Michael Harbottle (British General for Peace), 1990

Brigadier Gen. (Ret.) Michael Harbottle in Prague, October 20, 1990 at founding meeting of Helsinki Citizens Assembly
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

Harbottle: Re charges against Michael Randle (who is here) and Pat Pottle, who were suspected 20 years ago, and the authorities did not prosecute them for ulterior reasons. They are fighting the trial on human rights grounds. They can’t really now say that there is a case to answer now. At best they can only give them a suspended sentence.

Spencer: Isn’t there a statute of limitations?

Harbottle: That would be part of a constitution but if we have no constitution… This happened in 1970. The “guilty parties” in this case have been walking around in public all this time. Michael, for example, was at the Bradford School of Peace Studies when I was teaching peace studies there, so we got to know each other then.

Spencer: He revealed it in their own book.

Harbottle: Yes, they said there had been so much talk about it that they decided to reveal it. And when it was published, there were shouts in Parliament calling for them to be brought to justice.

Spencer: Your main activities have been in Pugwash and Generals for Peace?

Harbottle. Not Pugwash. I am not a member of Pugwash. Actually, Josef Rotblat is one of our consultants. I don’t qualify for the British group because I am not a scientist. Now they are widening the group but I am involved in enough already.

Spencer: You have a centre?

Harbottle: Briefly, it started when I was Chief of Staff of the U.N. Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus back in the 1960s. When I came to the end of that, I realized that I couldn’t go back into the conventional army. So I retired. For a while I was Vice President of the International Peace Academy, which I helped to develop. It is in New York. We set up seminars, mostly in Europe, to look at the three aspects: peacemaking, peacekeeping, and the psychological and philosophical side of peace. And then I taught at Bradford and at Conrad Grebel College,Waterloo and at the International Relations Department at Carleton in Canada with John Sigler. And then I worked with the British Council for Aid to Refugees when the refugees were coming in. And my wife worked with me in all these things. She and Philip Noel-Baker started the World Disarmament Campaign, and then six months later I came in as General Secretary, and we worked at that for 2 and a half years.

Spencer: I am confused about that initiative. It seems to me that there are two initiatives with that title — something that Fenner Brockway did and something else.

Harbottle: You are right. In 1979-80, Fenner and Philip Noel-Baker set up the WDC in England and it was projected at the Second Special Session in Disarmament at the U.N. in 1982. Its main task was to produce a petition, which 4 and a half million people signed and there were other copies sent around the world. Following 1982, the U.N. set up its World Disarmament Campaign. We were a bit worried because that name already existed. However, they went ahead and we were a bit doubtful as to what was going to be the next step. And then Philip and Fenner wanted it to go on and it did go on as a campaign, and my wife and I felt that this was the moment because we were not grass roots campaigners. We wanted to develop something with a positive, practical initiative but actually looking at areas in which people could physically bring people together to build the relationships which we felt were necessary to actually achieve the disarmament we had been talking about. So we set up in 1983 a Centre for International Peace [Brigades???], which later became the London Centre, and now that it has moved out of London has reverted to being the Centre for International Peace [Brigades?], it’s at our home in Oxfordshire. We have spent the years facilitating the widest range of activities of interaction between individuals, schools, etc. We helped a group of psychologists in Britain to go to Hungary to study at an institute for Spina Bifida children. … And now that is a full program…

We have been looking at collective security on a regional basis, such as Southern Africa. We have taken the Geyer [environmental] initiative and are working with Eco-Forum and schools across the EW and NS divides to work on joint projects. Exchanges. The purpose is, we are not directing these different projects. We say to them to look at it as a peacebuilding process so you can develop this into a wider field of understanding. In 1980-81, we thought up the musical, Peace Child. David Wilcome[?] is her son in law.

And the other thing, which is where Len Johnson comes in, is that I was one of the first members of the Generals for Peace and Disarmament, which resulted from a book of interviews with us by Gerhard Kade on the subject of nuclear weapons. He lives in Berlin, a very sick man now. But he got the idea that there were lots of retired officers who were speaking out. He interviewed each of us. When it was published, none of us had ever met and we decided to meet. And when we did, it made even more sense to continue to do some work together. So that happened in 1981 and in 82 when I was in New York, I had always felt that this is fine for NATO Generals to talk but that is only half of the story, so long as we don’t actually talk with the Generals of the WTO. So when I was in New York for the Second Special SEssion on Disarmament, I had an appointment with Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet Ambassador in Washington. He was sympathetic and said he would help. It took nearly 2 years because the Russians needed to be convinced. When they realized the genuineness of our offer, it couldn’t be easier. So in 1984 we had our first meeting in Vienna and then we have had successive meetings in Vienna. The last one was in Poland. We meet every year to look at the atttitudes and the whole question of new thinking on strategy and efence, and on how you work on a cooperative rather than a confrontational base. And in 1987 we brought out a statement in which we set all this out as a structure for our “common home.” It is very interesting because actually, Gorbachev’s “Common House” followed a few months afterwards and I can show you the minutes. At that time, and in the West, the NATO Retired Generals were considered as absolutely the bottom — we were branded almost as traitors and we were called a threat to national security in the House of Lords and condemned for consorting with the enemy. And how naive we were!

We brought Len in 1987, I think. I tried to bring in Len (who was then still serving as Commandant at the National Defence College) and Admiral Falls. Len said yes. Admiral Falls said, on record, that if he had been a European he would probably have entirely sympathized with everything we were saying, but there were things that from a North American point of view, he would not agree with. So he didn’t become a member.

But in 1987 we set out a basic blueprint, which is what is now being broadly discussed, in terms of a sort of structure, strategy, and cooperation between East/West in a military sense. We claim nothing about masterminding this whole change of heart. What we do know is that — and this is obvious because the WTO Generals, particularly the Soviet ones, would not have come to that first meeting, had they not been permitted to do so. And clearly, if they were permitted, they didn’t come as individuals, and so they were reporting back.

Spencer: Did they say they were or did anybody ask them?

Harbottle: No. We assumed that they would have to be debriefed. And we saw things happening.

Spencer: Who were they? Names?

Harbottle. Well, General Smoliatin[?] Makarefsky[?], Ponoma[?], Admiral Asefief[?], General Milstein[?], and actually, it is interesting because they made it clear at the beginning that they couldn’t create a group like we had in NATO. And we accepted that. But then we saw things happening which were clearly in line with the things discussed in Vienna, and now you really have from Gorbachev the sort of pattern we were talking about. And because this has come upon us, the West and NATO are having to react. So, although we didn’t make a direct impact on NATO leadership as a group, but were treated as traitors, actually we are now having to react to the things that the Russians are doing. So we are quite happy. It doesn’t matter how you get there, even if you go the wrong way around.

And now the Soviets have a group of about ten. The other Eastern Europeans will have smaller groups. Now, what we are having to do, and this is why Len was staying with us after Pugwash, we have now set out, an Air Commodore in London, Mackey, who is another member of the group, and myself, have set out a proposition which really goes into a totally new phase. The first phase tended to be rather retrospective. It was always harking back to the lessons learned in the Second World War. Now we have got to look at the totally new situation existing in Europe, and how you use that to help influence the development of global security. For instance, I have been working two years to bring the idea of the E/W generals group to other regions of the world, like the subcontinent, where they could do the same as we have done but look at the problems of the subcontinent and the new security structure, the new thinking for the security of all the countires there. And I am looking at ways in which this might be developed in Southern Africa. And also to develop a sort of consultative process so that, by fax or computer, when something like the Gulf comes up, we can do a consultation with all the Generals around the world and come up with sort of a consensus of opinion that can be handed to all the governments. And make use of the generals’ experience to look in practical terms at some of the things that governments could look at.

Spencer: Is there any way that I can get any kind of documents or evidence?

Harbottle: Eirwin has been the rapporteur of our meetings over the years and we have the full minutes, as spoken, from every single meeting we have held. There is a lot of diatribe, when you come to the Eastern Europeans. We realize at the beginning that they were going to come with fixed positions. So we moved for people to make a statement. We have created the most tremendous rapport of generals from right across Europe from 15 or 16 different countries. So as we moved into this, round about 87, there was probably only one major statement made by the joint chairs, NATO and WTO. One or two. But the rest of it was off the top of our heads. We had created the kind of confidence that allowed individuals not to speak to a prepared script. It became an open discussion.

Eirwin Harbottle: I have a story that shows how women think. IN 1987 the theme of the meeting was Security: Global Security, Regional Security, National Security, and Individual Security. As a woman I wondered what they would talk about under Individual security. And I made a pie chart, but I has also economic security and environmental security and inner security. and so I went on adding little bits to this pie chart. And I gave it to the Dutch General and I heard him say, “Gentlemen,we have a document in front of us.” I wondered, “Who’s got a document? I haven’t got a document. What document?” And to my surprise, it was all translated into Russian and there were all these chaps looking at my pie chart. They said, “Mrs. Harbottle is going to speak.” I had to. And I said, how can you think of security when our air is polluted, and our river water. So this became the beginning of a mini-debate among them. The Russians said that they had always looked upon security as four aspects — social, environmental, economic, and political — or something like that, but they had never mentioned it in the previous meetings. In the end, they said, that this is for heads of state, not for military people. But since then, every time they have met, environmental security has been mentioned. I find that there is so much hot air in all meetings. This must be done! How are we going to get to the process of doing it? … At Iona, this year we talked about it …

Harbottle: You asked for some tangible proof. If you give me a card, what I can do is — this may not be until late November because I am going off to Sweden and then in a week we go to New York, and then to Amsterdam for a meeting of Peace Child. But I’ll look then. I will look at the 1987 minutes because they were the verbatim record. One day I would like to get them printed as a record of what a certain group produced.

Spencer: If you had a conversation with the Soviets about how their impact was made back home.

Harbottle: Well, I’ll tell you one thing quite definitely. I am also a member of something called “Just Defence.” It is the concept of a defense structure and doctrine which simply relies on weapons that are purely defensive. Tanks are not defensive, though they can be used in defense they can also be used in attack. Some helicopter gunships [?] having a limited range they have no deep thrust capability. The principle being that when your forces are sufficient for a counterattack up to 40 km to maybe recover ground that you have lost, that does not have the capability to carry out an offense. And therefore, no country in Europe would have the offensive capability but would have sufficient defensive capability to defend itself. Now that I expounded in 1984 at the very first E/W meeting and the general feeling was that it was not practical at this time.

Spencer: Was there any differentiation in the feelings of the NATO and the WTO people?

Harbottle: Both thought it an idea worth investigating in principle, but it certainly wasn’t practical at that time, and that view was held by most people on both sides. In I think it was 1986, or it could have been 1987, I raised it again, and it was discussed a little more, but nothing in particular. And then before the next meeting, there came out in one of the leading American journals, a report of an interview held with about 3 or 4 of the generals who attended, in which they put forward the idea of defense sufficiency. Defensive defence.

Spencer: Is that the first time you saw anything coming from the East on that?

Harbottle: That’s right. The point they made is that it is different from just defense. They would cut back on all weapons so that there was no new arms production? [?] Whereas we were calling for certain new weapons. We were developing a much greater capability with weapons which were already deployed. So anyway, this sort of crept in and we discussed it again and those two arguments were put forward. And then, at the Soviet supreme summit of the Communist Party in February 1988, in the policy statement on international affairs, here was this resolved to develop the concept of defense sufficiency. So I think there is enough to say that this is something that had been discussed in 1984 and turned down. Then it was discussed again and there was a certain amount of discussion, and that was by Generals who had been in that meeting, writing or giving an interview on something they called defense sufficiency, which is exactly the same principle as just defence but in practical mechanism was slightly different.

Spencer: When did you become involved with Just Defence?

Harbottle: I must have been 1982-83.

Spencer: Who were some of the other people who had some input into that concept?

Harbottle: Well, initially, General Secu Beach? [?] who is now a respected spokesman on new strategy, although he never became a member of our generals group because that went too far for him, but he has seen the weaknesses in certain aspects, particularly in Britain. And Bishop Montifiore of Manchester [?]. The Master of Balliol College. Myself. Alistair Mackey, Air Commodore (he wasn’t initially). Frank Barnaby, the physicist. Robert Neild. So it was very high level thinking.

Spencer: I remember talking with Anders Boserup shortly after that and I think he was working on that within the Pugwash context. So the sources of that idea definitely came from the West?

Harbottle: I would say it came from the Generals group. Because of don’t think Just Defense as such ever presented the idea at the Russians’ group. But as a member of Just Defence and as a member of the Generals group, it was natural that I should raise the idea. And that’s the way it went. I never heard it discussed in any other dimension. And it then was stated in this official document of the Soviet Union that defense sufficiency was the basis on which they wanted to go forward.

Spencer: If I get funds for this, I want to speak to people in the Soviet side about their recollections. Who would be the best persons to speak to ?

Harbottle: I think you would have to go through the peace committee to the group of Generals and Admirals for Peace and Disarmament. From the minutes of the particular meetings you will get the names. I am looking at the role that the armed forces can play in different countries in environmental conservation, which is what the President of the Saar was saying today in his talk. A number of military are doing a lot. India is the primer that started this. In India all 3 services are playing a major role. It is not official. They don’t want to make it official because someone will say that this is a misuse of the military.

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The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books