Ditchley Foundation Annual Lecture XXVII
13 July 1990
Towards a New Concert of Europe
The Rt Hon the Lord Carrington, KG, GCMG, CH, MC, PC
Chairman of Christie’s International plc. Secretary of State for Defence, 1970-74, for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, 1979-82, Secretary-General of NATO, 1984-88. and a Governor of the Ditchley Foundation.
Chairman of Christie’s International plc. Secretary of State for Defence, 1970-74, for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, 1979-82, Secretary-General of NATO, 1984-88. and a Governor of the Ditchley Foundation.
I face the task this evening with some diffidence. Of course I am greatly honoured that you should have asked me to give this lecture but rather overawed by this audience, with so many of whom I have worked over a great many years, whose advice I have taken, whose brains I have picked and whose experience in these matters is far greater than mine. I see before me serried ranks of ambassadors and I see the presence of the Foreign Secretary, who has filled successive jobs with such distinction, and who adds greatly to the occasion but also adds to my feeling of inadequacy. Someone in my position must be very careful to remember that he has retired from his last job in the public service, is probably wholly Out of touch, has not had the benefit, and the hard work, of reading the telegrams from all over the world. I also know enough about defence to realise that a month after you leave your job you are really totally out of date. Furthermore, it is no exaggeration to say that every morning when we pick up the newspapers something new and unexpected has happened. Perhaps nobody knows what is going on. It is wise therefore to be cautious about the future.
President Hoover, for example, was a very cautious man. When travelling one day in a train, his companion, looking out of the window, said to him, “I see that those sheep have been shorn”. President Hoover replied, “On one side, certainly”. I shall follow that example.
I noticed the other day, in an article in Newsweek, Dr Kissinger said that, whilst in Washington, President Gorbachev took him aside to say that a road map for the future was his most important concern. That seems to me to be an eminently sensible remark. We don’t have a road map. We are rather in the position that some of us were in during the War when in 1940 all the signposts in England were removed in case they might be useful to the enemy in the event of an invasion. It had the fairly predictable result that almost all our side got hopelessly lost. It is up to us now to put the signposts back and to build quite a lot of new roads.
Over this last year, the members of both our security and political alliances have become increasingly uncertain of the future and in which direction they should go. I think that is perfectly natural. For over forty-five years, we have assumed that such danger as there was, and I think that on several occasions there really was a danger came from the East and the Soviet Union. We did not see the likelihood of a Third World War from any other direction. Yes, there might be conflict in the rest of the world but it would not be the trigger which caused a Third World War. In that belief, we have over these last years concentrated on building a political and security system designed to deter and prevent a war in Europe - the one area in which conflict would certainly involve the whole world. It was expensive. It was sometimes difficult to maintain the cohesion of the Alliance but we managed it, and we managed it rather successfully. On a few occasions, such as the beginning of Mr Khrushchev’s period as General Secretary, it seemed possible that a real change was likely but something always happened to give us a fright, and the Alliance held together. Fear is a powerful cement.
I have a feeling too that, though all of us were sincerely dedicated to the reduction of East-West tension, to arms control agreements, to making constructive proposals of both a political and military kind, none of us really believed that we were going to be successful. We thought, perhaps, that there would be a partial easing of tension, a reduction in the quite excessive level of armaments, but not a sea change which would totally transform East-West relations and call into question the purposes of the NATO Alliance. When Mr Gorbachev first appeared on the scene
- though he was quite clearly a different character from his predecessor - not even the most optimistic of us supposed that in so short a period of time he would change the whole scenario of international relations.
And it really has been a short time. Less than three years ago, when I was at NATO, a number of countries were adamant that the Secretary General should in no circumstances ever talk with any representative of the Warsaw Pact. I remember one occasion when the Hungarian Ambassador at Brussels wished to deliver to me
personally the communiqué of the Warsaw Pact which had just finished a meeting in Budapest. Several countries rejected the idea that I should even shake hands with him, and he was made to deliver his communiqué to the guard at the gates of NATO Headquarters. Today, Dr. Wörner is visiting Moscow and calling on Mr Shevardnadze and Mr Gorbachev. And the Czechs are inside the NATO building, having discussions with the Political Committee. Times have certainly changed.
It is, of course, interesting to speculate on why this ha happened. Was it entirely economic? Did he see that the future of the Soviet Union as a super power was unsustainable unless there was a strong economy to support him. Did he look at the example of Japan and see that military power is not in itself the essential factor for world influence? Did he realise when he set his course for perestroika and glasnost that the inevitable result would be the loss o Soviet domination over Eastern Europe and indeed would create problems for him in the very heart of the Soviet Socialist Republic?
Whatever the answers to these questions, the fact is that he has done it and we now have to take account in our own thinking of the changes which have taken place. We should surely ask ourselves, first of all, which of these changes are irreversible or, to put it another way, of what can we be absolutely certain? Clearly, the unification c Germany is one certainty. Monetary union has already taken place and elections are fixed for later this year. It is accepted by everyone that the unified Germany will be member of the European Community and all the member of NATO are anxious that a united Germany should be member of the Alliance, as I believe it should and certainly will be. I think that will be good for Germany, good forth Community and good for the Alliance.
Secondly, it is not possible to believe that there would be circumstances in which Eastern Europe would once again come under the political domination of the Soviet Union. Most of the East European countries have to deal with a very difficult economic situation. There may well be disillusion and political unrest. In Romania, for example, the Communists are still in control and there is a thoroughly nasty régime. No one can say for certain what the final outcome in any of these countries will be, am probably there will be different solutions for each of them Even so, I don’t think it possible that there will be a return to the circumstances prevailing before the arrival of M Gorbachev. We have therefore to deal with an entirely different situation in Eastern Europe, its relationship with Western Europe and the established organisations of both East and West.
Thirdly, we can be absolutely sure that the Warsaw Pact in its military form is dead. Some countries have already decided to leave it, others wish to change it into political organisation. Whatever the outcome, there can N no question of the Pact being any longer a cohesive military alliance. Its demise has undoubtedly meant that the military capability of the Soviet Union to take aggressive action in Western Europe would be much more difficult, would have a much longer lead time, and so then is scope for saving and reduction in defence expenditure.
These then are the certainties on which we can plan with a good deal of confidence. But there are also uncertainties. The Soviet Union will never be the same again. Too much change has taken place. But it is far too early to see clearly how events in Moscow will unfold. One thing, however, is clear. We must ourselves take account of Soviet uncertainty, particularly in the military field, if we are to create a lasting peace.
If I were a Soviet General, I would be inclined to feel that the world had collapsed around my ears. In exactly the same way that we have found security over these last forty- five years, the Soviets have built up a political and military system which has assured them that attack from Western Europe, however unlikely it may seem to us, would prove very difficult. After all, the purpose of Yalta was to create an Eastern Europe dominated by the Soviet Union which would ensure a depth of defence against invasion, a front line hundreds of miles from the Soviet border. The Warsaw Pact, formed as a reaction to the birth of NATO, gave added reassurance. The whole of this elaborate system has now collapsed. The Warsaw Pact no longer exists in anything other than name. My Soviet General would not feel encouraged to believe that, in the event of war, the Czechs and the Hungarians and the Poles would necessarily feel obliged to support the Soviet Union, or to provide facilities for Soviet troops. However far-fetched we may think Soviet fears of invasion are, we have to remember the history of Russia and the appalling experiences that they have undergone not all that long ago.
I believe that recently we have seen some of these fears surfacing in some of the arms control negotiations. The Soviet military have been much more in evidence in bilateral talks between the USA and the Soviet Union. In Vienna, the talks have, at any rate for the moment, slowed down. It must be assumed that the misgivings and anxieties of the Soviet military are the likely cause. We therefore have to reassure the Soviet Union that our intentions are peaceful and that the changes of circumstances in the last year or so do not endanger the homeland of Russia.
The other and greater uncertainty is what is going to happen in the Soviet Union itself. We cannot with any conviction say that Mr Gorbachev is firmly in the saddle, though things went well for him this week, or at any rate until yesterday, nor can we at the present time see a very credible alternative, nor, in the circumstances, see what an alternative leader would do. If a more radical man than Mr Gorbachev were to take his place, how would he satisfy the demands of the Russian public for more consumer goods, more food in the shops and a higher standard of living? It might even be that a more radical solution would in the short term make things worse.
On the other hand, how could a return to what are rather irritatingly called the “conservative” leaders achieve anything? In the current circumstances, could a hardline General Secretary re-introduce the sort of repressive measures that were common enough a few years ago? Jam inclined to doubt it. Are we not, so to speak, seeing Kerensky in reverse? Once a counterrevolution starts, can you stop it? When you take the lid off a boiling kettle, it is a brave man who tries to put it on again.
Given these circumstances, it seems to me that the Heads of Government in their meeting in London last week produced an admirable communiqué. What was said should be reassuring to the Soviet Union. There is a clear statement from the Alliance that they do not intend to take any military advantage of the situation. The proposal that Mr Gorbachev should address the Alliance seems to me a very good one, and may help to bolster Mr Gorbachev’s position in the Soviet Union. The idea that NATO is to become an institution where Europeans, Canadians and Americans work together to build new partnerships with all the nations of Europe is a worthy aim. And, if there is an element of ambiguity in the phrase that “nuclear weapons will be weapons of last resort”, I don’t mind too much, since I find it difficult to imagine that they can ever have been anything else. Nobody in their senses would have used nuclear weapons except in extremis, and anyway “flexible response” meant exactly that. The real change we hope to see is a reduction in the disparity between the opposing conventional forces which makes an early use of nuclear weapons wholly unnecessary.
This brings me to the one hesitation that I have about the communiqué, or rather what is not in the communiqué. Of course it is obvious that Mr Gorbachev has no aggressive intention against the West. But intentions can change very quickly, as can leaders and regimes. In matters of security on which our whole way of life depends, we must, however difficult it is, be prudent. The fact of Soviet military power still exists on an enormous scale - the nuclear weapons, the conventional armaments, the naval power - all remain broadly unaltered. They are there.
Indeed, I think Jam right in saying that only in the field of tank production has the output of military hardware declined. Aircraft, guns, ships are still rolling out from the Soviet factories. I have noticed in most of the countries of the Alliance and, indeed, in our own, a tendency, perhaps understandable since all governments wish to save money on defence and use it for other more attractive political purposes, unilaterally to embark on reviews of their defence policies and commitments. This is true in the Netherlands, in Belgium, in this country and elsewhere.
If the Alliance is to remain cohesive and effective, whilst the military capacity of the Soviet Union remains broadly unchanged, then the decisions as to the level of armaments and the strategy necessary must be taken by the Alliance as a whole and not by each individual nation deciding for itself what it is prepared to do and what it can afford. Of course I don’t pretend that this is very easy for democratic governments. They will be told that they are ignoring the new situation. They will be under great pressure from opposition parties to reduce the levels of expenditure. Statements will be made, as they are already being made, that it is inconceivable in any circumstances that the Soviet Union could be an aggressor. It takes a lot of courage and leadership to rebut these sort of arguments. And, if I may say so, I think the Prime Minister and President Mitterrand were quite right in what they said on the need for caution. If the Alliance is to remain credible in the face of current Soviet military capacities, it will be increasingly difficult for our negotiators in Vienna to conclude a successful agreement on the reduction of conventional forces unless there is an Alliance position on strategy and force levels which has been agreed by everyone.
I don’t know what went on in the private sessions of the Heads of Government meeting in London but I hope very much that somebody said quite firmly that there had to be Alliance consultation. If that makes sense, and I think it does, then it is all the more important that we should press on in Vienna in reducing conventional forces and particularly the offensive weapons such as tanks, bridging equipment, artillery, and combat aircraft, and reduce them far beyond the present proposals which are before the negotiators. There can really be no real confidence on either side until this is done.
It should be said, and here again nobody will want to hear it, that this may take a little time. Arms control agreements must be very carefully verified to give the assurance to both sides that what has been agreed has really been carried out. Verification is quite complicated and destruction is fairly difficult. After all, a tank is constructed for the purpose of making it as indestructible as one can and it is not all that easy to break it up.
But supposing everything does go well, as I hope it will. Supposing that we succeed in reducing offensive armaments on both sides, that the threat of an all-out war recedes to the point at which it is almost unthinkable. What then? How do we see the future of Europe, its relations with the United States and the NATO Alliance? What would the Alliance be for? Is it necessary? What will be the threat if the main purpose for which the Alliance was created has to all intents and purposes disappeared? One thing is certain; the Alliance will have to change. It is inconceivable that the expensive and elaborate paraphernalia of NATO could or should continue in these very changed circumstances. But there still remains for it a very important role, both political and military. The Alliance should evolve, and I stress the world evolve, into something quite a hit different. It must be concerned about the military because governments must always be prepared for the unexpected, because the unexpected almost always happens. I remember very well when I was Secretary of State for Defence, twenty years ago, asking the Chiefs of Staff on how many occasions British troops had been engaged since the Second World War on active service and on how many occasions the incident had been foreseen. I think, if I remember rightly, that the answer was that they had been in action forty-two times and only on two of those occasions had it been foreseen and had there been any contingency plan.
We would therefore be most unwise to assume even in the circumstances which I have described that there could be no case in which Western Europe would be at risk. However well the START talks may go, the Soviet Union or Russia will still be the possessor of powerful nuclear weapons and whatever happens in the Soviet Union, Russia will still be a formidable power. What happens if there is a break-up of the Soviet Union, which could lead to trouble in and outside what are now Soviet borders? Countries outside Europe, which at the present time don’t have nuclear weapons, may at some time or another acquire them. Nationalism and fundamentalism are on the increase and there is always the unforeseen. Some defence and consultative arrangements will be necessary, though of course on a much smaller scale than now.
I believe that in all this the continued participation of the United States is absolutely essential. Of course there is a danger that, as the military threat fades, the United States will not wish to maintain a military presence in Europe. Of course there will be voices raised in Congress and outside suggesting that the time has come when the United States should withdraw, a sentiment no doubt encouraged by the size of the budgetary deficit if it is still there and the balance of payments problem if that is still there.
On the other hand, the Americans are used to NATO. They know what it’s about, they understand its purpose and feel comfortable with it. I have never heard a Congressman advocate withdrawal from NATO, however much they have called for greater European commitment to its own defence and a larger share of the burden to be undertaken by their European allies. Any new organisation would neither have congressional support nor public backing. Nor I think would any President attempt te introduce such a new organisation. So we must try to use NATO in some new form if we are going to retain American involvement.
It is as well to remember that alliances do not last very long if there is not a healthy self-interest on all sides. II then we are to retain American involvement in Europe, the scope of NATO should be widened to include consultation and collaboration on economic and political affairs, which are becoming of increasing interest and concern to the United States vis-à-vis Europe. I believe that it is an acceptable and sensible price to pay for continued American participation.
I have said on a number of occasions, and have been sternly rebuked by some, that the exclusion of defence from the ambit of discussion in the European Community no longer makes any sense at all. Twelve countries, their economies increasingly integrated, moves to common currencies, increasing co-ordination of foreign policy, closer political collaboration and talk of political union make il increasingly improbable that the one subject which the twelve countries never discuss is that of their own security. The fact that neutral Ireland does not belong to NATO is said by some to be an obstacle but I cannot believe that the Irish, prepared as they are to become so closely associated in all other ways with their European partners, would in the altered circumstances ignore the defence aspects of that association. And it would be even more apparent than now, with a negligible threat from the East, that NATO is a purely defensive organisation.
If, then, the European Community becomes more responsible for itself in matters of security, it has somehow to be accommodated within the Alliance. I don’t think that this is an insoluble problem, provided that the USA is a willing partner. There would, undeniably, be a difficulty, not least that the Americans would find it wholly unacceptable for there to be a Community policy carefully hammered out before any meeting of the NATO Council which would then be presented to them as non-negotiable. There would have to be some arrangement in which there would be real consultation long before that between the North Americans and the Europeans.
There is a real difficulty here, in that the inevitable compromises in achieving a common policy in the Community make it extremely difficult subsequently to modify it. But I am sure that anything less than a relatively open European position would make NATO unworkable. There would, of course, be no objection - rather the reverse - to the continued membership in the organisation of those countries which are outside the Community but at present members of NATO. The Alliance would evolve into an organisation in which current threats, current levels of defence, current political and current economic problems affecting all its members would be discussed.
I spoke earlier on about the insecurity which the Soviet Union may now feel about their defence policy and, more particularly, over the changed status of the countries of Eastern Europe. There is much to be said for a neutral Eastern Europe - an agreement entered into by all parties, the NATO countries, the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries, restricting the level of defence forces and acceptance of neutrality between East and West - a Finlandisation, if you like, of Eastern Europe. This might be very welcome to Eastern European countries themselves facing as they do appalling economic problems - defence expenditure is not going to be very popular. It would certainly be reassuring to the Soviet Union because you would recreate something of what happened in the past, and I think that it might be rather reassuring to the West also.
But the immediate issue which faces us is how to associate Eastern Europe, and the neutral countries of Europe such as Sweden and Austria, in the new and developing structure of the whole of Europe. Much will depend on how we see the future of the Community and whether or not we believe that it is capable of immediate expansion in such a way that it could accommodate countries which already are seeking membership. I must say that I am one of those who does not think it can or should. I stress the word “immediate” for I am in no way saying that there should never be enlargement. Nor am I saying that there should not be economic collaboration. But full membership at the present time, no. At the present moment, in a sea of uncertainty, the Community is an island of relative stability. The inclusion of one of the Warsaw Pact countries, for example, would raise very difficult problems for political co-operation on foreign affairs, let alone the problems which would inevitably arise from economies which are changing very suddenly from the Communist system to a market economy. The Community has got enough on its plate already with 1992 and the very important issues of the pace of monetary and political union. It would, I think, be dangerous to put at risk the progress that we have made by an over-ambitious expansion of a Community still not firmly advancing in total agreement .
It will be no secret to a number of people here that I have been a firm supporter of wholehearted British membership of the Community for a very great number of years. But none of us, however strong a supporter we may be, has ever felt that there were not very difficult problems of tradition, style, timing and circumstance to be overcome before we reach Monsieur Monnet’s ultimate goal.
If I may give an example of what I mean. Both in NATO and the EC Council of Ministers it struck me how differently various countries react to the wont “concept” Our German and French friends thrive on concepts. The British, the Dutch, and I think the Danes are more pragmatic, they are wary of the abstract or, as they see it, imprecision and are determined to find out what is meant, what is involved, and what the consequences might or could be. In a sense, both sides are right. You cannot make any progress unless there is a concept. Without one, there is no objective. If Monsieur Monnet had not had the concept of the European Community and the energy to gel support for the idea, there would be no European Community.
At the same time, to talk in general terms of the need for political unity at a particular date not all that distant, without being in any way specific as to what is meant, is something to which it is surely legitimate and sensible to ask “what do you mean?”. Chancellor Kohl and President Mitterrand quite properly felt that it was right to make a statement which was perhaps more rhetorical than specific about the need in the future for Europe to get closer together. The unification of Germany and the issues which that will bring seem to have, quite understandably, demanded a commitment on the part of the Community to a closer relationship with each other and with a united Germany. For the French, the motive is to ensure continued German involvement in Western Europe; for the Germans, to reassure their allies that they are deeply committed to the Community and the West.
To understand the motives that lie behind the different attitudes to concepts of this kind is to avoid some of the misunderstandings which arise. But one thing I beg of my fellow countrymen: do not let us make the mistake of isolating ourselves from discussions which take place on these concepts. It is important that, whether the talks be about monetary or political union, we in Britain should be in on them from the very beginning. The empty chair is never a sensible way of doing things.
I think that, in the long term, we shall move towards greater political unity and that should be our aim. But it can only happen when the peoples of the European Community as a whole want it and believe that the process ol integration and understanding and friendship has reached the point where it would be possible to make it work. To force it through prematurely on a timetable would be neither practicable nor desirable. Nor for one moment dc I think that this is the intention either of the French or the Germans or anyone else. I do not believe that France, with its long tradition of national sovereignty, is, in certain important fields, as yet any more prepared to abandon it than we are.
If then, as I believe to be right, we do not enlarge the Community, there has to be some forum which enables the countries of Europe not in the EC and the Soviet Union and the United States and Canada to consult together and discuss their problems. I was very pleased to see in the London communiqué that it is proposed that the CSCE should have an enhanced role. One of the ironies of the last few years is how fashionable the CSCE has become. During the negotiations at Helsinki and subsequently, it was held to be a plot devised by the Soviet Union to legitimise their hold over Eastern Europe and consolidate their post-war frontiers. It was greatly criticised in the West as an example of the feebleness of Western diplomacy and generally regarded as a defeat for the West and a triumph for the Soviet Union.
I always thought these criticisms rather unfair because, in spite of the disregard of the East Europeans for human rights, the Treaty was a standard, a benchmark to which all the signatories of the CSCE had agreed and was used as such to some considerable effect. Now, the CSCE is in fashion again and it certainly does seem the appropriate forum in which Europeans, the Soviet Union and the USA can discuss their problems. The Soviet Union can feel that they are part of and involved in the development of Europe, whilst the USA can feel that they have a contribution to make to the future development of Europe as a whole.
If this new pattern of Europe were to take place, there would be something in it for everyone. The European Community, as I believe inevitable and proper, would become concerned with its own security but it would do so under the umbrella of the NATO Alliance, which would bring with it the assurance of American involvement and support. The Americans, now the only super-power in the world, would have the opportunity to take part in discussion of the future trends and development in Europe, political, economic and military. The Soviet Union would be given the security of a neutral belt between themselves and any potential aggressor, and everyone - neutral, NATO, Soviet, Canadian, American - would, under the auspices of the CSCE, take part in all the developments affecting their national and international concerns.
There are, I have no doubt, considerable difficulties in achieving these ends, even were they to be agreed by everybody. It was simpler, I suppose, when we were in the frostiest bits of the cold war, when the one quality required - perhaps the only quality - was resolution. But I would far rather be where we are today, with all its uncertainties. I never for one moment thought I would live to see the events of the last few months. With the resolution we showed in the long years of confrontation, together with a lot of foresight and even more common sense, we can build safer and more sensible world.
Vote of Thanks
Moved by the Secretary Of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, The Rt Hon Douglas Hurd, CBE, MP
Moved by the Secretary Of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, The Rt Hon Douglas Hurd, CBE, MP
Lord Hunt, Lord Carrington, your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, there is no more pleasant place in England than Ditchley on a summer evening and no more stimulating occasion than a review by Peter Carrington, which has been thorough, stimulating and yet cautious and authoritative. I think that there were points which people would have wished to pick up, or can pick up in discussion afterwards, but no-one can doubt the completeness and the authority.
I have just moved back into his room, into the proper Foreign Secretary’s room overlooking the park, and that has revived memories of the lessons which I absorbed in that room from Peter ten years ago.
Creative pessimism was very much in evidence as a diplomatic technique, which I recommend. He guided with increasing success, across the park, the Rhodesian independence negotiations, but the reports which he brought back to his junior ministers were of unrelieved gloom. Day by day we were told about how awful it was, how impossible everybody was and how it was certainly not going at all well. But it began to be clear to us from other sources that actually it was beginning to go rather well and that it might actually reach an agreement. Then the gloom became even more pervasive: we might think this, we might hear all these rubbishy reports, but it was going to end in tears - he was absolutely certain of it. So that the final success, and his part in it, came with an added excitement and an added effect - and that worked very well.
Creative ignorance, too. I remember vividly a particularly technical meeting on nuclear proliferation. The briefing had been extensive, as one would expect, and we came into the room, and there was the briefing lying all over the floor. “I can’t understand all this, science was invented since I was at school. Who is going to explain all this?” And some young man, greatly daring, began to utter, and after a bit he was exposed to the most ruthless cross- examination, of which even the Prime Minister would have been proud. And there again, it worked very well.
Peter was quite right about the pace of events. We’ve been to three summits in three weeks, which is excessive, and I must ask the senior practitioners here just to give a little of their time to devising how one can slow down this particular merry-go-round. It really is not sensible to have three summits in three weeks and to move from a very important summit in London to a very important summit in Houston without a proper night’s sleep, or a drawing in of breath. I say this with particular feeling because at summit meetings it is common-place for the Foreign Ministers to be sent out of the room, certainly before the port, and sometimes even before the pudding, to do the necessary drafting. On one of these occasions the next morning the Prime Minister said to me, “I hear you were in bed at half past one - you must be slacking!” I don’t know whether Foreign Ministers are better or worse at drafting than Heads of State and Government, but they’re not awfully good at it. But after dinner, they do fancy themselves, and we all go back to being Second Secretaries manqués and worrying about that comma, or whatever, which really is not our place. Therefore, would you please consider how this can be calmed down, slowed down, with diplomats returning to their proper places as the people who actually do the work?
These gatherings consider many arguments and many issues, and it’s a great mistake, as practitioners here know, to regard them as bunfights, as simple occasions for recreation and idle chat. The issues involved in all three of the summits in the last three weeks have really been quite formidable and the arguments sway to and fro. There are rarely the kind of settled alliances between countries of which the newspapers write. You find that on one issue and one evening, you are on the same side of the argument as the French or the Germans or the Americans and on another issue with the Japanese. But certain fundamentals stay.
I would like to say a word pictorially about the Houston summit. It brought home how fortunate we are to have as the leader of our Alliance a country like the United States, with a city - the fourth biggest city - a city which did things which I don’t think any city in England would do, and perhaps not in Europe: raised millions and millions of dollars voluntarily from its citizens to bid us welcome, to tidy the place up. So that every hamburger joint, every filling station had the flags of all the countries, and at the end - this happened spontaneously - as we drove from the University where the conference was held to the press centre, we drove through three or four miles of crowded streets, lined with people, out in the sun - the very hot sun - waving and cheering and glad that we were there. It was remarkable, and it brought home the essence of America and the kind of cause for which Ditchley exists and to which you still devote so much of your effort.
Other things remain fundamental too, and I say something now this evening which I shouldn’t have to say but I think it is a good thing to say, that the alliance, partnership and friendship between this country and France and Germany lie at the heart of British foreign policy. The fact of the matter is that lingering memories of the past do not, and cannot, prevent, month by month, as almost everyone here knows, the building and strengthening of these friendships, partnerships, between governments, between organisations, between professions, between young people, between all sorts and conditions of men and women. This is going on all the time and it is irreversible and most people here contribute in one way or another to it. Just as irreversible is the steady, step-by-step strengthening of cooperation within the European Community and its institutions, in which we take a willing and active part, as the Prime Minister made clear in her statement to the House of Commons after the Dublin European Council. It is, of course, easier and quicker in the short run to damage these processes than to strengthen them and a few phrases which I won’t qualify with adjectives this evening can set back the patient work of months for a short time - for a short time. Many of you, as diplomats, have lived through these moments when you just have to pick up the bits, which occasionally is a shade wearying but undoubtedly good for the soul.
Peter spent a lot of his time, as one would expect from him, analysing the prospects for the Alliance of which he was a very distinguished Secretary General. I entirely agree with the analysis which he made of the Soviet Union, as a political system disintegrating now. It was clear to me, clear to Hella Pick, clear to those of us who visited the Soviet Union in April, that the system was going to break up. It is breaking up and you have an amazingly agile and courageous leader leaping from ice floe to ice floe as it breaks up and if anybody can - to change the metaphor - steer the Soviet Union through this position, it will be that leader, President Gorbachev. I agree with Peter that there’s no question, whatever happens, of the Soviet Union reasserting in tow that kind of power over central and eastern Europe which gave NATO its original justification. So, therefore, at the NATO Summit, we had to devise a double message: the message to the Soviet Union, to Gorbachev, but also to the be-medalled military - what Gerasimov calls the ‘crumbling generals’ - that they did win the last war, that all that effort, that sacrifice was not actually in vain, that no-one is threatening Russia, that no- one is proposing measures, or uneven humiliations for them; and that, on the contrary, NATO is willing through the signals of people being invited to open liaison offices, of Gorbachev being invited to come, of all the sketching out of disarmament and arms control, prospects which we set out there, is willing to give that message of reassurance. That they should not worry about German unification within NATO, because in fact, against the background that Peter sketched, against the offers and the perspectives which we set uut in that communiqué, they can be part of that, they can help, and they can be reassured by it.
But at the same time we had to give the other part of the message: that NATO, the need for NATO, remains, and that NATO is not just a talking-shop, not just a club, to which you pay a subscription and drop in for an occasional pleasant chat, but something with an essential core: of mutual guarantees so that if any one of the sixteen is attacked, the others help; of American and Canadian troops stationed in Europe; of the British Army of the Rhine stationed in Europe under a different arrangement; of a mix of conventional and nuclear weapons; of an integrated command. These are not disposable features, because if you begin to unravel them, then you are beginning to lose the essence of NATO. We had to give that double message. It is spelt out there, and it did take a certain amount of doing, and a bit of argument from time to time on parts of it, but I’m sure it’s right. I think that Peter’s warning about how we all work out our defence plans (as we are all doing, I don’t think there’s a member country of NATO which isn’t at work on that) is right. As a former Secretary-General (and Manfred WOmer would corroborate it with heartfelt feeling) he knows that before you set your plans in the form of decisions which you announce, you have to allow NATO to relate them to the plans of others. The plans do need to work together, otherwise you will begin to fray and the result will be not an integrated, not a sensible, level of defence, but something which is incoherent. That is an extremely important point.
Another point which I entirely corroborate is the point which raised applause from yourselves, about the Community and the empty chair. I have been keen and successful in resisting any temptation which we might have had to quarrel with proposals that something should be discussed, to avoid getting involved in all those poisonous, procedural arguments. If partners in the Community want to discuss matters, then they should be discussed, and we should be there, and not just sitting on the chair, but with ideas which are truly European and which may provoke argument. That is how the Community advances, and we shall put forward at these various conferences and discussions our ideas of a more liberal, of an open Europe and they will be up for discussion along with other people’s ideas; the empty chair is not (I think the French Ambassador would agree) a British concept, and we have no intention of practising it.
Final point - but it sums up very much what Peter was saying about the need for caution. There is a need just to keep an eye on the times, because history has not come to an end and with history goes uncertainty and danger. The fact that one particular danger has rolled back does not mean that other dangers will not in time take its place. Of course they will, we know they will, anyone with any sense of history knows they will, and that if you have dismantled all the work of the institutions - policies designed to avert a particular danger - if you have rolled all that away and the habit of working together, making sacrifices together, if you’ve lost all that, then the act of re-creating it is a very painful and dangerous business. So that is, I’m sure, something that we have to contribute to the discussion.
I was in Washington, on the Hill, in the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee in January, and we were discussing, in a slightly lackadaisical way, the peace dividend, and how fast forces should be run down and the Congressional pressures on the defence budget. All this discussion was going on and a messenger came in in a tailcoat with a piece of paper which said simply that Gorbachev had resigned. It took about ten minutes to establish that this was not true, but during those ten minutes, this discussion rather withered away. It didn’t seem to make a great deal of sense any more to go on in detailed discussions of the peace dividend and who was to benefit from it. I learned something from those ten minutes of uncertainty and I think it is just worth recalling the uncertainties of the world which will persist.
There are many of us who have many reasons to be grateful to Peter but we are all grateful to him for tonight, for that masterly survey. Everyone here will have been given something to think about, something to reflect on, something not to worry about, but to ponder, and therefore we are wiser and better off as a result. Thank you very much.