Abstract

Using previously unseen British Cabinet Office and Foreign Office papers obtained through the UK Freedom of Information Act, this article shows how a change in Britain's stance in the Cold War was initiated in 1983. As a result of this process, the British government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher decided to move to greater engagement with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Distrusting the Foreign Office as an institution, Thatcher asked for papers from eight outside academic specialists, on whose analyses she placed considerable weight. The desire for East-West dialogue was strongly favored by Foreign Office ministers and officials, whose advice, paradoxically, was more readily accepted by Thatcher when similar policy recommendations (though with some differences in analysis) were made by the academics. The invitation to Mikhail Gorbachev to visit Britain in 1984, prior to his becoming leader of the Soviet Union, had its origins in a Chequers seminar involving both academics and officials on 8–9 September 1983. This was the beginning of an important, and surprising, political relationship that transformed Britain's militantly anti-socialist prime minister into the strongest supporter—certainly among conservative politicians worldwide—of the new leader of the Soviet Communist Party.

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