I talked to the Secretary of State in his office on June 21. He'd recently written, in Foreign Affairs, "The sources of national strength and security for one nation need no longer threaten the security of others. Politics need not always be a zero-sum competition." "Zero-sum," a term from game theory, means any gain to you is a loss to me. Forsaking zero-sum is the key to free-market thinking and, as parents know, the key to adult thinking. But then there's geopolitical thinking.
"A Conversation With Colin Powell" (August 2, 2004)
Colin Powell and P. J. O'Rourke discuss foreign policy, Volvos, Elvis, and more. The full transcript of his interview from the September 2004 Atlantic
"Yeah," said Secretary Powell, "most of my career was in a zero-sum world: us versus the Russians. Zero-sum kind of takes you to places like Vietnam."
Powell described how zero-sum competition made little sense even within the insensible logic of mutually assured destruction. "Their target was different than ours—two absolutely asymmetrical target problems. But we had exactly the same number of missiles, almost."
Soviet SS-20s and U.S. Pershing IIs were eventually retired, and Powell was on hand when one of each was presented to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. "The SS-20 was a big thing," he said, "and the Pershing was small. It's much more efficient, a better missile. My wife, Alma, is with me. She pays no attention to any of this military stuff. She's only been a military wife for the past forty years. And she looks at it and she says, 'How come theirs is bigger?'