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1968 Secret History Friday, 1 January, 1999, 13:30 GMT
Nato's 1968 nuclear option
Soviet tanks in Prague
Soviet tanks in Prague - Nato shocked by invasion
Nato commanders were so gloomy about their chances of repelling a Soviet attack after the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia they contemplated using nuclear weapons, according to British records released on Friday.

1968 Secret History
Warsaw-pact forces attacked the country in late August, putting an end to Alexander Dubcek's Prague Spring, and establishing a permanent Soviet military presence which lasted until the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe.


To send or not to send

The 1968 invasion also led to a bitter argument between then UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson and his Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart over whether to send Christmas cards to Soviet Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and other Warsaw Pact leaders that year.

According to the released government documents, Mr Stewart argued that "it might be better for none of the aggressors' leaders to receive Christmas cards."

But Mr Wilson thought it would seem "petty to change the practice", and reminded the Foreign Office that diplomatic relations were not broken off.

After several exchanges of notes, the issue had to be raised at a cabinet meeting, where it was decided that "ministers should send Christmas cards as they wished."

"The prime minister therefore decided that he would send cards to the same members of these governments as in 1967."

According to the documents, which were released on the expiry of the 30-year Cabinet Rule, the invasion triggered bitter mutual recriminations over the low numbers and quality of Nato forces in Europe.

"I can only say that this failure to translate recognition of the new Russian capability into specific urgent recommendations for measures to improve our conventional capability could lead us back to quick recourse to nuclear war in case of attack," US General Lyron Lemintzer of Nato's Supreme Allied Command Europe (Saceur) is quoted as saying in the minutes of a Nato Military Committee meeting held in Brussels in September 1968.

"I am certain we all agree this could be a dangerous price to pay for the lack of military prudence."

A Nato report into the implications of the invasion had been removed from the UK records and destroyed for security reasons, but notes of the discussions about the report remained intact and repeated some of its key sections.

"The increased Warsaw Pact capability for initiating an attack, without build-up, gives added emphasis to the need to improve Nato's capability to deal with an attack with little or no warning by some or all of the forces immediately available to the Warsaw Pact," read one paragraph of the 1968 report.

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