Thatcher to Gorby: Don't Go Wobbly

As the 20th anniversary of the Cold War's conclusion comes closer, the London Times has published some choice excerpts from the Politburo transcripts. They include a remarkable meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher in 1989.

The interesting stuff starts when Thatcher announces, "Now I would like to say something in complete confidence and would ask you not to record this part of our conversation." The tape recorder was then shut off, but the transcriptionist reconstructed Thatcher's comments from memory:

We are very concerned about the processes taking place in Eastern Germany. Some big changes could happen there, forced partly by the state of the society and partly by the illness of Erich Honecker. One example of this is the flight of thousands of people from the GDR to the FRG. All of this is on the surface, it is very important but even more important is something else.

The reunification of Germany is not in the interests of Britain and Western Europe. It might look different from public pronouncements, in official communiqué at Nato meetings, but it is not worth paying one's attention to it. We do not want a united Germany. This would have led to a change to post-war borders and we can not allow that because such development would undermine the stability of the whole international situation and could endanger our security.

In the same way, a destabilisation of Eastern Europe and breakdown of the Warsaw Pact are also not in our interests. Of course, internal changes are happening in all Eastern European countries, somewhere they are deeper than in others. However, we would prefer if those processes were entirely internal, we would not interfere in them or push the de-communisation of Eastern Europe. I can say that the President of the United States is of the same position. He sent me a telegram to Tokyo in which he asked me directly to tell you that the United States would not do anything that might put at risk the security of the Soviet Union or perceived by the Soviet society as danger. I am fulfilling his request.

Those comments might not fit Thatcher's popular image, but it's not hard to recognize the woman in the transcript as the prime minister who transferred control of Hong Kong to Beijing. Just because you're a Cold Warrior doesn't mean you always put anticommunism first. (Or vice versa.) I should add that while Thatcher's fears about Germany seem silly in retrospect, much of the last paragraph is defensible. If she was sincere about opposing "a destabilisation of Eastern Europe and breakdown of the Warsaw Pact," that's monstrous, but the rest was for the best: Those "internal changes" proved pretty effective even without an extra "push" from the West.

That isn't the only interesting item the Times found in the archives. The paper notes, for example, that the Soviets "discussed pulling down the Berlin Wall themselves." And then there's this small bombshell:

Politicians who met Mr Gorbachev's advisers around Europe "say in unison that nobody wants a unified Germany". Astonishingly, [Kremlin aide Anatoli Chernayev] noted, in France [President Francois] Mitterrand was even thinking of a military alliance with Russia to stop it, "camouflaged as a joint use of armies to fight natural disasters".

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  • Mister DNA||

    The tape recorder was then shut off...



    Of course it was shut off. She learned her lesson after this was released.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Mister: Click on the photo.

  • Mister DNA||

    Curse you Jesse Walker! You're always one step ahead of me.

  • wayne||

    I guess everybody distrusts the Germans. What with two world wars and all. Funny that everybody seems to consider the Japanese so benign.

  • @||

    Sausage so tasty, hindsight so uncomfortable, results palatable.

  • EJM||

    Curse you Jesse Walker! You're always one step ahead of me.

    Just in case, for the original source of the picture, click here.

  • Franklin Harris||

    Funny that everybody seems to consider the Japanese so benign.



    No country responsible for this can possibly be benign.

  • ||

    Wow sounds like a bunch of bullshit to me. Tape shut off? Transcriber remembered everything? You need more to back this up...such as the letter the US sent...or any evidence at all.

    Hell Gorby is still alive lets talk to him...or what do the Kremlin records say. or what do US records say.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Just in case, for the original source of the picture, click here.

    I saw that movie when I was 10 and my mental image of Dennis Thatcher was set for life.

  • ||

    From official Politburo transcripts, eh?

    In related news, from official Korean Central News Agency transcripts, we've learned that all world leaders greatly admire the remarkable achievements of Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il, composer of six operas and legendary golf player who routinely makes three or four holes-in-one each round.

  • Jesse Walker||

    From official Politburo transcripts, eh?

    From the Politburo transcripts that Pavel Stroilov smuggled out of Russia before the relevant archives were sealed, yes. Unless you think Stroilov forged all those documents, I don't see why this isn't considered as reliable as the written minutes of any meeting. The transcript wasn't created for public consumption (and I'm not sure what the propaganda purpose of the tale would be anyway). It's what the rulers of the Soviet Union were recording for themselves.

  • ||

    So, in private, the insane warlords of the west admitted what everybody always knew: The Soviet Union was no threat to peace; quite the contrary. And the Soviets were solely responsible for the fall of communism, which Reagan and Thatcher were desperate to preserve, probably in the hope that it could prop up their own ludicrous and rapacious jury-rigged economies.

  • ||

    Yeah, I understand Jesse. It is interesting. I was just joking.

    In other news, we've got tire tariffs of 35%, to go with our new steel pipe tariffs, all applied to China of course.

  • tarran||

    MLF Lullaby

    Sleep, baby, sleep, in peace may you slumber,
    No danger lurks, your sleep to encumber,
    We've got the missiles, peace to determine,
    And one of the fingers on the button will be German.

    Why shouldn't they have nuclear warheads?
    England says no, but they are all soreheads.
    I say a bygone should be a bygone,
    Let's make peace the way we did in Stanleyville and Saigon.

    Once all the Germans were warlike and mean,
    But that couldn't happen again.
    We taught them a lesson in nineteen eighteen,
    And they've hardly bothered us since then.

    So sleep well, my darling, the sandman can linger,
    We know our buddies won't give us the finger.
    Heil--hail--the Wehrmacht, I mean the Bundeswehr,
    Hail to our loyal ally!
    MLF
    Will scare Brezhnev,
    I hope he is half as scared as I.

  • ||

    "We do not want a united Germany. This would have led to a change to post-war borders and we can not allow that because such development..." If this is genuine why the past tense? Typo?

  • ||

    Sausage making is ugly. The end result is generally tasty. If I believed in a deity, I'd thank it for the convergence of Thatcher and Reagan in the 80s. The world is better for it.

  • Jesse Walker||

    communism, which Reagan and Thatcher were desperate to preserve

    The president that Thatcher alludes to is Bush I, not Reagan.

    If this is genuine why the past tense? Typo?

    Typo, translation error, sloppy reconstruction of her words...there's plenty of possibilities.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Funny that everybody seems to consider the Japanese so benign.

    Y.T.'s grandpa, who was there for a while, told her that the Nipponese took over Vietnam during the war and treated it with the cruelty that was their trademark before we nuked them and they discovered that they were pacifists.

  • ||

    We might consider the Japanese benign, but I understand that opinions in east Asia are rather different.

  • Luke Johnson||

    Funny that everybody seems to consider the Japanese so benign.

    Y.T.'s grandpa, who was there for a while, told her that the Nipponese took over Vietnam during the war and treated it with the cruelty that was their trademark before we nuked them and they discovered that they were pacifists.



    See also Crytponomicon and Men Behind the Sun

  • ||

    We might consider the Japanese benign, but I understand that opinions in east Asia are rather different.



    Depends on the person, of course. My Taiwanese friends have little animosity towards the Japanese, despite having been conquered.

    My grandfather, Paul Thacker, was a survivor of the the Bataan Death March and a POW for three an a half years, including two years in Fukuoka POW Camp 17 in Omuta mining coal. But he never had any animosity for the Japanese as a people; he just considered it part of the horrors of war.

  • ||

    Jesse Walker,

    I thought this resistance to unification was well known back in the late 1990s.

  • Mister DNA||

    See also Crytponomicon and Men Behind the Sun



    Jesus. It's been over 15 years and I'm still trying to un-see Men Behind the Sun.

    Just read Wikipedia's article on Unit 731 and then go murder some children; afterwards, you'll probably feel better than you would had you watched Men Behind the Sun.

  • ||

    I don't see why anything Thatcher may have said to Gorbachev "in confidence" should be assumed to reflect her true beliefs or the policy of the UK, US, or NATO, as opposed to being an effort to reassure Gorbachev that his "Glasnost" and "Perestroika" efforts wouldn't be undercut. Her comments might reasonably be translated as: "You're doing a fine job weakening the East Bloc from within, Gorby. Don't be afraid we'll queer the deal by trying to destablize the Warsaw Pact or threaten Russian security like all your hardline opponents are claiming. We can wait."

    That said, I can see where Europe at the time might have been skittish about German reunification. The revelation about the French plans is particularly amusing. I remember thinking that the conceit of GDW's '80s role-playing game "Twilight 2000" -- World War III breaking out in the late '90s over an inter-German conspiracy to reunite -- was absurdly far-fetched. Maybe not...

  • Valhawk||

    People in the US generally consider Japan benign because after we nuked them and burned Tokyo to the ground, we basically rebuilt their government, and their whole society from the ground up.

    I mean at the moment they can't even declare war without provoking a constitutional crisis.

    Also, I'm with Umbrial on this one, what people say in politics has little to do with what they actually want.

  • A German||

    Politicians who met Mr Gorbachev's advisers around Europe "say in unison that nobody wants a unified Germany".

    And we got one anyway, fuck you rest of Europe.

    Germany! Germany! Germany!

  • ||

    This is actually not surprising at all. The British are, somewhat understandably, very anti-German or at least very wary of Germany. The British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) always saw itself as an occupation force, even when West Germany was a NATO ally against the Warsaw Pact. In fact, the British had a saying about the purpose of NATO: "Keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down."

  • Shannon Love||

    Since this is the sole source I've seen for this claim that Thatcher and other Western leaders did not want to see the fall of the Soviet block I think we can safely dismiss it. After nearly 20 years, the hundreds (if not thousands) of people involved at the highest levels setting policy would have talked about this.

    My spouse was an Eastern European studies major at that time and was reading a vast amount of material on foreign policy matters relating to the Soviet Union. Not a single major writer or policy maker ever hinted at the positions the article claims for Thatcher et al.

    This is just you classic communist rewriting of history to serve their own ends. It will be interesting to see who in west picks up these claims and says their true without any other evidence. It'll be a game like identifying communist in 1941 by watching those who switched from the anti-war to pro-war side the second Hitler attacked Stalin.

  • Fluffy||

    It has been the policy of the British government for about six hundred years to oppose the rising of any strong continental power. First they hated Spain, then they hated France, and then they hated Germany. Anything that could weaken a continental power or prevent a continental power from gaining strength has for that entire time been regarded as in Britain's policy interest.

    Although I tend to think that Thatcher was playing Gorbachev here, using false reassurances to keep him from reacting violently in Eastern Europe or East Germany until it was too late for him to do so. But if she wasn't, she was just being British instead of being Western.

  • JB||

    Jesse Walker, are you really that gullible?

    There is such a thing in diplomacy as telling the other party what they want to hear. It also happens in dating. 'No honey, you don't need to lose any weight'.

    This statement pretty much seals that interpretation:
    "However, we would prefer if those processes were entirely internal, we would not interfere in them or push the de-communisation of Eastern Europe."

    Translation: we will not interfere, so neither should you.

    Jesse, did you have too many beers at happy hour on Friday?

  • ||

    Yeah, I remember the new coverage of Germany's reunification being wierdly negative. All these ommentators fretting about the Germans adopting "Deutchland Uber Alles" as the national anthem, and worrying that they would try to conquor Europe yet again.

    Somehow I could help but get caught up in the infection joy, even when it was filtered through the lens of a bunch of skeptical liberal journalists. I suspect most of them were just irritated and upset that the East German Socialist republic had fallen, and had a hard time connecting feeling the joy.

  • ||

    Argh, my spelling is off today.

    ommentators/comenntators.
    could/couldn't.
    infection/infectious.

    etc.

  • max hats||

    The Germans I talked to in my office told me this was old news. The transcripts are new, but Germans have long believed that the western NATO powers tried to prevent unification.

  • Jesse Walker||

    There is such a thing in diplomacy as telling the other party what they want to hear.

    Yes, I know. What part of "If she was sincere" did you not understand?

  • JB||

    Yes, I know. What part of "If she was sincere" did you not understand?

    The entire rest of the post where you assume she was.

  • Jesse Walker||

    The entire rest of the post where you assume she was.

    I think she was sincere about not wanting Germany to reunify. I don't know if she was sincere about not wanting Eastern Europe "destabilized." I see different ways to read her comments about preferring internal processes -- and in that case, at any rate, I agree with the surface meaning of what she said. All of this is laid out in the post.

  • ||

    I think she was sincere about not wanting Germany to reunify.

    I think there was a certain level of "if we act like we want this to happen, the forces at work will make sure it doesn't" feeling going on.

    So to speak, the democratic socialists were okay with communism going down, just as long as the evil capitalist west didn't get any credit for it. They maybe had enough influence that they could have scared up some anti-capitalist reactionary forces in eastern europe and stalled the reforms if it looked like the "capitalist system" would benefit. But as long as Reagan and Thatcher pretended they didn't really want the Warsaw Pact to collapse, the social democrats could be lulled into believing this was some kind of internal reform within the socialist system.

  • qwerty||

    I think she was sincere about not wanting Germany to reunify.

    Try reading her memoirs: The Downing Street Years. She was completely open about wanting to delay reunification.

    "In Moscow the following morning and over lunch Mr. Gorbachev and I talked frankly about Germany...Of course, I did not want East Germans - any more than I would have wanted anyone else - to have to live under communism. But it seemed to me that a truly democratic East Germany would soon emerge and that the question of reunification was a separate one."

    I don't know if she was sincere about not wanting Eastern Europe "destabilized."

    I know. She wanted Eastern Europe to be free of Soviet influence, saw what was happening, and followed the old political maxim that when an enemy is destroying itself, don't interfere. Some people just can't stand the fact that conservatives won the cold war.

  • Jesse Walker||

    She wanted Eastern Europe to be free of Soviet influence, saw what was happening, and followed the old political maxim that when an enemy is destroying itself, don't interfere.

    That is one of the ways to read her comments, yes. As I said, those internal changes proved pretty effective even without an extra push from the West.

    Note also the possibility that Thatcher and Bush, while "of the same position," did not have identical views. (Mitterand, obviously, is yet another story.)

  • JB||

    Communist: Thatcher told us this so it must be truth! It's even better than what we read in Pravda!

    No one ever lied to the Communists during the Cold War. ...

  • ||

    Yet Another Domestic Terrorist | September 11, 2009, 9:57pm | #
    So, in private, the insane warlords of the west admitted what everybody always knew: The Soviet Union was no threat to peace; quite the contrary. And the Soviets were solely responsible for the fall of communism, which Reagan and Thatcher were desperate to preserve, probably in the hope that it could prop up their own ludicrous and rapacious jury-rigged economies.


    The soviets destroyed communism? So communism destroyed communism? If you believe that perhaps it is time to stop being a communist.

    It is funny you get this view from communists and communists states that free market capitalism will destroy itself....yet it turned out to be the exact opposite.

    *Well not the exact opposite...you get relatively free nations always trying to become more and more socialists but are always pushed back by the fact that free economies out compete controlled economies. They only destroy themselves when they over extent to far to the left.

  • ||

    From the Politburo transcripts that Pavel Stroilov smuggled out of Russia before the relevant archives were sealed, yes. Unless you think Stroilov forged all those documents, I don't see why this isn't considered as reliable as the written minutes of any meeting. The transcript wasn't created for public consumption (and I'm not sure what the propaganda purpose of the tale would be anyway). It's what the rulers of the Soviet Union were recording for themselves.

    What?

    You can't be that nieve Walker....you seriously think no one at the kremlin would have an interest in the late 80's in distorting internal documents in regards to Thatcher and her position on cold war matters??

    Really?

    What you have is one outlier piece of data that contradicts 1000s of other data points...

    Any scientist would be skeptical of that one outlier data point....

    Not to say it is not an interesting piece of data and it is definitely worth investigating but your whole hearted embrace that it is the one true truth is a bit unreasonable.

  • Jesse Walker||

    the one true truth

    I don't want to press this point too hard, since I am inclined to believe the account is accurate. But for the record: "as reliable as the written minutes of any meeting" does not mean "the one true truth."

  • ||

    But for the record: "as reliable as the written minutes of any meeting" does not mean "the one true truth."

    Fair enough.

    Are you guys at Reason making a concerted effort to respond more in the comments? I seem to see you guys at it more.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Are you guys at Reason making a concerted effort to respond more in the comments? I seem to see you guys at it more.

    Nah, just a coincidence.

  • Billy!||

    I don't think there's any shame in being frightened of a unified Germany. Those boys have a way about them, you know. Hell, I could easily see inter EU squabbling turning into another nasty bout between the Frenchies and them. The four most dangerous words in the English language- "This time it's different."

    "I love Germany so much I want to see as many Germanies as possible."- Paraphrased from some famous dude whose name escapes me.

  • Lord Jubjub||

    Didn't the German chancellor make a comment about German lands in Poland shortly after reunification? I seem to remember that created a short bit of controversy before he 'clarified' his remarks.

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