9 AUGUST 1975, Page 11


Crossed fingers

Malcolm Rutherford

Helsinki The Summit Conference here took place on two levels: the public statements and the private deals. Never was this clearer than after the four-power lunch hosted by Mr Wilson for President Ford, President Giscard d'Estaing and Chancellor Schmidt. The West German spokesman confirmed what most people already knew: there was to be a five-power summit meeting — the tour plus Japan — to discuss the political problems created by rising unemployment. Dr Kissinger denied it. Mr Wilson, who gave a press conference, never mentioned it.

The reasons for the attempted secrecy were twofold. The Summit a cinq is intended to exclude finance ministers, and the US Secretary of the Treasury, Mr William Simon, at whom the ban is aimed, had not yet been squared. The Summit is also anathema to those members of the European Community who are not being invited. The Italians, in particular, are deeply offended. Not only do they have a claim to admission, as an economic and industrial power in their own right, almost as good as Britain's; they also hold the Presidency of the Community Council of Ministers and have the backing of the smaller members in saying they ought to have been invited in that capacity. This was an odd situation for the Nine, who had arrived in Helsinki publicly congratulating themselves on their progress towards a common foreign policy. The plan was, however, that the Italians would be compensated by being invited to deal with the Cyprus problem, which has so far defied Mr Callaghan, Dr Kissinger, Dr Kurt Waldheim of the United Nations and everyone else who has come into contact with it. Here the Italians may indeed act as the President of the Council and also as a Mediterranean power which has kept in relatively well with both Greeks and Turks. It is the most promising initiative so far, which is not saying very much, and it would serve Mr Callaghan et al right for their arrogance if the Italians went ahead and solved it where others have so conspicuously failed.

Of course, not all the private meetings were productive of so much heat. nor indeed of anything else. A typical example would be the exchange between the Prime Minister of Ruritania (West) and the Chairman of the Party of Ruritania (East). There would be some hasty prior consultation of notes and a determination (not always kept) to couple the right head of government with the right country, mutual pleasantries, a reference to the spirit of Helsinki, and some talk about trade, usually ending up with the assertion that Eastern Europe finds it very difficult to export its agricultural produce to the Common Market. On the whole, the politicians said they found such meetings rewarding while the civil servants were sceptical.

There were worse things to do than listen to the public statements. Large parts of them consisted of the conventional pieties and statements of the obvious, but speeches by thirty-five states — all of Europe minus Albania, plus the US and Canada — did at least serve as a reminder that Europe is a very diverse place and that each country sees it from its own geographical and historical position. It was reassuring, for example to find that President Tito in the flesh (itself a remarkable sight) expresses the same concern about being caught between two military blocs that one has always read about. The arms race, he said, continued "under the pretext of maintaining the balance of power."There was pleasure too in the simplieity of the statement by the Norwegian Prime Minister: "Norway is in alliance with one of the world's two superpowers and a neighbour of the other."

The Prime Minister of Canada, by contrast, charms by his voice alone.

President Giscard also excelled in style, but was weak in content — corresponding perhaps to his estimate of the conference. He was the only one to raise a laugh. Comparing Helsinki to the Congress of Vienna, he said: "Vienna was a congress which danced. More precisely, the foreign ministers worked and the heads of state danced. Sur ce point, Monsieur le Prdsident, la situation peut encore etre redressee," There was a more cruel joke from the Deputy Prime Minister of Malta who said, with some accuracy, that the European Community's dialogue with the Arabs was "meant to be the clarion call of a new Mediterranean era" but had "turned out to be an inaudible whisper unnoticed by all the Mediterranean peoples." There was also Mr Wilson, whose lot it was (literally) to speak first and who was one of the very few speakers to go slightly over time. His speech contained (pace perhaps Mrs Thatcher) what he might have called, had anyone asked him on the record, "three really nasty ankle taps" at the Russians, one of them a reference to Soviet Jews who want to emigrate to Israel.

Everything was there: the Commonwealth, commodity prices, Berlin, China, peaceful nuclear explosions, a telling awareness of the changing Soviet definitions of 'peaceful coexistence' and a quotation from Mr Attlee.

The Prime Minister, indeed, quotes Attlee nowadays just as Mr Brezhnev quotes Lenin to show his respectability. At the end, he was surprised to find himself congratulated by the Russians as warmly as by the Americans. So was almost everyone else, and the Soviet readiness not to take offence at the ankle-tapping is being taken as one of the signs that times have really changed.

For what it is worth, Mr Wilson's view that Britain is now back on the map is based on a combination of three things: the reception he received on his visit to Moscow early this year, the Common Market referendum and the new counter-inflation policy. It should not be entirely sniffed at: there is an almost pathetic longing on the part of other powers, both East and West, to take Britain seriously. At any rate, his speech serves as good as any for laying down the future agenda for détente. There will be (almost certainly) a second strategic arms limitation agreement (SALT 2) between the Americans and the Russians, which Mr Brezh nev will sign when he goes to Washington in the autumn. There will have to be, although this is more difficult, some progress in the negotiation in mutual and balanced force reductions (MBFR) in Vienna. And the Russians will have to remain on good behaviour, not intervening even in their own backyard and showing some deference to the Helsinki resolutions on increasing human contacts, at least until the Review Conference due to take place in Belgrade in mid-1977.

If only it were really so simple, it might be done — even the technically complicated MBFR. The trouble is that the Helsinki resolutions make no allowance for the unfore seeable, and not a great deal for what can be foreseen with some clarity. Look across the map of Southern Europe from Lisbon to Ankara, and it would be a brave man who would predict that we can all go smoothly to Belgrade in two years' time. The troubles in Portugal, the potential troubles in Spain, the possible,troubles in Italy, Yugoslavia after Tito, the turmoil in the Eastern Mediterranean — everyone knew about this in Helsinki and it even came through in some of the speeches. But what they are doing is simply keeping their fingers crossed — Mr Brezhnev perhaps as much as anyone else.