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ON THIS DAY

28 Dec 07. The Callaghan government made strenuous diplomatic efforts to build up Britain’s relationship with Saudi Arabia in a strategy that paved the way for big defence contracts under Margaret Thatcher’s administration in the 1980s. Declassified Foreign Office files show intense activity by officials and ministers to secure additional defence contracts. Negotiations with the Saudis focused on the development of an air defence system, and proposals for the assembly and manufacturer of Hawk strike trainer aircraft and Lynx helicopters. A background Whitehall briefing document noted that Saudi Arabia had during the
1970s “advanced with increasing confidence to play a major part in the politics of the Gulf and the Middle East”. Saudi Arabia was viewed by the Callaghan administration as making an important contribution to Britain’s economic stability, thanks to its decision to moderate its oil price increases when other Opec countries had opted for a steeper rise. (Source: FT.com)

28 Dec 07. Britain’s Nato allies tried to frighten the UK government into retreating from planned defence cuts by warning that West Germany could become the dominant military force in western Europe. Joseph Luns, Nato secretary-general, feared that if Britain reneged on its defence commitments “another country” – he wrote it was “unwise” to mention Germany by name – would become the predominant military power in Europe. Nobody wanted this situation to arise, Dr Luns wrote to Denis Healey, the chancellor. “If certain European members of the Alliance were to continue cutting defence expenditure, it is of course unavoidable that one of the major European allies, which as you know does not economise on its defence budget, will automatically reach a position of military preponderance on the European continent,” he said.
Efforts to keep secret a British nuclear test were undone by the subconscious of one of Fleet Street’s best-known reporters. Declassified papers from 1974 reveal that Harold Wilson, the then prime minister, was so anxious about secrecy that he persuaded the US not to reveal that the test had taken place in Nevada. But two weeks after the explosion, Chapman Pincher revealed “Britain’s Super H-Bomb Test” on the front page of the Daily Express. There was uproar in Cabinet and Crispin (later Sir Crispin) Tickell, a senior Foreign Office official, was instructed to investigate. He contacted John Ellison, foreign editor of the Express. “Mr Ellison said that, believe it or not, Mr Pincher’s source was Mr Pincher himself,” Sir Crispin wrote. “He had been on a fishing holiday in Scotland. One morning at breakfast he said [to his companions] he had had a particularly vivid nightmare about a nuclear explosion which he was sure was British.” On his return to London Mr Pincher rang the Ministry of Defence and became convinced he was on the right track.
Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, also told the British government that proposed £300m cuts to the £5.4bn defence budget could threaten the global balance of power.
“Any reductions that would weaken or appear to weaken your defences would
impinge adversely and directly on the collective security of every ally,” said
Mr Rumsfeld, who would later occupy the same Pentagon job under George W. Bush,
in a message to his British counterpart Roy Mason.
“Moreover such action would impair the influence Britain exerts as a major
European ally, which in turn will have important – and from our viewpoint
regrettable – implications for the future cohesion of the alliance and thus for
European stability.”
Later in 1977, the chiefs of staff conveyed to James Callaghan, the prime
minister, the words of General Al Haig, then Nato’s supreme allied commander in
Europe and later Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state.
“The hard fact is that today Soviet military power approaches a level capable of
supporting an imperialist phase in their foreign policy,” Gen Haig said.
Fred Mulley, who by

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