I remember watching the news and thinking – even as a teenager – that I’d wake up the next morning and the world I’d known all my life would be different. We’d heard rumblings of reform from Hungary and Poland, but the Berlin Wall? It seemed too good to be true. How did it happen?
Today Mikhail Gorbachev is widely recognized for setting the conditions that brought the wall down. He definitely deserves credit for the courage it took to lead such drastic change in the Soviet Union. However, perhaps greater credit is due the man who brought the Soviet Union to the economic breaking point that forced Moscow to choose between its satellite state collection and national survival.
Ronald Reagan began to erode the foundations of the Berlin Wall in 1983 when he announced his intent to build the Strategic Defense Initiative. The biggest bluff in the history of political science (SDI was just a pipe dream back then) put the USSR back on their heels. Until that point mutual assured destruction kept the nuclear super powers balanced, but if the US could develop an effective shield, then the USSR would have to develop their own shield or else their enormous nuclear arsenal would be strategically useless. Moscow bankrupted their own economy frantically trying to match what Washington never really had.
For decades Soviet Premiers and American Presidents had raced to build bigger, smarter nukes than the other guy. Who ever said that was the only way to play the game? With the introduction of SDI Reagan changed the rules of a game neither side could win. And by changing the rules, he changed the world.
What rules do you need to change in order to change your world?