Interview With Lord Annan
INT: Tell me, Sir, tell me about Sir Brian Robertson - what was he like?
LORD ANNAN: Brian Robertson was, of course, the real head of the whole of the Control Commission. I mean, Montgomery was allegedly, and after him (Sholto) Douglas, the Supreme Commander; but the work was done by Robertson. And he was a really first-class example of a good British general in every way: he was efficient, he was diplomatic, and yet he was perfectly firm and you knew what his policy was. He did require as I say, a little persuasion that we ought to stand up to the Russians. And, for instance, I launched a press campaign against them, which of course was an unheard-of thing - not against the Russians, only of course against the Communists, the German Communists - and Brian Robertson was a little worried, because he said, "I get on frightfully well with General (Suzlabarov), and who I think is an honourable and honest man," and he may well have been. And he said, "I should be sorry if we ended up, as people have always been predicting, that... Germany would be divided; we would be backing one side of Germans and the Russians backing another lot of Germans." But he was far too... sensible... so to... and wise man not to realise what was happening, and that inevitably the great division in Europe was beginning.
INT: You speak about the great division, Sir. Who was responsible for the division of Germany? Was it in Western interests, a divided Germany, Soviet interests?
LORD ANNAN: Was it in the British interests to have a divided Germany, or the Soviet interests? No, both of them, of course, wanted a united Germany, (Laughs) but of course ruled under their own terms; the British as a democratic society, and the Russians, of course - there could only be one kind of government for Germany, and that was a Communist government. And so, in the end of, of course, it was in the interests of both the Soviets and of the Western Allies that a division of Germany took place. The people who lost out were the Social Democrat Party. The head of the Social Democrats in Germany, Dr Schumacher - he was absolutely shattered when we told him that we were going to form a bi-zone with the Americans, i.e. a Western Germany, what became Western Germany. Because his electoral support came from within the Soviet zone; but of course, nobody could have been more delighted than Dr Adenauer (Laughs), and Adenauer, of course, had always predicted that this was going to take place. Adenauer was a fascinating example of a particular German who... a real Rheinlander, a Catholic, a man of... civilised man, who simply regarded the Elbe - it always had been the beginning of barbarism. Prussia was on the other side of the Elbe. If there was anything that Adenauer disliked more than a Communist, it was a Prussian.
INT: Three questions now, Sir, which we ask all... or try to ask all senior people. Was the Cold War necessary?
LORD ANNAN: Inevitable. Oh, sorry - let's start again. Was the Cold War necessary? It's a very interesting question, but is very easy to answer. It was inevitable. There is no possibility that there could have been agreement between the Russian... the Soviet vision of life and the Western vision of life. It took, of course, 50 years for that (Laughs) to be proved to be true. But... there was no way out, unless we were willing to give way all along the line. And I imagine that the Soviets, of course, felt exactly the same.
INT: What do you think, Sir, was the worst moment of the Cold War?
LORD ANNAN: I suppose most people would say the Cuban crisis, when obviously things did become slightly on the edge. But even then, you know, there was always, under the... I mean under wraps, secret conversations being maintained between the leaders, or at least their immediate advisers, to defuse the situation. Both the Russians and the Western Allies recognised that an atomic war would have been a world disaster. That... I think there was no question about that. I also will say this - I'll go further, that I think that I personally never really believed that there was a strong danger of the Soviet army suddenly deciding to march from the Russian zone to the Channel ports. I never thought that was on the cards. But you can't be certain of that kind of thing, and therefore I think it was understandable that Nato was formed, and that there was a perfectly credible defence - at any rate, something which would make the other side think again.
INT: What was the effect of the Cold War, what did it achieve?
LORD ANNAN: It achieved many bad things. Fanaticism, of course, on either side. (Pause) It held in check extreme nationalism, which of course has broken out since the collapse of the Soviet regime. But it did, it seemed to me, ensure that a regime which really had appalling, despicable characteristics, not all that far from some of the characteristics of the Nazi regime - it made sure that that regime did not impose its will further than it had been able to do when the war ended. I mean, of course I'm not talking about Asia and Africa, but I'm talking about Europe.
INT: Just one final question, Sir. Were you aware... or when were you aware that in fact it was over, essentially, for Britain as a grand imperial power? Was it this period, was it '45, '46, '47? ... When did we cease to be the big player?
LORD ANNAN: Oh... of course, the answer is immediately after the war. But we had obligations then which I think were probably inescapable: inescapable that we should have governed in Germany; inescapable, at any rate, for a few years, that two years, that we should have kept Greece from becoming another Communist regime. Where we failed to understand, I think, was in our relations in Africa and Asia, and there British policy went on being semi- imperial. I mean, that is to say, you decolonise, you give colonies their freedom, but you maintain all sorts of, you know, east-of-Suez fronts, and that was, I think, the great mistake we made. Of course, the real mistake, to my mind, was that we did not get in to the European Union on the ground floor. We had it, the leadership, for the asking, and we turned it down - we threw it into the gutter. And it was picked up by two implacable... well, perhaps I go too far to call them "enemies", but implacable disbelievers in Anglo-Saxon civilisation: de Gaulle and Dr Adenauer, (Laughs) who, of course, in the end made an accord which has lasted very strongly to this day.
INT: Lord Annan, thank you very much indeed, Sir.