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HISTORICAL PAPERS: DOCUMENTS ON BRITISH POLICY OVERSEAS

Détente in Europe, 1972-76: Selected Extracts (Part 2)

Raison d'être

'The idea of Mutual Force Reductions, whether Balanced to our taste or not, represents a more than honourable objective. After a quarter of a century of military confrontation involving almost 2 million men in Central Europe in which war was probably avoided only because both sides possessed nuclear weapons, it is reasonable and right that both sides should wish as part of the general improvement in their relations to reduce the forces and armaments each has deployed against the other, and to divert badly needed resources to other more productive purposes.'

Crispin Tickell, 20 August, 1975

Crispin Tickell

British Attitudes

'The more we have studied MBFRs in any negotiable form, the less we have liked them. Like the French, we fear that force reductions would probably lead to a weakening of the Alliance and that the notion of reductions compatible with undiminished security for all concerned (at least on the Western side) is a pipe dream. Like the French we wish to see United States force levels in Europe maintained at their present level for as long as possible. Unlike the French we believe that the best way of persuading the Americans not to make unilateral cuts is to help them cope with their domestic critics by participating in negotiations which could, if they succeeded, lead to cuts on the Eastern as well as on the Western side.'

Crispin Tickell, 30 November, 1972

'Over the last few years ... we have got good mileage out of this Western proposal. It embarrassed the Russians after Czechoslovakia. It helped to hold off Mansfieldism. It also helped to convince Western public opinion that we had constructive proposals at a time when we were showing a good deal of caution if not dislike towards the Soviet proposals for CSCE. Circumstances have now changed, e.g. the Soviet acceptance of MBFR and the Western acceptance of CSCE. There is a danger that we may be hoist with our own propaganda.'

Vienna to FCO Telegram No. 267 of 26 March, 1973


Soviet Attitudes

'Soviet interest in the MBFR concept is almost certainly primarily political. It is one element in a worldwide campaign to show themselves as peace-loving pursuers of détente, and beaters of swords into ploughshares.'

Note by the Defence Policy Staff, 21 April 1972


American Attitudes

'We still do not know whether neo-isolationism has passed its peak or whether the withdrawal of all but a residual force from Vietnam will, as some people think, take the heat off the issue of US troops in Europe or whether, as others think, the Liberal Democrats will then turn the heat on Europe still more.'

Donald Tebbit (Washington), 18 February, 1972

'We are thus faced with a situation in which the Americans, for domestic and presentational reasons, are determined to press forward to substantive MBFR negotiations and in which some of our European Allies see MBFR as a respectable means for scaling down their own forces. Our own scepticism is only fully shared by the French who have decided to stay outside the game ... The new dimension in East/West relations created by the growing understanding between the United States and the Soviet Union in strategic matters puts the Europeans constantly at risk of having matters of vital interest to their security settled over their heads.'

Crispin Tickell, 30 November, 1972


European Attitudes

'National attitudes to MBFR are determined partly by the general 'hawkishness' or otherwise of a country's attitude and partly by geographical position. The original German enthusiasm for MBFR was an offshoot of Ostpolitik, and is now considerably qualified by a more hard-headed appreciation of the military risks to NATO and of the particularly exposed position of the FGR. The Canadians and Belgians are doves, reflecting the preoccupation of their Ministers with détente and their desire for a respectable excuse to reduce their defence effort. The Dutch are outwardly hard-liners, but their defence budget is equally under pressure. The Italians, being outside the probable area of reduction take a close, but mainly academic interest. The Scandinavians, also outside the area, are doves: but in the Norwegian case, their attitude is conditioned as is also that of the Greeks and Turks, by anxiety about the effect which reductions in the Central Region would have on the threat to the flanks. The French say frankly that MBFR is a trap, and have so far refused to have anything to do with the studies at all.'

Note by the Defence Policy Staff, 21 April 1972


The Negotiations

John Thomson

'Our grey little talks are no match for the Congress of Vienna. The Viennese have greeted us in friendly fashion but have probably been disappointed with our lack of glamour and our general 'invisibility'. We have been assigned the Hofburg as the site of our formal meetings whenever they may begin. But we are not destined to use the main salons. We drab bureaucrats are to gather in the room usually reserved for waiting footmen and coachmen in Franz Josef's time. The modern Metternich is not among us. His shadow does indeed fall darkly over us while he flits from Washington to Peking to Tokyo - everywhere but Europe in this 'year of Europe'. Nor do I discern a Talleyrand or a Castlereagh at our amiable 'plenary cocktails'. Instead we have hard-working lawyers and diplomats whose first thought is to engage in drafting and whose second is to avoid publicity'.

John Thomson (Vienna), 21 February, 1973

'... the Allied performance over MBFR to date has been pretty appalling. The Americans are by no means exclusively to blame. But the root cause of the trouble is that they have been in a hurry. There is no worse way to deal with the Russians.'

Charles Wiggin, 19 March, 1973

Charles Wiggin

'A tempting conclusion to draw from what has happened at Vienna is that NATO's best course of action would be to call off the whole MBFR exercise, on the grounds that to continue offers no prospects of a satisfactory military outcome for the West and would impose undue strains on Allied unity.'

William Mumford (MOD), 22 March, 1973


The Negotiators

'... there was much interest in observing the Russians at work and at play. The two were not entirely separate. Negotiations for them involved a strong element of game playing. They thoroughly understood the principles of horse trading and enjoyed it when they found a horse trader, such as Dean (Head of the US Delegation), who could manipulate the techniques. Well trained themselves in negotiation they admired virtuosity when they met it'.

John Thomson (Vienna), 29 June, 1973

Détente in the Vienna Woods: Rose and colleagues

'... the hardening of the Eastern negotiating position has not been accompanied by any corresponding chill in the personal relations between Western and Eastern delegates. On the contrary, these have reached new levels of cordiality and conviviality ... Under the impetus of Mr Dean's forceful personality, (there have) been joint excursions of various sorts at which much bad wine has flowed and a great number of songs have been sung in a variety of European languages. A twenty mile walk through the Vienna woods, which resembled, in its latter stages, a sequence from a film of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, enabled some eleven of us to discover our common humanity and forget our ideological differences in shared discomfort.'

Clive Rose (Vienna), 4 July, 1974


MBFR's Significance

'... the Secretary of State said that the political gain which we had hoped so far to extract from MBFR had largely been achieved: MBFR had enabled Western Governments to resist domestic pressures for unilateral force reductions. But the perception of Soviet military superiority on which we had based our approach to force reductions had in the meantime become much more of a reality. There was a change of mood about détente in the West.'

Richard Sykes, 26 March, 1976

'The steering brief sent to this Delegation in October 1973 described MBFR as 'primarily an exercise in damage limitation' ... More than fifteen years later, the negotiations have ended without an agreement; there has been no reduction in United States forces in Europe; the Warsaw Pact has itself announced unilateral reductions and withdrawals of forces; and the burden of unreduced military expenditure has made its contribution to the crippling of the Soviet economy which is Gorbachev's greatest single problem.'

Robert O'Neill (Vienna) to Sir Geoffrey Howe, 17 February, 1989


| Synopsis | Selected Extracts (Part 1) | The MBFR Songbook | Whitehall History Publishing |
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