FEW people are better qualified to write about the end of the Cold War than Prof Archie Brown.

The Oxford University Emeritus Professor of Politics, witnessed at first hand one of the great turning points of 12th century history – Margaret Thatcher’s move to a policy of engagement with the Eastern Bloc.

A landmark moment, this contributed to a chain of events leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Incredibly, Prof Brown – father of the leader of Oxford City Council, Susan Brown – had first-hand involvement in the process by which Margaret Thatcher turned to a policy of engagement with the Soviet Union and the communist states of Eastern Europe.

He took part in two Chequers seminars – in September 1983 and February 1987 – over which Mrs Thatcher presided and was invited to 10 Downing Street to speak to her and the Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe the night before Gorbachev arrived on his first visit to Britain in December 1984 – three months before he became Soviet leader. All of which features in his book The Human Factor.

“These two very different people got on surprisingly well,” he says. “At the end of Gorbachev’s visit, the Prime Minister famously said, ‘I like Mr Gorbachev. He is a man I can do business with’.

“The development of the interrelations of Gorbachev, Thatcher and Reagan – this odd triangle – is a central theme of my book.”

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What prompted him to write The Human Factor?

“I was dissatisfied with the popular assumption, especially but not only in the United States, that the Soviet Union was forced by American military superiority or economic pressure to admit defeat in the Cold War,” he says.

“We know from a variety of sources the views and mindsets of the 10 full members of the Politburo who were the group from whom the next Soviet leader had to be chosen when Konstantin Chernenko died in March 1985. None but Mikhail Gorbachev would have allowed freedom of speech and publication and contested elections and massively raised expectations in Eastern Europe and among the various nationalities in the Soviet Union.

Oxford Mail:

“No other person who had a chance of becoming Soviet leader would have declared in 1988 that the people of every country had the right to decide for themselves what kind of political and economic system they wished to live in.

“The people of eastern and central Europe took him at his word the following year and cast aside their communist rulers. Not a shot was fired to prevent this by a Soviet soldier.

“Gorbachev made a massive difference. However, he needed Western partners, for he was fighting domestic battles on many fronts, not least the resistance of the Soviet military-industrial complex to his seeking a qualitatively new relationship with the West, a big reduction of military expenditure, and a liberalisation at home which threatened all existing vested interests.

Oxford Mail:

“Ronald Reagan’s willingness to engage with the leader of a country he had described as an ‘evil empire’ in 1983 was crucial – and Margaret Thatcher played a surprisingly important role. Less ‘Iron Lady’ than Go-Between, she had more influence over Reagan than had any other foreign leader and she developed a surprisingly strong relationship with Gorbachev, to the extent that her 10 Downing Street Foreign Policy Adviser Sir Percy Cradock complained that she was acting as ‘an agent of influence in both directions’.”

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Prof Brown came to Oxford as a Fellow of St Antony’s College in 1971 and has been here ever since, as a lecturer in Soviet Institutions until 1989, then as Professor of Politics and subsequently Emeritus Professor.

Though a Scot who spent his first 18 years in a small town in the south of Scotland, he has now lived far longer in Oxford than anywhere else.

He has also been to Russia at least 40 times –including an academic year on a British Council exchange scholarship in the 1960s.

He adds: My main speciality for much of my career was Soviet politics, especially the final decades of Soviet rule, on which I’ve written extensively. I’ve also written a lot on political leadership, including a book called The Myth of the Strong Leader which looks at political leadership worldwide.

“Politics has always been a particular interest.”

Oxford Mail:

* Human Factor by Archie Brown is out now