The 'last secret of the cold war,' divulged by a former top Kremlin leader, reveals that President George Bush Senior was just as determined as his son Dubya to use armed force to oust a dictator who had furtively obtained a dirty atom bomb in 1989.
Just as George Bush Junior has his sights set on Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Bush Senior urged Moscow to unleash the Red Army to rid Romania of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
After the peaceful velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe resulting in the rapid fall of communism in East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, the tyrant Ceausescu grimly clung to power and set his murderous Securitate secret police on the peaceful demonstrators in Timisoara and Bucharest.
As thousands were being shot in the unequal street battles in December 1989, Bush Senior's hands were tied: however much he wanted, he could not intervene militarily in the backyard of the Soviet Union. The Yalta agreement had made that impossible.
Washington's moral outrage against the West's then favourite hate figure forced Bush Senior to send James Baker, his secretary of state, on a secret mission to Moscow to urge the Kremlin to intervene militarily in Romania. Soviet military interventions in East Germany in 1953, in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968 had earned Russia the evil empire epithet coined by President Reagan, Bush Senior's predecessor in the White House.
In bestowing this epithet, reminiscent of Bush Junior's axis of evil label, Washington occupied the moral high ground. Yet here was the champion of democracy and torch-bearer of human rights urging the Soviet Union to invade a presumably equally evil communist dictator. For President Gorbachev, this was an unpredictable turn of events .
Admittedly, Ceausescu was a dangerous and unstable dictator. But he posed no real threat to the US. Nevertheless, Bush Senior decided that the tyrant must be removed by armed force.
Shortly before Christmas 1989, Baker flew to Moscow to ask Eduard Shevardnadze, the then Soviet foreign minister, to invade Romania. 'The Kremlin was startled,' revealed Shevardnadze, speaking for the first time about the US's invasion call in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
Shevardnadze is now the president of independent Georgia and is apparently not bound by the rules of secrecy of former top Soviet officials.
He told President Iliescu of Romania during his state visit to Tbilisi last month that, 'in 1989, the Kremlin firmly rejected the suggestion of my American counterpart that the Soviet Union should intervene militarily in Romania'. He added that Russia had repudiated the Brezhnev Doctrine of limited sovereignty, which -- not unlike the US's Monroe Doctrine -- gave Moscow a fig leaf of legality to intervene anywhere in the Soviet bloc where allegedly socialism was in danger.
The veracity of 'the last secret of the cold war' was confirmed by a spokesman of President Iliescu in Bucharest. 'At a moment in time which was decisive for our national destiny, and when thousands of Romanians were being killed and wounded in the people's uprising against the Ceausescu dictatorship, the Georgian-born foreign minister of the Soviet Union firmly rebutted his American colleague's suggestion of a Russian invasion of Romania. We thank him for it now,' the Romanian presidential spokesman said.
Recently, the Sunday Herald uncovered incontrovertible proof that, shortly before his overthrow and execution, Ceausescu's scientists had developed a nuclear capability. With its east European empire in terminal crisis, the Kremlin was alarmed but reluctant to act. Washington wanted military action.
Ever since the bloody overthrow of Ceausescu, during which Moscow-backed communists like Ion Iliescu, Romania's present president, were deeply involved, there have been rumours that in the last days of Ceausescu's rule Romania had the technological know-how to produce atomic weapons. A recent report by Russia's FSI external intelligence service, based on the secret archives of the KGB, confirms communist Romania's nuclear capability.
The report, obtained by the Bucharest daily Ziua, reveals a hitherto unknown facet of Ceausescu who, in his heyday, was a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and a vociferous opponent of arms of mass destruction, be they in the East or in the West. In 1985, while publicly backing the West's unilateral nuclear disarmers, he ordered a crash nuclear arms programme with no expenses spared even though Romania was bankrupt. Four years later, he had his weapon of mass destruction.
In May 1989, scientists at Romania's secret nuclear research centre at Pitesti, disguised as a chemical plant, crossed the nuclear threshold and produced 2lbs of arms-grade plutonium sufficient for a dirty atom bomb.
However, the Balkan dictator had joined the Rogue States' Nuclear Club with the help of US technology and aid, provided by the US to Romania to discomfit the Soviet Union. Ceausescu's nuclear ambition only got off the ground with the help of enriched uranium supplied by America for research purposes to Bucharest, and a Triga-II nuclear reactor, also of US origin, according to the FSI report.