29 October 2006

Professor Lawrence Freedman report on Michael John Smith

As it was an important issue at my trial, here is more on the issue of whether Russia was an “enemy” in 1992. This time Professor Lawrence Freedman was asked to comment.

Opinion from Professor Lawrence Freedman

1. Introduction
1.1. I have been asked to comment on the ‘enemy’s issue’ in relation to the indictment against Mr Michael Smith. I have been asked to produce a chronology of events from 1980 as well as an opinion on ‘whether the Soviets/Russian state was our enemy during this time’.

1.2. I should state that I have no knowledge of the details of the case against Mr Smith, including what it is he is alleged to have communicated and to whom. My focus is solely on the criterion stated in the indictment that the material communicated could be judged ‘directly or indirectly useful to an enemy’. This criterion implies the existence of ‘an enemy’. If Britain lacks an enemy then the issue of utility does not arise. Much of this comment is therefore taken up with this question of the existence of an enemy to the British state.

1.3. This comment is divided into three parts. The first discusses the nature of the problem, and concludes that the question of enmity is one of potential as much as a current reality, but that this potential should be recognized in defence planning. The second part looks at views on the Soviet Union during the 1980s, with a particular focus on the earlier years when East-West tensions were high and it might have been supposed that the sense of enmity would be high. In fact this discussion suggests that even then views of the Soviet Union were complex and spoke of a direct threat more in terms of a future possibility as much as an imminent danger. Lastly I consider the first two years of the 1990s. This period includes clear statements that the Soviet Union - and then Russia - should not be considered an enemy, but also warnings that things could take a turn for the worst and that this should be recognized in defence planning. There is therefore more continuity in official views on this matter than one might expect through the transition from the cold war. I include a chronology and some relevant documents as appendices.

2. The Problem
2.1. It is important to clarify exactly what is required for something to be ‘useful to an enemy’. Although I am not a lawyer I have read the authorities on this matter supplied with my instructions. These tend to confirm my own initial reading that the use of the indefinite rather than the definite article is crucial. Had the indictment specified ‘the enemy’ then it would have been necessary to identify a specific state with an avowed hostile intent towards this country and would really only be relevant at times of war. ‘An enemy’ is far less specific. It could be taken to mean that the communicated material would be of value to any other state, or even group, wishing to do this country harm now or at some point in the future. Hence the judgement in R v Parrott that the reference to an enemy is only to ‘a potential enemy with whom we might some day be at war’.

2.2. The maintenance of substantial armed forces indicates that the government has not ruled out the possibility of ‘an enemy’ at some point in the future. To suggest that this country lacks potential enemies would thus call into question the whole basis of defence policy. As my instructions specifically mention the Soviet Union/Russia I therefore take the issue to be one of whether the Soviet Union and then Russia could really be considered a ‘potential enemy’ during the period in which the offences are alleged to have been committed (1 January 1990 to 8 August 1992).

2.3. The timing is relevant because the previous month, when meeting in Malta, Presidents Bush and Gorbachev had declared the cold war to be over, as a natural consequence of the breaching of the Berlin Wall and the effective collapse of the Warsaw Pact. 1990 opened with expectations, to which the British and other western governments responded, for reconsideration of the levels of defence provisions in the light of the severely reduced threat. Thus after a period during which the Soviet Union had been referred to regularly as a ‘potential enemy’ there was great stress on the possibility of harmonious and cooperative relations with the Soviet Union. It could now be spoken of as a ‘former enemy’. ‘Former enemies’ can become ‘potential enemies’ again, as happened to Germany in the 1930s, on the other hand, they can also become allies, as happened with Germany after the Second World War. Within the mainstream of British politics few would now consider Germany a ‘potential enemy’. Of course, speculations on the impact of a unified state suggested scenarios in which Germany might once again become a threat. In this sense the uncertainty of international life might mean that a great range of states could turn into adversaries at some point in the future. However it seems to me that any useful definition of a ‘potential enemy’ requires that it forms the basis for the development of defence plans.

2.4. This focus is helpful for another reason. Inevitably a basic task of defence policy is to prevent a potential enmity being realised. This is the guiding assumption behind a policy of deterrence. Thus to describe another state as a potential enemy does not contain a prediction that it will become one at some point in the future, but only that there is a greater likelihood of this coming about if adequate defence provision is not made.

2.5. Given Britain’s defence commitments potential enemies include not only countries who might pose a threat to the United Kingdom or its NATO allies but also to other nations dependent upon Britain for defence - notably the Falkland Islands (Argentina), Belize (Guatemala) and Hong Kong (China). In addition during the relevant period Britain went to war with Iraq as part of an international coalition seeking to liberate Kuwait. Following the war it was involved in actions to police a safe haven for Kurds in northern Iraq and, at the end of the period, to enforce a no-fly zone in southern Iraq. Furthermore the IRA considers itself to be at war with the British state and any support given to this group could be considered as help to an enemy. Thus an inevitable question is whether the Soviet Union/Russia could serve as a conduit for material of benefit to these potential - and actual - enemies.

3. Threat Perceptions in the 1980s
3.1 The origins of the framework with which British policymakers viewed the Soviet Union until the late 1980s are to be found in the years after the second world war, when they concluded along with other leaders of the Western democracies that the exploitation by the Soviet Union of the distressed position of post-war Europe was now a menace to the whole continent. It was a position that was reached reluctantly but, once reached, it was firmly held. Sir Nicholas Henderson, in his book on the formation of NATO, summarizes the views of the British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, in January 1948 as follows:

The Soviet Government had formed a solid political and economic bloc. There was no prospect in the immediate future of re-establishing and maintaining normal relations between the countries either side of the Soviet line. It would only be possible to stem the further encroachment of the Soviet tide by organizing and consolidating the ethical and spiritual forces of Western civilization. [Sir Nicholas Henderson, The Birth of NATO, (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1982), p.3.]

3.2. It was soon decided that military forces would be required as well. The signing of the North Atlantic Treaty and the later establishment of an Integrated Military Command formed a context for British security policy that no succeeding government thought to challenge. As the years have passed the presumption was that the continuing peace on the continent was a testament to the wisdom of the original policy, rather than to a lack of cause for the original policy or the subsequent abandonment by the Soviet Union of whatever dreams of expansion in Europe that it might once have harboured. Debate was over the degree of cooperation and accommodation possible with the Soviet Union consistent with a sustained policy of containment, the nature and direction of potential further encroachments and what was necessary to contain these.

3.3. In order to keep this comment manageable and focused, the period since the Conservative Government came to office in May 1979 has been considered. This period covers remarkable changes in East-West relations. It is of note that the previous five years of Labour government saw relatively little discussion of these issues. That Government did not encourage debate of the rationales for British policy and such debate as there was tended to be stimulated from those on the political right whose views took centre stage when the Conservatives won the 1979 General Election. The Labour Government appeared reluctant to enter into debate on this issue. The annual defence estimates contained little by way of strategic analysis. One exception to this was an elaboration of the idea that the basic thrust of the Soviet threat was political. This view was employed in justifying the Labour Government’s 1975 defence review. Thus Defence Minister Roy Mason:

In my view the threat to freedom in the West is less a direct military threat in the classic sense than a danger that military force may be used as an instrument of political pressure. [Roy Mason, “Britain’s Security Interests”, Survival (September/October 1975).]

3.4. I have not reviewed general opinion poll evidence. However at the start of the 1980s public opinion was certainly wary of Soviet intentions. One survey observed:

About three-quarters of respondents to opinion polls have a ‘somewhat or very unfavourable’ opinion of the USSR. A similar proportion also believes that Soviet overtures towards the West should be treated with suspicion. A clear majority, around 60%, has believed that the Soviet Union poses a threat to Britain in the scientific and political fields, whereas consistently below 50% have seen it threatening Britain’s economy.

More than 60% of respondents have regarded the Soviet Union as posing a military threat to Britain, while never more than 20% have believed it to present no threat at all. At the time of the invasion of Afghanistan, as many as 85% saw it as a threat to the United Kingdom in the military field, and as recently as March 1982 some 75% thought that it would be better to fight than to accept Russian domination, regardless of how horrible a modern war would inevitably be. [David Capitanchik and Richard C. Eichenberg, Defence and Public Opinion, Chatham House Papers 20, (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983), pp. 15-25.]

3.5. The main vehicle for presenting a considered official view of the Soviet threat is the annual statement to the House of Commons on the Defence Estimates. In contrast to the statements of the previous government, which contained no discussion of the nature of the threat, the first statement of the new Conservative Government contained a long discussion. A variety of possible explanations for the size of the Soviet armed forces and its general international behaviour were mooted: the prestige of a superpower; a deep-rooted respect for large military forces; a fear of encirclement. While important, these did not preclude the influence of an ‘explicitly aggressive motive’. The source of this motive was to be found in the tenets of Marxism-Leninism; evidence for it in past examples of willingness to use force and the build-up to levels ‘beyond that needed for defence’ and a tactical doctrine which emphasised the offensive. The guiding principle was hostility to the West. ‘The objective of this drive for influence is to limit and reduce first the influence and then the security of the West’. While an actual attack was not expected, Soviet power would be used ‘to impress, influence or threaten’. [Secretary of State for Defence, Statement on the Defence Estimates 1980, Volume 1, Cmnd 7826-I, London, HMSO, April 1980, pp. 3-6.]

This statement was released in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In a memorandum to the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, for a major investigation into Soviet motives and behaviour which it undertook in the wake of the invasion of Afghanistan, the Foreign Office confirmed this suspicious view. A nuance might be detected in the emphasis on Soviet objectives as being to ‘preserve the security of the Soviet state’ rather than simply undermine the West. Nevertheless the overall message was in line with the Ministry of Defence in the sense of let-down over detente, blaming the current crisis on past failures to take a firm response to interventions involving proxies, and the overall picture of a great power on the move, expanding its influence. ‘The Soviet military intervention capability ... will increase’. [Memorandum by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, ‘The Consequences of Soviet Expansionism for British Foreign Policy’, House of Commons, Fifth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 1979-80, Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and its Consequences for British Policy, London: HMSO, 1980.] Even when accepting the need to pursue arms control, the Foreign Secretary still found it necessary to remind his audience in an October 1980 speech that arms race do not just happen on their own and that if the West was now engaging in one this was solely as a response to Soviet moves. [Speech by Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Lord Carrington, to the United Nations Association, 24 October 1980.]

3.6. By the 1981 statement on the Defence Estimates the Government was coming to respond to the concerns over nuclear deterrence and the overall direction of British defence policy. There was a more explicit recognition of Soviet weakness, to the extent that there could be confidence in peaceful competition with the Soviet Union. However the implications of Soviet weakness could lead to both optimistic and pessimistic conclusions (will the USSR be ‘content with peaceful competition’). More significantly, the notion of a globalist approach was rejected. [ Secretary of State for Defence, Statement on the Defence Estimates 19810, Volume 1, Cmnd 8212-I, London, HMSO, April 1981, pp. 4-5.]

3.7. With less specialist audiences, the presentation was more robust. A Government leaflet of October 1983 on the policy of deterrence cites what are believed to be the clinching pieces of evidence: the Soviet armed forces are substantial, continually being improved, and are ‘well in excess of those required for its own defence; these forces have been used in and out of Europe to secure political ends’. However, added to this was now the stress on the need for arms control and an orderly relationship with the East. In a speech to the Conservative Party conference in October 1983, the Prime Minister provided the familiar ‘grim calendar of Soviet suppression of freedom’, adding topically to the list the recent shooting down of the Korean airliner. However, she continued:

Whatever we think of the Soviet Union, Soviet communism cannot be disinvented. We live on the same planet and that is why, when the circumstances are right, we must be ready to talk to the Soviet leadership.

3.8. The fullest elaboration of the twin policy of stressing the aggressive tendencies of the Soviet Union, and hence the need for defence, while also confirming the need for dialogue has thus far come not from the Foreign Office but from the Ministry of Defence. Secretary of Defence Michael Heseltine developed a long analysis of Soviet policy, full of references to Soviet history, to assess the sort of adversary faced by the United Kingdom. Heseltine sought to draw a picture

of a country with an historical record of expansion, with an obsession over its own security; a closed often isolated society run by a highly bureaucratic government in which military interests play a strong role.

While the Soviet leadership might have an interest in promoting both Russian power and Communist ideology, it would not be reckless in pursuing these interests. Moreover, at home, it

faces enormous difficulty in seeking to square the circle of maintaining economic growth within an ossifying political and administrative system.

There were problems with nationalist sentiments within the Soviet Union and discontent in the East European satellites. Nor was the ‘global advance’ that might have been anticipated much in evidence.

3.9. Above all, the Soviet leadership must have been acutely aware that the great effort put into achieving military strength approaching that of the United States had not had the foreseen benefits. Instead of detente with the West on her own terms, the Soviet Union faced yet higher expenditure on weapons systems of a level of technological sophistication which she could find very difficult to maintain. There therefore ought to be an interest in dialogue and negotiation. So while the West must continue to ensure that there ‘are no risk-free opportunities for the Soviet Union to exploit in areas of our own vital interest’, there was a possibility of ‘greater mutual understanding and respect on which better political and economic relations can be built, and from which ultimately there might be reductions in arms on both sides’. Heseltine ruled out unilateral disarmament, strident rhetoric and economic pressure as methods. It was important to increase rather than decrease the Soviet sense of security and to encourage gradual change from within. He concluded with the observation that just as the Soviet leadership needed to ‘understand the aims and interests of the West’, there was an equal need in the West to be aware of how the world looks, ‘both from its historical as well as its ideological point of view’ in Moscow. [Speech by Secretary of State for defence, Rt Hon Michael Heseltine, to the Bow Group, 27 June 1984.]

3.10. Within the political mainstream, there was no great dissent from this analysis of a Soviet leadership tempted and increasingly able to expand as a result of both insecurity and ambition, but held back by a combination of its own internal and external weaknesses and Western resolve. Thus Lord Carrington, delivering the annual Alastair Buchan lecture to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, having resigned as Foreign Secretary and not yet appointed NATO’s Secretary-General, stressed the ‘slow crisis’ of the Soviet system in rather stark terms: ‘The economy and ideology of Communism are moribund’ ... ‘the onset of rigor mortis’. Nevertheless it would be unwise for the West to try to accelerate this process. [Lord Carrington, ‘The 1983 Alastair Buchan Memorial Lecture’, Survival, Vol. XXV:7, July/August 1983.]

3.11 This view was not challenged greatly outside of government circles. The Labour Party stressed the same combination of defence and dialogue, with perhaps more emphasis on the latter.

We recognise that the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies have a large military capability which could pose a potential military threat to Western Europe. However, we do not accept the extreme views of Mrs Thatcher and President Reagan that the Soviet Union is our ‘sworn enemy’ or an ‘evil Empire’ bent on world domination.

A less hostile attitude from the West, it was argued, would encourage those within the Soviet Union with a stake in detente, and so help to reduce military tensions. Eventually it might even be possible that the two alliances ‘would move towards the long-standing goal; of their mutual dissolution’. Shadow Foreign Secretary Denis Healey, confirmed the view of a Soviet leadership struggling to cope with severe problems:

Russia’s living standards and its military power have been enormously increased. But it faces massive domestic economic and social problems which an arthritic and conservative bureaucracy has difficulty in handling. Nationalist resistance to control by Moscow is growing, not only in Central Asia but even in the Ukraine and White Russia. By the end of the century the Russians will be a minority in the Soviet Union. [Denis Healey, Labour and a World Society (Fabian Tract 501: January 1985).]

3.12. If Defence Reviews provide the major occasion when questions of threat need to be reappraised it is also relevant that, prior to July 1990, the Conservatives conducted only one major defence review - in June 1981. The debate on defence provision this sparked in the first part of the 1980s was not over the existence of a potential Soviet threat but over its particular strategic thrust. The 1981 Review stressed the importance of NATO’s Central front. [The United Kingdom Defence Programme: The Way Forward, Cmnd 8288 (June 1981).] This meant supporting the Army at the expense of the Navy. Arguing against this approach, Admiral Sir Henry Leach, about to retire as Chief of Naval staff, warned that

In our anxiety to ensure the integrity of the NATO area there is a danger of misunderstanding this underlying cause of conflict between the Soviet Union and Western countries. Secure behind a stalemate position on the Central Front - which engages so much of our resources and our energies - we risk adopting a Maginot line attitude and pay insufficient attention to our flanks.

By ‘flanks’ Sir Henry made clear he was referring to the ‘worldwide economic flank’ from where the West gets it oil and raw materials. These areas are ‘vulnerable to political, social, economic and military pressures’. Faced with NATO’s strength in Europe, The Soviet Union was engaged on a ‘strategy based on peaceful exploitation backed by military strength to gain control of the economic resources on which the West relies’. [Admiral Sir Henry Leach, ‘British Maritime Forces: The Future’, Journal of the Royal United Services Institute (September 1982), pp. 11, 13.]

3.13. The point of this analysis on the first part of the 1980s, before the arrival of Gorbachev, is that even during these years of high tension, presentations of the ‘threat’ by no means resembled the stereotyping and the insensitivity which many assumed then, and even more so now in retrospect, to be their hallmark. Indeed there was remarkably wide agreement of an image of the Soviet Union, failing in many respects, over-dependent on internal repression, and with an excessive military capability. There was also quite wide agreement than much of Soviet policy was defensive in motivation so that the West should be sensitive to Soviet concerns in the framing of its policies and the construction of its rhetoric.

3.14. By 1986, of course, account had to be taken of the Gorbachev phenomenon. Care was taken to acknowledge the ‘encouraging’ change in approach by the new Soviet leadership, noting that ‘its results will be judged by deeds, not words, over the months and years ahead’. However, by means of quotes from Lenin, Brezhnev and Gorbachev, great continuity in Soviet policy was demonstrated. If there was grounds for hope it was largely that, in the nuclear age, Soviet leaders recognized that a war with the West was not and must not be inevitable. [Secretary of State for Defence, Statement on the Defence Estimates 1986, Volume 1, Cmnd 9763-I, London, HMSO, 1986, p. 1.] This theme was picked up at greater length the next year. The 1987 Statement included an essay for the 70th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution posing the question of whether the Soviet Union was a ‘country or a cause’. The authors of this essay acknowledged the difficulty of understanding the Soviet Union, the traditional Russian view that security can only be achieved from a position of military strength, and how the fear of encirclement was reinforced first by a lack of natural boundaries and then by the experience of the second world war. Bolshevism had added a new basis for Moscow’s preoccupation with security. All this had led to a steady extension of Moscow’s dominion. The issue, therefore, was whether this dominion was likely to expand further westward.

Quite possible, suggested the authors, were it not for the containing effect of the western deterrent. After describing some of the changes underway in Gorbachev’s Moscow, it noted the persistent strength of old thinking and old institutions. The conclusion of all of this was the need for a cautious response to Gorbachev’s overtures, combined with a readiness to respond to genuine improvements in Soviet attitudes and behaviour. [Secretary of State for Defence, Statement on the Defence Estimates 1987, Volume 1, Cmnd 101-I, London, HMSO, 1987, pp. 4-6.] By 1988, the tone was becoming more upbeat – ‘We are now at last beginning to see signs of change in the Soviet Union ...'.

Although it would be imprudent to rely on a sustained change in Soviet attitudes, the prospect of its taking place is a challenge that the West must accept.

This time the long essay in the estimates considered the development of Soviet military doctrine. It concluded by noting that

Soviet leaders now acknowledge that their security cannot be maintained on terms that inevitably mean insecurity for others. There is no reason to believe that they intend to start a war against Western Europe. Nonetheless, the effect of the doctrine has been to create in Eastern Europe a force that remains structured, equipped and trained for offence and surprise. The Warsaw Pact thus has a capability that could be used for aggressive purposes if Soviet intentions should change, without the necessity for any action to be taken that might signal such a change. (emphasis in original) [Secretary of State for Defence, Statement on the Defence Estimates 1988, Volume 1, Cmnd 344-I, London, HMSO, April 1988, pp. 1-7.]

This cautious line was reasserted in 1989. Thus through this period the basic features of British threat assessment were that the basic orientation of Soviet policy remained expansionist; however this has been contained in the past by a successful policy of deterrence; the new Soviet leadership was exploring seriously the possibility of establishing a completely new basis for the East-West relationship and this deserved encouragement and a positive response; still intentions could change and the Soviet union retained the ability to revert to its bad old ways. Nothing had been done about the ‘potential’ for enmity, though its immediate prospects had been reduced.

4. After the Cold War
4.1. By the start of 1990 it was apparent that the Soviet Union’s strategic position within Europe was having to be reassessed as a result of the collapse of a series of communist governments during the last months of the previous year. Soon the focus was on not so much whether but on when and how the two Germanys would unite. By the end of 1990 there was evidence that this was proving too much for hardliners in Moscow and there was a risk of a coup, about which outgoing Foreign Minister Eduard Schevardnadze warned in December 1990. The first half of 1991 was full of indications of a battle for power within Moscow, with concerning growing over the secessionist pressure led from the Baltic States, the collapse in the economy, as well as the decisive shift in strategic advantage to the NATO states. In August 1991 the attempted coup came but it was a complete fiasco. As a result the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was left mortally wounded, and so was the Soviet Union itself. By the end of the year it was in the process of being transformed into the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). 1992 therefore was a year in which Russia had to come to terms with separation from the other constituent parts of the former Soviet Union. This led to arguments over the allocation of the strategic assets left over from the Soviet Union, including the nuclear arsenal.

4.2. Against this backdrop the two key questions for western policy-makers were: ‘what can be done to reinforce the positive trends in Soviet (and later Russian) foreign policy?’ and ‘What are the dangers of these positive trends being reversed?’

4.3. The then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, had enjoyed a close relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev since just before he took over the Soviet leadership when he visited Britain in December 1984. Then Mrs Thatcher had declared him to be a person we could ‘do business with’. With the dramatic changes underway by the start of the 1990s she was both anxious to help him while at the same time acknowledging that things could turn for the worse.

4.4. Thus in a speech in Aspen Colorado in August 1990 [The Times, 6 August 1990] the Prime Minister was remarkably explicit:

We don’t see this new Soviet Union as an enemy, but as a country groping its way towards freedom. We no longer have to view the world through the prism of East-West relations. The Cold War is over. [She used similar wording in an interview later in the year with three Italian journalists. Independent, 23 October 1990.]

She spoke optimistically about future prospects:

... the Soviet Union has natural wealth. It’s not resources it lacks, but the capacity to turn them to advantage. One day the Soviet Union will be a highly prosperous country and so will China and it’s not too soon to be thinking how to bring them into the world economy. But the most difficult step is for governments which have been accustomed to running a regimented economy to think in a different way.

However, she took care not to advocate lowering the west’s guard, and still identified the Soviet Union/Russia as the key consideration in defence planning. After stressing the importance of western resolution to ‘maintain a secure defence’ in halting ‘the great expansion of communism’, she added that

now, in the moment of success, it’s wise to be cautious. History has seen too many false springs.

The Soviet Union remains a formidable military power. Even the Russian Republic on its own would be the largest country in the world, stretching from the Baltic to the Pacific across eleven time zones.

4.5. The previous month, the Foreign Office minister responsible for security questions, William Waldegrave, had made explicit the view of the threat as residing in the uncertain political dynamics now at work within the Soviet Union rather than the more benign intent and stated policies of its government:

We shall be asked where the threat is coming from, now that the Warsaw Pact is an empty shell. The short answer is that you never can tell. The longer answer lies in the facts of geography. We shall have to go on sharing the same continent with a large and troubled country facing a period of great uncertainty. [Independent on Sunday, 1 July 1990]

4.6. July also saw the first draft of the Government’s defence review, known as ‘Options for Change’, described to Parliament. As one well-informed journalist observed:

Senior officers argue that the Soviet Union alone is still the greatest military power in Europe - but predicting the shape of Moscow’s armed forces and even of the country itself has become fraught with difficulty. [Mark Urban in The Independent on Sunday, 29 July 1990.]

4.7. Earlier in the year the Defence Estimates had provided a rather cautious assessment of the implications of the upheavals of 1989.:

The characteristic pattern of change in Russia, over the centuries, has not been gradualism; and the very suddenness of recent upheavals, welcome as their initial impulse has been carry their own warning. The range of possible outcomes remains wide, and not all the possibilities are comfortable.

The government neither expected that the reform process and certainly wanted it to succeed but the ‘defence planner’ must keep in mind the ‘darker’ possibilities; ‘he must look to possible mistakes and failures in the political scene, rather than successes’. Political shifts ‘can happen - or be reversed - much faster than defence provision can be changed, run down or re-built’. [Secretary of State for Defence, Statement on the Defence Estimates 1990, Volume 1, Cmnd 1022-I, London, HMSO, April 1990, p. 17.]

‘Options for Change’ had to be worked in connection with a strategic review undertaken by NATO. As part of this plans were developed for a Rapid Reaction Corps, under British command. In a discussion of this in May 1991, one journalist, Michael Evans, noted that:

The other issue that remains undefined is “the enemy”. British officials say the future strategy of the alliance is to provide “a military counterweight” to what is the main power in Europe. That is the closest officials get to confirming that the Soviet Union is still viewed as a potential threat, although no longer the monolithic power it once was. [The Times. 25 May 1991]

4.8. The events of early 1991, including an apparent crackdown in the Baltics, and the general resurgence of hard-line influence in Moscow, apparently confirmed those who argued caution. According to the Defence Estimates 1991, while the ‘Soviet capability to mount a large-scale offensive into central Europe is diminishing’ and so no longer puts the demands as before on NATO, risks were still faced though these were ‘far less obvious and monolithic’.

The Soviet Union remains an unstable military superpower, whose capabilities need to be counter-balanced if stability is to be preserved in Europe. These capabilities still present the most serious, if not the most immediate, threat to Western security. [Secretary of State for Defence, Statement on the Defence Estimates 1991, Volume 1, Cmnd 1559-I, London, HMSO, July 1991, p. 31.]

4.9. Even after the break-up of the Soviet Union the basic line remained the same: the immediate threat has been removed but there are great uncertainties with regard to the future. Thus Prime Minister John Major stated in January 1992:

The end of the Soviet empire carries a large number of opportunities but also some dangers and we have to be prepared for both. The diminished threat to Nato does give us an opportunity to make prudent reductions in defence. But I think they must be prudent and it would at this stage be imprudent to lift our nuclear shield in any way. [The Independent, 15 January 1992.]

The Defence Estimates 1992 confirmed this message:

The possibility of the kind of East-West conflict that threatened Europe in the past has disappeared, though allowance has to be made for uncertainty over developments in the former Soviet Union, where for the foreseeable future an enormous concentration of conventional, nuclear and chemical warfare capabilities will remain. Should the reform process, which we are actively supporting, not proceed as we hope, those capabilities could again come under the control of one or more Governments either not well-disposed or hostile to the West. [Secretary of State for Defence, Statement on the Defence Estimates 1992, Volume 1, Cmnd 1981-I, London, HMSO, July 1992, pp. 7-11.]

5. Other Threats
5.1. It is of course important to note that Britain saw Iraq as a ‘potential enemy’ from August 1990 on. One area of concern was the possibility of support from Iraq’s former benefactor, the Soviet Union, even though the latter was supporting the international coalition opposing Iraq. This raised the more general point of whether the problems faced from Russia would necessarily be the result of deliberate policy but could reflect independent action by disaffected groups within the system.

6. Conclusion
6.1. Having reviewed the evidence I would find it hard to assert that during the period 1 January 1990 to 8 August 1992 the Soviet Union/Russia could not be considered ‘an enemy’ within the terms of the Official Secrets Act. The statements by the Prime Minister in the summer of 1990 that the Soviet Union was no longer ‘an enemy’ provide the strongest support for the view that the position had changed. However, as soon as the phrase ‘an enemy’ is extended to include potential, then all the evidence from British defence and foreign policy over the relevant period confirms that there was remarkable continuity. As during the cold war the issue was not one of an imminent threat but of circumstances prompting a confrontation at some point in the future. The changes came in the discussions of what those circumstances might be, with a growing stress on the impact of disorder and upheaval, and the level of defence provision necessary to deter or cope should deterrence fail.

Lawrence Freedman
15 June 1993



1 February
US Administration officials say USSR has begun to test her own version of the long-range cruise missile

18 June
US and USSR sign SALT II agreement

22 October
US Joint Economic Committee of Congress reports Soviet defense spending rose to 137% of amount spent by US in 1977

28 December
Afghanistan invasion. USSR claims her airlift of troops to Afghanistan justified response to urgent request for military aid from Kabul government in accordance with 20-year-old treaty of friendship


30 January
Five complete Soviet divisions (at least 60,000 troops) now in Afghanistan

5 March
USSR rejects plan by the EC to neutralize Afghanistan in return for Soviet troop withdrawal

18 April
US claims USSR has tested Cosmos 1174 anti-satellite weapon in outer space, breaking her two-year moratorium on launching such weapons

23 June
Plenary session of Party Central Committee resolves to increase military strength ‘to the maximum’

19 July
The Moscow Olympics open, 63 countries boycott the games

1 August
The completion of withdrawal of 20,000 Soviet troops from East Germany announced

20 August
USSR resumes jamming of BBC


27 October
Soviet submarine, probably equipped with nuclear torpedoes, stranded in Swedish territorial waters; USSR reinforces fleet near Sweden

13 December
USSR welcomes Poland’s decision to impose martial law


16 March
USSR announces unilateral freeze on Soviet deployment of SS-20 missiles in Europe, threatens with retaliatory steps if NATO proceeds with plans to deploy new missiles in Western Europe

12 July
USSR attack US for retention of nuclear ‘first strike capability’, indicating it may have adopted ‘launch on warning’ policy

20 August
USSR accepts a 1 year extension of grain agreement with US, agreeing to buy minimum of 5.4 million tonnes of wheat and corn a year

10 November
Brezhnev dies, replaced by Andropov

21 December
USSR proposes to reduce medium-range missiles to number possessed by Britain and France if US forgoes planned NATO missile deployment. Britain, France and US reject proposal


2 January
Britain and France refuse to include their nuclear forces in INF talks

8 April
USSR expels British diplomat and a journalist in retaliation for British expulsion of a Soviet diplomat and journalist in March

3 May
USSR offers to reduce Soviet warheads in European Russia; Britain rejects offer

1 September
South Korean Boeing 747 with 269 passengers destroyed by Soviet air force as it leaves Soviet air space

23 November
USSR walks out of INF talks after US missiles arrive in Germany

24 November
USSR announces it will deploy seaborne nuclear missiles

8 December
USSR suspends START negotiations

15 December
Warsaw Pact states refuse to fix date to resume MBFR negotiations


9 February
Communist Party Secretary General Andropov dies, Chernenko named as successor

2 April
Soviet carrier fires flares at US frigate in South China Sea

8 May
USSR withdraws from Olympic Games

20 May
USSR announces that it increased number of nuclear armed submarines off US coast

2 July
British Foreign Secretary Howe visits Moscow for discussions with Soviet Foreign Minister and President

10 October
US releases report accusing USSR of violations of existing arms-control agreements

26 November
Chernenko tells British Labour Party leader that Soviet missiles will not be targeted on Britain if future Labour government pursues non-nuclear defense policy

28 November
Supreme Soviet approves 12% defense budget increase

15 December
Gorbachev visits Britain’s Thatcher


7 January
US delegation in Moscow for first official talks on bilateral trade since 1979

21 February
USSR signs agreement with IAEA to open Soviet nuclear plants to inspection

11 March
Mikhail Gorbachev installed as new Soviet leader

26 April
Warsaw Pact Treaty renewed for 30 years

18 June
USSR and US agree to resume agricultural cooperation


15 April
USSR cancels pre-summit Shevardnadze-Shultz meeting in protest at US air raid on Libya

24 April
USSR and Britain sign cooperation agreement on energy conservation and development

2 October
Soviet Space Institute signs joint space research protocol with British National Space Center


28 March
Thatcher talks with Gorbachev on issues arms control and human rights in Moscow; signs a number of cooperation agreements

8 December
At the Washington Summit, Reagan and Gorbachev sign agreement banning intermediate-range nuclear forces

21 December
USSR and UK sign agreement allowing Soviet inspectors to observe dismantling of UK-deployed cruise missiles


27 May - 28 May
US Senate and Supreme Soviet ratify INF Treaty

29 May
Reagan and Gorbachev hold their fourth superpower summit in Moscow

7 December
Gorbachev proposes unilateral cuts in Soviet conventional forces in Europe, NATO responds by proposing own reductions of 50%


26 February - March 10
Agreement on complete Soviet troops withdrawal from Czechoslovakia by July 1991 and from Hungary by June 1991 signed

10 April-11 April
UK Foreign Secretary Hurd visits Moscow to discuss German unification and CFE cuts

1 June
At Camp David, Bush and Gorbachev agree to cut long-range nuclear weapons by 30% and chemical weapons stockpiles by 80%, and to establish ‘the basic provisions of a strategic arms treaty by the time of their next Washington meeting’

6 July
NATO issues the London declaration ending Cold War

3 October
Baker and Shevardnadze announce agreement on main points of CFE Treaty

19 November -21 November
CFE Treaty signed at CSCE meeting in Paris; Paris Charter signed establishing new permanent CSCE institutions and future co-operation


7 January
CMEA agrees to dissolve

4 March
Soviet Parliament ratifies German reunification treaty

31 March
Warsaw Pact disbanded

12 June
Yeltsin wins Russian presidential elections

31 July
Bush and Gorbachev sign START Treaty during Moscow summit

19 August
Coup attempt in Moscow

20 August
Eight republics declare independence

5 October
Gorbachev announces unilateral reduction of 1,000 short-range nuclear weapons and troop cuts of 700,000, a 1-year moratorium on nuclear tests and removal of 503 ICBMs from alert status

11 October
KGB dissolved

5 November
At ‘open skies’ talks in Geneva USSR agrees to allow over flights of territory to ensure arms-control compliance

8 December
Russia, Ukraine and Belorussia declare USSR ceases to exist and establish the Commonwealth of Independent States; Central Asian republics agree to join


26 January
Russia announces end of nuclear targeting of US and UK

29 January
Yeltsin announces that Russia will honour by arms-control agreements USSR had reached

1 February
At Camp David meeting Yeltsin and Bush approve joint development of global anti-missile defense system

24 March
Open Skies treaty signed at CSCE foreign ministers’ meeting in Helsinki

10 March
Ten CIS republics join NACC

1 April
At NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels, former Warsaw Pact members and NATO agree to undertake joint training and manoeuvres

5 June
29 members of North Atlantic Cooperation Council sign CFE agreement

July 10
At CSCE Helsinki Summit, NATO and CIS countries adopt new peacekeeping role

4 November
Russian parliament approves START I treaty

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