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Winning the peace.

I'm a child of the Cold War. My first brush with international matters was via a wall map of Europe with pins to show where my uncles Were fighting in World War II. Later it was Skywatch, a 24-hour vigil on the skies kept by the residents of our little town, who were convinced that Russian bombers could sneak in below radar detection at any moment.

As a Soil conservationist in the 1960s, I carried radiation-detection devices around in my government pickup, and attended long, dull training sessions where I learned how to detect dangerous levels of fallout in crops, livestock, and soils in case of a sneak nuclear attack I slept with those darned things during the Cuban missile crisis, and continued to carry them around !until somebody finally figured out that if we ever went out into the field and measured dangerous radiation, the game was over anyway.

Throughout all that, however, there was never any doubt: The Russians were the enemy; they were capable of mounting huge military attacks, and, even worse, their socialist system of economics and government was poised to take over the whole world if we didn't stop it.

Last May I stood in Red Square, about 100 feet from Leniffs tomb, listening to a United States Air Force band knock a Russian crowd off its feet with a stirring rendition of "Stars and Stripes Forever." I walked Moscow streets, talking to cab drivers, retired war heroes, young students, and others. And I came away with the most curious mixture of elation and despair I have ever experienced.

We've won the Cold War! The communist system-at least as it was manifested by the old Soviet Union has crumbled! Democracy and individual freedom can exist for the first time in decades over a major part of the world. The threat of a nuclear firestorm caused by arrogance, miscalculation, or just plain stupidity seems to be at its weakest in the past half-century.

But the challenges, to me, seem as great as or greater than any we have ever faced. Today the Russian people, instead of having a socialist system that, though it didn't work very well, was at least some kind of a system, now have nothing. Their future is a huge unknown, without apparent goals and with no means of even getting started. If they don't find the way toward a new democratic, market system that can work, the risk is high that they will be taken prey by a new, perhaps even more malign form of dictatorship. We've won the war. Can we win the peace?

That question is, it seems to me, particularly germane to people interested in natural resources-in the environment, agriculture, and forestry. The Russian society is, at its heart, a rural society. Its natural-resource wealth is unbelievably immense. Properly managed and developed, it can become a major addition to the world's well-being.

But the Russian people lack virtually everything it takes to get started. They lack a land-tenure system that allows private enterprise, and a banking system that would help them with loans and other financing. There are few or no roads, machinery, seeds, or fertilizers. If they grow a crop, there's no place to sell it, and no market system to move it from farmer to consumer. In the forests, the land ownership still rests with the state. How that will change, and whether or not there will be a new wage system for workers and a new price system for products is still unknown.

Former American Forests President Carl Reidel estimates that in one region around Lake Baikal, 5 to 15 percent of the forest burns annually. "You travel for miles, and you are always in sight of a recent or active bum," he reports. There is simply no capacity to fight the fires. If you have the people, you don't have the trucks to move them to the fire. lf you have the trucks, you may not have the fuel. The system we know as "infrastructure" in the U.S. simply does not exist in Russia.

So what is the rest of the world to do? I fear that letting these people flounder for years, if not decades, in this horrible condition could turn into another security nightmare for our children. An even higher risk exists that the human condition will continue to compound and worsen an environmental situation that ranges from terrible to critical. Everything from rare and endangered species to some of the world's premier fleshwater systems are at risk.

It seems abundantly clear that what is needed is a new "Marshall Plan" for Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. But it needs to be a plan that builds local social institutions, improves domestic infrastructures, and invests in natural-resource protection, restoration, and productivity. We need to help them patch up naturalgas pipelines that are estimated to leak more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than are delivered to consumers; rebuild an energy system that is sustainable and doesn't depend on Chernobyl-type reactors ready to devastate entire regions if they go out of control; develop forestry plans so that Korean and Japanese loggers don't rip off huge sections of the eastern forests without proper care and reforestation; build a forest-protection and inventory system; develop a land-distribution system that parcels out farm, grazing, and forest land to peasant farmers; and provide both financial and technical assistance so that the newly privatized farms plant trees where needed, install soil-conserving measures, and begin once more to resemble a stable European agriculture.

Yes, there's much to be done. But our politicians are so busy reveling in the fact that we've won the last war that they don't seem to have time to recognize the next one on the horizon. This one could, I think, be won with a reasonable amount of well-placed dollars, shovels, hammers, and the Peace Corps--if we would just get on with the task before it's too late.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:the necessity of infrastructure and environmental policy development in post-Cold War USSR
Author:Sampson, Neil
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Words:992
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