION I N THE E YE OF THE S TORM : T EAM SOV rom the far remove of 20 years, and with the benefit of hindsight, the decline and disinte- gration of the Soviet Union now seem inevitable — de- velopments which nearly all commentators now claim to have predicted. Conservative pundits view the collapse of Soviet power as the result of the wise policies pursued by President Ronald Reagan. Most liberals believe the internal contradictions of the Soviet system made its col- lapse a foregone conclusion. And for most intelligence analysts, the signs of disintegration were there all along, even if no one actually came out and made the bold pre- diction. For those of us who were in Moscow in the years leading up to the collapse of Soviet power, however, there was no such certainty. Standing at the eye of a growing storm, we could only grasp at the various bits of evidence that came our way to make some sense of what we saw and heard. Our conclusions, at first tentative, became stronger with the passage of time. But neither we, nor anyone else, saw exactly what was coming. We were fortunate during this period to have an en- tire generation of experienced Soviet hands working on the problem. A Snapshot of the Team Our ambassador was Jack Matlock, perhaps the most experienced and skilled political officer of his genera- tion, and a person with deep contacts both among his Soviet hosts and the foreign policy leadership of the Rea- gan and Bush administrations. As U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Matlock had a very tough job. He had inher- ited an embassy that was in deep disarray, and was just recovering from a series of setbacks, some of its own making, others not. Matlock was assisted by two very talented deputy chiefs of mission: first, Mike Joyce, and then Jim Collins, himself a future ambassador to Moscow. Joyce and Collins were pivotal in recruiting the best political and economic officers that could be found, and succeeded in assembling one of the most powerful reporting teams A T A CRITICAL MOMENT , A GENERATION OF EXPERIENCED S OVIET HANDS CAME TOGETHER AT E MBASSY M OSCOW . B Y J AMES S CHUMAKER James Schumaker, a retired Foreign Service officer, has served the United States government in various capacities over the past four decades, with professional experience in the Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia. He is currently working on his memoirs, draft excerpts of which are posted on his blog at D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 1 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 39