31 January 2018

Free Exchange: On the front line of the Cold War


This week’s guest on Free Exchange is Sir Christopher Mallaby, a retired British diplomat whose career was defined by the Cold War.

Sir Christopher recently published his memoirs, Living the Cold War. As well as an account of some of the most important events in the 20th Century, the book is a font of fascinating details of everyday life for someone involved in that all-consuming clash between East and West.

His first posting was Moscow, where he arrived in 1961. Not only did he and embassy colleagues have to contend with the hardship and drudgery of Soviet life, but they also faced constant surveillance, harassment and attempts at subornation by the KGB. Of these irritations he now says: “So what? It was the Cold War and to be involved at the very front line was a thrill.”

Almost 30 years later, as Ambassador to West Germany, he flew in to Berlin by helicopter to see the Wall come down. “I still remember the sight of a small East German boy returning with his parents through Checkpoint Charlie from his first outing to a capitalist toy shop,” he writes. “That was the moment when I knew the Iron Curtain had begun to melt. The tensions of life in Khruschev’s Moscow suddenly belonged to history. For someone who had spent most of three decades working in the Cold War, it was a giant relief and something of a vindication.”

I spoke to Sir Christopher about his career, life in the Soviet Union, his disagreement with Margaret Thatcher, and how to understand the Russian threat in 2018.

You can listen to the full episode here, or subscribe via iTunes.

Oliver Wiseman is Editor of CapX.