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".