Elsey, George

Kane, Jim


Lunghi, Hugh

Roberts, Frank


Continuation of Interview with Sir Frank Roberts

Q: You mention the start of the cold war as '46/'47 - is there any one event that pinpoints the start.. point of no retreat?

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Well, I think there's one event which was not so to speak an event starting it, but which was an event showing the first realization of it. That was a speech made by the American Secretary of State - Byrd's - in Stuttgart in the autumn of 1946, which was the first speech showing that the Americans no longer felt that there was any future - didn't put it this way, I mean, but in what I call the Roosevelt policy of building up what.. the future on the basis of close co-operation with Stalin's Russia. And it wasn't on anymore, there were too many differences. I mean, not that we were going to war with Russia, but I mean, that we couldn't co-operate with them in Germany or anywhere else. And it was from then on that things got more and more difficult.

Q And how important would you assess the, first of all, the coup in Czechoslovakia and then the Berlin blockade?

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Well, the coup in Czechoslovakia, of course, was very important for a lot of countries which were not so much involved in German - for example, Norway. Norway would never have joined the Atlantic Alliance if it hadn't been for the coup in Czechoslovakia, because they rather - Norway was a rather, you know, left of Centre government. Langer was on (word) with himself, and Czechoslovakia was a rather left of Centre sort of democratic government, it wasn't.. it had communists in it. At the end of the war, Czechoslovakia, you see, was the only central European country which had not been taken over by the Russians, and they had a government - Benes and Masaryk - who.. which was partly Western, some communists, and the country was independent, with good relations with East and West. But that wasn't good enough for Stalin. He had to have it absolutely under him. And the only way to do that was the communist party take-over in Prague. And this really did shock everybody a lot, because there was no need for it, there was no reason for it, excepting only a sort of inherent refusal on the part of Stalin to accept that a country could be betwixt and between. I remember once saying to Tito, when I was ambassador in Yugoslavia, in 1956, I said why couldn't the Russians have accepted a Hungary neutral leaning towards the East like Austria is a neutral country leading towards the West? And I remember Tito, of course, was a good communist himself, saying how long did you live in Russia? I said about two and a half years. And you think the Russians would ever accept if they had any choice in the matter, a country leaning towards them when they could have it under them? He said the only reason you and I are talking together now is because I liberated Belgrade myself, and I got the Russians out of Yugoslavia jolly quick.

Q: You knew Masaryk though, didn't you? What sort of...

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: I knew Masaryk very well.

Q: ...personality was he to withstand all the forces against him?

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Well, of course, Masaryk was not.. I mean, Masaryk was the Foreign Minister, Benes was the the President. And Jan Masaryk was very worried at all these developments after the war. I remember, we went to see Jan Masaryk in, on our way back to Russia in 1947, I think it was. A few months before Jan died, either killed or committed suicide. Nobody yet knows. And he'd just come back from a trip to Norway and he was very, very gloomy. It was after they'd been, you know, told by the Russians that they couldn't go in to the Marshall plan and all this kind of thing. And I remember my wife was with me, and I remember she said to Jan, if you're so gloomy, why did you come back from Norway? Why didn't you stay there? And he said, Tito, when you've been in exile once you don't want to start again. I expect all this was bugged, no doubt. Of course, he was very popular.


Q: Sir Frank, can you tell us a little bit about being in NATO in 1960 when Macmillan regarded that this.. the summit in 1960 was maybe a last chance to reach some sort of peaceful arrangement. And then there was the incident of the U2....

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Yes. Well, once again, we've talked about Churchill wanting to attach.. to establish a relationship with the new leaders of the Soviet Union. Well, it was really in 1955 that there was eventually a new leader in Khrushchev with whom it was worthwhile establishing a relationship. And, of course, Khrushchev on his side, had gone out of his way to try and establish some confidence on the part of the West. Now the two things he'd done, first of all, he'd removed the Soviet objections to the treaty with Austria, which had been a great problem for many, many years, and so Austria could become independent, as it were, and that was his goodwill. And then, of course, he had gone back to Belgrade on a sort of canossa-like expedition to apologize for Russia having broken with the Yugoslavs, although, in fact, it was the Yugoslavs who always like to say they'd broken with the Russians in Stalin's time and to reestablish a relationship there. So.. and then there had been a conference, I think, in Geneva - I was then in Yugoslavia - where Macmillan had met Khrushchev and so on. So this was the beginning of what seemed to be a more, more promising era in East/West relations. And at.. I was at NATO from '57 onwards, and we were then talking in terms of getting agreements with Russia for nuclear-free areas and this kind of thing. I mean, a very different atmosphere from the last days of Stalin. And Macmillan, of course, was Prime Minster, he'd been Foreign Minister then Prime Minister, and was very anxious to develop this as best one could. And he had, in fact, reached an agreement with the Russians on nuclear things. I've forgotten exactly when it was, but it was, anyway.. I'm not sure it wasn't possibly afterwards.. after 1960, maybe. No, it can't have been, because I was back - I was back in Moscow myself.. It was during the late Fifties. So the things were all moving, you see, in the direction of a much better relationship with the new Russia of Khrushchev. And so there'd been this summit in Geneva in '55 and there was to be this new summit in Paris. The other, of course, major thing that had happened was that we had got a very remarkable old leader back in France, De Gaulle had come back in '58. So for the first time for very many years had a real leader, a strong, international figure. And Macmillan was very keen to carry this on and just as Churchill had been very keen to establish a relationship before; Churchill was too soon. So there was to be this summit in Paris. Well, I wasn't specially involved in the preparations for the summit as I would have been say, if I'd been in Moscow or in London, but NATO, naturally, we were interested in all this. And then very unfortunately, Khrushchev came to Paris with the biggest delegation, including the head of the army - Marshall Malinovsky - not perhaps surprising because there were going to be talks on nuclear weapons and things like that. And suddenly there was the U2 incident. The Americans had had a spy plane which could fly very, very high, which used to fly over Russia, I think it.. they had a base in Pakistan, and I forget where they flew from in the West, but anyway, somewhere in the West. And, as ill-luck would have it, the Russians must have known, I suppose, this had been going on for some time, but they shot it down one day. And of course, it was one thing knowing about it but never talking about it, but another thing when they'd shot it down. And of course, we had no special defense, because we shouldn't have been doing.. I mean, ordinary international law, particularly dealing with a country you were wanting to be friendly with, you don't talk about having spy planes flying across their territory. I think Khrushchev himself rather wanted to go on with the summit in Paris, but I think it was the inference that.. well, it was supposed to be the inference of Marshall Malinovsky and other tougher people with him who said you can't. I mean, Russia's been insulted, I mean, a terrible thing to do and so on and so forth. And - and so Khrushchev broke off the conference in fury. And I remember going to dinner at our embassy with - with the Prime Minister when the disaster had taken place, and for Macmillan it was the end of the world. I mean, the bottom had dropped out of everything. Macmillan, of course, was not for nothing a highlander, he used to get quite emotional on these occasions and he really talked as if we were going to go to war almost, within 10 days. I mean, he didn't think that seriously but he really was terribly, terribly, terribly disappointed. In point of , I don't think it mattered as much as all that, because we continued to have quite reasonable relations. Well, we always had quite reasonable relations with Khrushchev, but that didn't stop him doing very dangerous things. I mean, which.. one of them was perhaps shooting down that plane. But the others, which concerned me much more, of course, later on were the Berlin Wall and the Cuba missile crisis.

Q: When you were actually in Moscow.

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: When I was actually in Russia. Now, Stalin, you see, was a much more cautious operator who didn't usually launch out into these potentially dangerous initiatives. Khrushchev did. But at the same, at home, of course, he was.. well, as liberals are, if you might put it that way, he was shutting down the concentration camps and making life much more agreeable and acceptable for the Russian people, and also having a different kind of personal relationship with the leaders in the West.