Elsey, George

Kane, Jim


Lunghi, Hugh

Roberts, Frank


Continuation of Interview with Sir Frank Roberts

Q: If that wasn't the moment when the world came closest to another conflagration, what was the moment in the cold war, when the world was closest to war?

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: I don't think it ever was actually. I mean, it was close to all kinds of very major crises which might have led us onto paths which would have been dangerous and all this kind of thing, but I don't think it was ever really close to war. And I remember having a talk in the Kremlin during the Second Berlin crisis, and things were getting quite difficult then. And because, you know, Khrushchev had wanted to hand over power to the DDR and then we'd have been in great trouble, because we wouldn't have been able to maintain our position, and then this idea of the United Nations taking over, which the Berliners wouldn't accept. There were some very difficult moments, dangerous ones. And we were going through one of these, and I met in the Kremlin at a party, the number two in Russia at that time, a man called Koslov, who isn't as well known as he should be, he died. But at that time he was supposed to be the tough man, the number two always is supposed to be the tough one, and the existing one is always the man who was the tough one who's become the top one, which Khrushchev was, you see, in his time. And I said to Koslov, we had very few chances of ever talking to him, and I said, you know, I'm very worried about the position, I think it's getting very dangerous. And he said no, no, no, you needn't worry. It is a difficult pos, there may be troubles, not dangerous, I'll tell you why - you see, we regard Europe very simply that at the end of the war a line was drawn down the middle of Europe, we'd have liked it to be more to the West, you would, no doubt, have liked it to be more to the East, but anyway, on one side was yours, on the other side was ours. And we have made and we will go on making as much trouble as we can for you on your side of the line, short of any risk of war, and we take it for granted that you also will make as much trouble as you can on our side of the wall, of the line short of the risk of war. And I said.. but then he added, but you find it much more difficult to make trouble for us on our side than we do on yours. Which, in a way was true, but in one way wasn't. Because they got themselves into so much trouble on their side of the line that we didn't have to. But anyway, so I said yes, but that's all very well, but that doesn't quite settle Berlin, you see. He said oh, yes, I admit Berlin's on our side of the line, but there's a circle around Berlin and there's a line in the middle of Berlin and the same principles apply. And that I'm sure, simply said, I mean, was how they saw the world. Any way, the world where the danger of war was. But that didn't apply to the Third World, as Khrushchev announced.

Q: One thing that we haven't covered, and it's the last specific topic, is Brandt and Ostpolitik. I wonder if you could just sum up, explain a little bit about where Brandt succeeded and previous people had failed. What was his policy.

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Er, well, of course, I'd left Germany in '68, before the completion of the Brandt Ostpolitik, which I think came in '71 or thereabouts. But I was there sort of at the beginning of it. And going back to Adenauer, the Germans always had the idea there would have to be an Ostpolitik, even Adenauer. But they thought in the early days that it all.. they shouldn't take any initiatives in this matter, they should wait for Russia to get weak or, in Adenauer's case, for Russia to be so worried with China that I would want to settle things in Europe. But he kept a very controversial ambassador who the German Foreign Office didn't approve of at all, in Moscow throughout Khrushchev's regime against the possibility of them negotiating, because Kraul and Khrushchev got on very well together. So even Adenauer, you see, was thinking in those terms. And then there came the Berlin Wall. And this at once changed the whole approach of Germans to how to deal with the East, they were blocked, as it were. And by that time, of course, we in the West were beginning to cultivate the East and the Americans and the French and the British were having much more to do with the Eastern countries and so on. And the Germans were not. Because the Germans had barred themselves by the Halstein doctrine, because they had said that any country which recognizes East Germany, we will have nothing to do with. They'd even broken off relations with Yugoslavia for that reason. And that this was getting them into a position where they couldn't operate when other countries were operating. And we were beginning at our annual conferences with the Germans... there's one coming up next week, that's why I was reminded of it, we were always saying to the Germans now you really ought to build up your position in the East as you have in the West. You've got very good relations with everybody in the West, why don't you do the same thing in the East? And they were always saying to us and why don't you join the European Community and so on and so forth, these were the two great arguments at that time. And actually Schroeder, the Foreign Minister Erhard, which was in the early Sixties, he was starting an Ostpolitik, but their idea was to take the countries one by one, starting with the easier ones; they already had relations with Russia, you see, they had to because of Berlin and so Schroeder starting trying to have relations with Romania and he, I think he got to the point of having trade missions extended to Romania. But they didn't get on to really dealing with Poland or Czechoslovakia or Hungary. But then he did start the Lutheran church got rather busy in Hungary, and the Catholic Church in Poland.. I mean, the German Catholics in Poland. So they were already beginning to see what they could do. But all this time they were feeling that they couldn't do very much, and in a way they were right, and that it was only when the whole of Eastern Europe had freed itself from Russia that they would be able to get East Germany back with the rest of Germany. But anyway, when the Wall came, you see, everything was frozen and they couldn't wait for that day, and it might take much too long. And so where Brandt had the idea which enabled progress to be made, was he gave up the idea of just dealing with individual countries in Eastern Europe, which the Russians were always afraid of, they said - ah, yes, they're trying to pick out one from the other and get them up against us. Brandt did his negotiation simultaneously with the Eastern European countries, the most difficult ones, Poland and the Czechs, because historically they were the most difficult and, at the same time, handled the question of East Germany who, up to that point, the Germans had never been - the West Germans - had never been ready to recognize. And that was an issue with Russia, of course. So he negotiated over the whole front and removed the Russian suspicions that they were trying to play off one country against Russia and this kind of thing. And that's why he succeeded, because he dealt with all of them together, which Schroeder had not, he'd tried to do them one by one. But there was already, and even under Kiesinger, when Brandt was his Foreign Secretary, they were also thinking of trying to do an Ostpolitik, and I remember Carstens, who was then the Head of the German side had gone off to Moscow to try and start off negotiations. But it was too soon.