Not all, Cold War secrets have been revealed. The time has come at last to reveal one more.
During a particularly nasty chapter of the Cold War in the 1980s, an amazing couple from New Hampshire, Jim and Carol O’Rourke, took it upon themselves to set up a Track II channel for up-and-comers in the United States and the Soviet Union to discuss our differences. Their creation was called The Forum for U.S.-Soviet Dialogue. The concept was to take turns meeting in the USSR and the USA. Every dialogue would have about three venues, so that the participants could get a glimpse of each others’ country beyond Moscow and Washington. I was fortunate enough to attend a few of these dialogues, where I learned things about the Soviet Union that I couldn’t find in text books.
Through these dialogues, I became friends with Kim Holmes, Joe Collins, and many others, including a political science professor at Pepperdine University named Dan Caldwell. Don’t be fooled by Dan’s professorial veneer. Disregard his regimental stripe tie. At the cellular level, Dan is a Merry Prankster. He never hung out (to my knowledge) with Ken Kesey, but we made some mischief together in the former Soviet Union.
Dan and I were obsessed by the pins that Soviet citizens wore. Pins of Lenin as a young man, worn by the Komsomol, and pins commemorating important events. Dan and I were drawn to pins of tanks and rockets, but we were absolutely obsessed with the baby Lenin pin, which might properly be worn by toddlers. What made the baby Lenin pin so special was the magnificent sweep of his hair. I suppose I’d feel the same way about a pin of Ben Franklin in his formative years. Can you picture Franklin with a full head of hair? This was what made the baby Lenin pin so special.
Back then, Soviet cities were dotted with kiosks that sold beverages, some basic necessities, and pins of various sorts. In the evenings, fueled by powerful drink, Dan and I would canvass the streets in search of baby Lenin pins. We bought whatever we could find, to the puzzlement of street vendors.
What to do with a surplus of baby Lenin pins? Dan and I formed a secret society, revealed now for the first time: The Order of the Baby Lenin. What would merit being inducted, wearing this badge of honor, and being able to add the honorific “OBL” after your name? Some secrets shall remain undisclosed.
Track II dialogues are particularly valuable when official lines of communication are constrained. Even when these channels open up, Track II dialogues are a superb training device for a rising generation of security-oriented analysts. The functional equivalent of the Forum for U.S.-Soviet Dialogue with respect to China is ISODARCO, an NGO founded in 1966 by two Italian physics professors, Edoardo Amaldi and Carlo Schaerf. I’ve learned much from attending a few of the ISODARCO meetings in China in years past – one of the rare opportunities where U.S. nongovernmental experts and members of the Chinese national security and nuclear establishment can mingle.
Given how poor communications are between China and the United States, the foundation world could provide a major service by creating more opportunities for U.S. and Chinese analysts to meet.