The View from London
IN 1984 Sir Geoffrey Howe, Britain's foreign secretary, began a series of visits that was to take him to all the capitals of the Warsaw Pact states within two years. Previous foreign secretaries had made the occasional foray into Eastern Europe, but never had so much British attention been focused for so long on these few Soviet allies. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher herself had opened the program of visits with a hurried trip to Hungary early in 1984, which surprised even the Hungarians. She also demonstrated her interest in better relations with the Soviet Union by attending the funerals of both Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko in Moscow and by welcoming to London the soon-to-be Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, in December 1984. East European foreign offices from Warsaw to Sofia could be forgiven for thinking Britain had launched its first major diplomatic initiative in the region since World War II.
The reasons for this sudden shift from neutral to drive in Britain's Ostpolitik are explored here against the backdrop of Britain's interests and objectives in Eastern Europe. The burst of activity in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union by a prime minister who had shown herself to be staunchly anticommunist was really not so surprising. There had in truth been far more continuity than change in Britain's policy toward both Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union since the 1960s, and such variation as occurred over the years reflected differences in tactics and style rather than strategy and long-term objectives.