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Soviet-American exchange urged

Robert M. Riekover — November 1984

The continuing debate over President Reagan’s plan to deploy MX missiles in Wyoming and Nebraska brings to mind some of the science fiction tales I read in my youth. Terms like “fratricide”. “dense pack” and “window of vulnerability” could have been found in any of the sci-fi pulp magazines of the forties and fifties. Their stories, written in the shadow of the bomb, frequently chronicled the annihilation of our planet, although I can remember one which contained a more hopeful message.

The plot went something like this: During a period of increased international tensions, there came from around the world reports of an abrupt and near total drop in birthrates. Eventually it was revealed that water supplies everywhere had been infused with chemicals which made it impossible for couples who had been living on the same continent to bear children. This news triggered a massive wave of migrations as men and women sought new, fertile. partners overseas. With all this time and energy now going into propagating our species, very little was left over to think of new ways to destroy it.

The feasibility, not to mention the ethics, of this particular scheme may be dubious but it would certainly be possible to effect a substantial mingling of the populations of the two superpowers on a voluntary basis. All that is needed is a commitment by the governments of the Soviet Union and the United States to underwrite a program of large-scale tourism between their two countries.

Expensive? Certainly. but not unreasonably so when compared with current levels of military expenditures. If, as a rough estimate, it costs two thousand dollars to send one American to Russia for two weeks, then ten billion dollars — only about five percent of America’s total annual defense spending — would pay for five million trips. For half of its total spending on all armaments, the US could send a quarter of its entire population to Russia every year. There would then be just over two million Americans, about one percent of the country’s population, in Russia at all times. Meanwhile. of course, the same number of Russians would be visiting the USA.

While the political will necessary to finance such an enormous program would take a while to develop, the physical constraints are not as great as one might imagine. Two million people travelling each way every two weeks could be transported in three hundred round trip jumbo jet flights a day. Hotel facilities, particularly in Russia, would be strained for a time, but many visitors would probably prefer to stay with families or in the temporarily vacant homes of those travelling the other way.

The positive economic spin-offs for both countries would be substantial. The revitalization of the American tourism industry, for example, would provide hundreds of thousands of new jobs at a time when they are desperately needed. Russia could use some of its dollar earnings to purchase capital equipment required for the long overdue modernization of Soviet agriculture and industry.

Most important of all, of course. would be the simple fact that everyone in Russia and the United States, including political and military leaders, would at all times have several friends and relatives held hostage, as it were, in the other country. While this might not eliminate conflicts between the two nations, it would certainly lessen the chances that anyone in either country would issue, or obey, a command to destroy the other.

To get the project off the ground, I propose that the first planeload of Russians be installed on dude ranches just east of Cheyenne. And I would like nothing better than a leisurely journey from Moscow to Vladivostok on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Robert Rickover is an American economist and teacher of the Alexander Technique living in Toronto.