In a little-known historical twist, a lighthearted comment about UFOs and alien invasions helped bring the Cold War to a peaceful end.
Winter, 1985. Tensions are high between the United States and the Soviet Union. President Ronald Reagan and new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agree to hold their first summit in Geneva, Switzerland.
As a series of lengthy meetings grinds on, Reagan and Gorbachev slip out for a private walk. Reagan, an avid science fiction fan, spontaneously asks the Soviet leader, “What would you do if the United States were suddenly attacked by someone from outer space? Would you help us?”
“No doubt about it,” Gorbachev responds, to which Reagan says, “We too.”
“So that’s interesting,” Gorbachev remarks as the two leaders share a chuckle.
In the years after the summit, Reagan softens his harsh rhetoric towards the Soviet Union. Reduced hostilities help Gorbachev ignore the Kremlin hardliners demanding larger Soviet military budgets to match Reagan’s defense buildup. More importantly, the détente gives Gorbachev the political latitude to enact the economic and political reforms that usher in a peaceful end to the Cold War.
Thirty-six years after Reagan and Gorbachev’s first summit meeting, a new American president is set to meet his Russian counterpart. The setting, once again, is Geneva. As in 1985, tensions between the two nuclear-armed powers run high.
The odds of a Reagan-Gorbachev-style breakthrough are slim. For one, Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinEU 'denounces' Russian malicious cyber activity aimed at member states Navalny knocks Apple, Google for removing voting app Federal agencies warn companies to be on guard against prolific ransomware strain MORE is not the pragmatic leader that Gorbachev was. President BidenJoe BidenFighter jet escorts aircraft that entered restricted airspace during UN gathering Julian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy FBI investigating alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier at Afghan refugee camp MORE, for his part, has sent stern pre-summit messages to Putin. Moreover, a litany of thorny issues is on the agenda.
But Gorbachev and Reagan showed that bitter adversaries can set aside hostile rhetoric and mistrust to cooperate on critical global security matters.
While the threat of nuclear war loomed large in 1985, the Biden-Putin summit comes as the U.S. government grapples with a perplexing national security issue.
Intelligence analysts and scientists appear genuinely stumped by more than 100 encounters with mysterious objects, many flying in restricted airspace. According to a former top intelligence official, some of the unidentified craft move in ways that “we don’t have the technology for.”
The U.S. government has reportedly ruled out the possibility that the objects are highly classified American aircraft. Moreover, at least one former top official believes that ultra-advanced Russian or Chinese spy planes are not plausible explanations for the more perplexing incidents observed by the military.
Analysts and NASA scientists also appear to doubt that mundane factors are behind many of the encounters. According to reports, several objects were observed by multiple sensors – such as satellite, radar, infrared and optical platforms – making balloons, distant jetliners or equipment malfunctions unlikely explanations for some of the phenomena.
To be sure, a highly anticipated report on these incidents appears to have found no evidence that aliens are visiting earth. But the fact that the U.S. government, with its near-unlimited investigatory capabilities, is considering “non-human technology” as a plausible explanation for some of the incidents is a remarkable development.
Recent comments by former presidents Obama and Clinton heightened speculation that the government is entertaining extraordinary theories about these phenomena. When asked about the encounters, Obama and Clinton openly speculated about extraterrestrial life. Similarly, Obama’s CIA director mused about “different form[s] of life” when discussing the incidents.
Make no mistake: Former presidents and CIA directors – who continue to receive top-level intelligence briefings – do not suddenly speculate about aliens on a whim. Indeed, one can safely assume that Clinton and Obama asked their intelligence briefers some probing questions about what is known about UFOs before speaking publicly about otherworldly life.
Moreover, according to President TrumpDonald TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results MORE’s former director of national intelligence, such encounters are occurring “all over the world.”
Following revelations that China is “overwhelmed” by similar sightings, this phenomenon appears to have global implications. To that end, Biden must raise the issue with Putin.
Amid what promises to be a tense summit in Geneva, a lighthearted, Reagan-style question or comment about UFOs from Biden may yield a surprising response from the Russian leader. It might even alter the course of history.
Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.