Elsey, George

Kane, Jim


Lunghi, Hugh

Roberts, Frank


Continuation of Interview with Sir Frank Roberts

Q: Khrushchev devoted a lot of attention to cultivating the Third World. Can you talk about that?

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Yes. Khrushchev.. Well, Khrushchev was interested in the whole world. I mean, he was a great traveler. He was a sort of baddica [sic] man. He loved going round to new places. I mean, he'd have left.. he wouldn't have gone to Yalta, he'd have come anywhere to have a meeting with Roosevelt and Churchill, unlike Stalin...

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: You see, Khrushchev had, now this is a serious point we've come to. You see, Khrushchev, although he was not an academic and he didn't really add anything or even try to, to Marxism/Leninism he did, in fact, make one very important change in Marxist/Leninist philosophy, because of the nuclear world, you see, which had become much too dangerous, because the Leninist theory that followed right up to Khrushchev was that there would be eventually, a military conflict between a declining capitalist system and the splendid Marxist/Leninist system. And although it would be a difficult thing and a lot of people would die, nevertheless, the communists would win. But Khrushchev said no. I mean, with this nuclear world that's not what we want, it's too dangerous for everybody, even if we do win and, of course, this was one of the reasons he quarreled with Mao Zedong in China, because Mao Zedong didn't like giving up the idea of this final settlement. And Khrushchev did do that, as it were, but otherwise he was in no way a sort of theoretician of the communist world. But he picked up one of Leninist's slogans which was the slogan of living together, as it were. Now I've forgotten the actual.. there was a slogan for it, but it meant that the two sides could live together without fighting and... but he did... may I say, there were two reservations on that, that really only applied to...


Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Well, there were two reservations to this doctrine of peaceful coexistence which applied to the relations between what was then known as East and West, in other words, NATO and the Warsaw Pact and so on that you didn't get into wars and that. And the reservations were, first of all, all ideological questions which meant they were still free to push their idea of Marxism/ Leninism world-wide and, secondly, aid for what they called national liberation movements. Well, this really meant, in other words, intervening in any things we would call colonial, you see, and so on. So in other words, he was free to make trouble for us in the Third World anyway. Well, in interpreted that really as that Russia had a role to play in those parts of the world and, of course, they played it a great deal by - by sending arms to them and all that. But he was really interested in the outside world and he tried to visit it as much as possible. And I think there he had in mind a bit, too, that if he didn't do that then the Chinese would do it for him. And he didn't.. he'd quarreled with China by the time I got there. So he was - he.. countries like in India, of course, had a good relationship, even before, with Russia, partly because of their quarrel with China. And partly because the Americans were supporting Pakistan. And Indonesia at one time, but then that broke down. Of course, in my time, relations with Indonesia were still rather good and Sukarno was a favoured visitor when he wanted to come to... I know his embassy horrified whenever he came, because all the ladies of the embassy had to.. he didn't like Russian food, and they had to make his meals for him whilst he was there, and possibly do more than that. But he was a great ladies' man, Sukarno. And there was one wonderful moment when he arrived in the summer and, of course, they always liked to put on a great Bolshoi Ballet performers for leaders from the Third World, and so they were getting back from their holidays all the dancers from the Bolshoi to put on a thing, and we were.. the diplomatic corps were all invited to this performance the next day, and then we were disinvited, which occasionally happened. And what had happened, we discovered, was that when they told he said what, not Swan Lake again. I've seen it I don't know how many times. No, no, no, I want to go to the circus. It was a very good circus actually. So off he went to the circus. No Western visitor would have dared to say he wanted to change to the performance of the Bolshoi, but Sukarno did. And they accepted it.

Q: Dealings with the Third World leads onto Cuba. And I want to move onto the Cuban crisis, and you were in the eye of the storm.

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Yes, I was. I mean, of course, don't forget, it was an American crisis. I mean, it wasn't like the Berlin Wall, which was.. I mean, when we and the Americans and the French were equally involved. But, I mean, we were very involved. But we weren't negotiating, I mean, but on the other hand, I was meeting Khrushchev a good deal, particularly as it was shortly before I was leaving and so there were a lot of farewell parties and there was a new American ambassador, a lot of parties for him arriving. So we were seeing quite a lot of the Russian leadership at that time. But there was a bit of a background to the Cuban crisis that the Russians had been not unnaturally pleased to have a communist government in Latin America, which they thought might develop its influence rather wider in Latin American than, in fact, proved to be the case. On the other hand, they weren't very keen on the Cuban communists because they were much too independent as communists. And Castro, you see, hadn't been a communist. He'd suddenly decided that it would suit him to declare himself a communist. And I remember meeting a group of Cubans who were visiting Moscow, my wife and I were at Stalingrad, that's right, in the hotel in Stalingrad, and we were sort of dining together and somehow we got into conversation... I'd been born in Buenos Aires, so I knew some Spanish, you see, so they opened up, and they found Russia terrible, terribly boring, you know, how do you manage to live here? You've been here two years? My god. We've been here a fortnight and we've had enough.. the Latin Americans, I mean. So the Russians never really.. they liked the idea, but they didn't like the Cubans very much and vice-versa. But anyway, we're coming back to the major crisis. And here there's a little speculation in what I say, but I don't think very much. Khrushchev, I'm absolutely confident, had never intended there to be this reallmajor world crisis which, after all, is always spoken of as the time we were near to nuclear war. And certainly in Moscow, and particularly in the last week of the crisis, there was no atmosphere whatever of being near to any kind of war, nuclear or otherwise, because the Russians weren't even told that there was a crisis. I mean, there wasn't a word in the newspapers about it until one day I think it was on.. it was a calendar week, as it so happens, of the crisis week. And it wasn't until the Thursday of the week that they published in Pravda an exchange of messages with Bertrand Russell. Bertrand Russell had appealed to Khrushchev to save the peace of the world. Khrushchev, needless to say, had replied very obligingly by saying there's nothing he wanted to do more and it would be quite alright. But this was the first any Russian had heard that there was any threat to the peace of the world. Extraordinary. I mean, even in Khrushchev's day, that this had gone on. But needless to say, I mean, all the top Russians knew what was going on perfectly well. And Khrushchev had to do something, of course, to prevent the Americans, as he thought, invading Cuba, they'd tried once before and failed and he had to do something to support Castro. And he thought.. and also something which would also remind the Americans that he was under nuclear threat from American missiles, at that time in Italy and in Turkey and in the United Kingdom. And so as he happened to be getting good missiles then, he thought he'd put some missiles in. He certainly expected the Americans to find this out and he then thought that they would summon him to the United Nations. He spoke to me once or twice about going back to the United Nations, he didn't mention exactly how. But what completely changed the thing for Khrushchev was when the Americans stopped his ships at sea who were taking the equipment to Cuba, that they hadn't counted on. They'd counted on the Americans possibly bombing or doing something like that, but the Americans decided they wouldn't, they nearly came to that point, but they - they never did. But they stopped the ships. And the Russians who I met after that were always gibbering and saying, you know, you are the British Ambassador, you know about these naval matters, stopping ships at sea is surely an act of war, you know, rather like the Spaniards and the Canadians the other day. And it can't be done and et cetera, et cetera. But this was brought home to them that it was rather serious. And instead of Khrushchev playing the game to his time-table which had been, I think, protests and then arguing the matter in the United Nations, he was under a much more immediate sort of crisis. And he also had to defend a little bit - vis a vis - Castro, you see. He couldn't suddenly let Castro down with a bump, although, in fact, he pretty nearly did, but not quite, and so he had to get out of the crisis. Now, the almost ridiculous feature of it is that during that last week Kennedy and his brother and all the top people in America were on a more or less 24 hours vigil in the Whitehouse, there was a sort of special crisis meeting and they were together most of the time. Nothing like that in Moscow. In fact, on the Tuesday I think it was, Khrushchev had gone to see Boris [ ], which is 5 hours, and he must have seen many times, and then given supper afterwards to the American bass who was playing.. singing the role of Boris [ ] or in order that the next morning there should appear in Pravda a little piece saying he'd done all this which, to every Russian reader of Pravda conveyed the impression that relations with America were very good, because Nikita's gone to see this American.. to do honour to this American. But so very different from what was going on in the Whitehouse and then, of course, he finally did his climb down and then was either persuaded by his colleagues or persuaded himself that he'd sold the horse a bit too cheap, in other words, he'd climbed down a bit too much and had forgotten to mention the missiles which were threatening him, you see. So a second note went. The first one was obviously drafted by Khrushchev, it was his style, the second one was more obviously an official sort of thing. And what happened then was that one danger period at that week, dangerous in Washington, because the American, not unnaturally, thought they were, perhaps being played with, you see, they'd got a note climbing down, and then they got another note saying oh, by the way, we ought to have said we want this, that and t' other, you see. And it was then that Robert Kennedy really saved the peace, because whilst they were all arguing what they should do about this and they couldn't let this pass and so on, Robert Kennedy said why don't we reply to the first note, and ignore the second. Which is what they did. And so it all... And Khrushchev ended it in the way that he usually ended these crises. He got into crises in a way Stalin never would have done, because he was impulsive, which is a very un-Russian quality, and he would jump into things and say we've got to do something. Then he got himself into positions which were very hard to get out of, I mean, the Berlin Wall was another - another case and there were several things in Russia. So get out of the crisis. Well, did get out of the crisis, but he got in return, you see, from the Americans, an undertaking that they would never attack Cuba, which.. so he could say to Castro I've done something for you. And he was told - under the counter, as it were - that the Americans, in any case, were intending to dismantle their missiles in Italy and Turkey 'cos they were getting too old. So he got that, too, in a sense. So he could say it wasn't entirely a failure. But on the other hand, his colleagues were really very frightened, because they thought Khrushchev's got us into this frightful mess and er, heaven knows, we can't afford this kind of thing anymore, and this had a lot to do with them getting rid of him about a year later. But in other words, there was never, in my confident view, this great danger to the peace of the world. And what one forgets also is that Khrushchev knew that we knew that his nuclear power was much less than the American nuclear power. And, therefore, in any game of bluff he.. and also, the conflict was over on the other side of the Atlantic and not around Berlin, so that if anybody had to climb down from a bluff, it would have to be he.