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Détente and Beyond

Anglo-Romanian Relations in the Aviation Industry (1966-1993)


Mauro Elli

By the mid-1960s, the whole European aviation industry had begun looking at two main solutions in order to survive competition from the USA: European cooperation, and exports to markets still closed to the Americans. Against this background, Anglo-Romanian dealings in the aviation industry over a period of almost thirty years are a case of converging politico-military interests with major interpretative potential. This holds true for the history of East-West relations and infra-Western commercial competition, but also for the transformation of domestic decision-making patterns and the change in economic priorities. While Britain became Romania’s first commercial partner in order to offer a new outlet to the aviation industry, Bucharest was looking at the U.K. to pursue a strategy of industrial modernisation and political visibility. The story of their intersection sheds light on the lower-level reality of Détente in Europe. The degree of collaboration across the Iron Curtain was not just the product of a generally improved diplomatic atmosphere, but – at least in the present case – the result of a peculiar mixture of political ambition, economic viability, and technological expertise. Indeed, the change of economic paradigm in the UK (from Neo-Keynesianism to monetarist Neo-Liberalism), along with President Ceauşescu’s fixation with foreign debt, played a crucial role in the vicissitudes of Anglo-Romanian relations in the aviation industry in the period between the demise of Détente and the end of the Cold War. This points to a reasonably articulated model, which is hinged on the category of ‘transfer’, rather than on the category of ‘cooperation’.

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Chapter 5. Rombac


Chapter 5


While the negotiations for obtaining the licence to manufacture the BAC 1-11 in its entirety were undoubtedly the culmination of over ten years of Anglo-Romanian aeronautical relations, these talks also shed light on their inherent structural limitations, especially now that the Romanians were no longer in a position to play their usual card of generating competition between the European contenders. Moreover, both the United Kingdom and Romania were about to enter a new phase coming in the aftermath of the 1970s crisis. The ROMBAC project thus came to epitomise the fact that London no longer needed to maintain a relationship with Romania for foreign policy reasons, while also symbolising the megalomaniacal stagnation of the Bucharest regime. So, just when Anglo-Romanian aeronautical relations seemed to be making breakthrough, they were actually petering out.

5.1 Competing with the Germans

Towards the end of the 1970s, a study carried out on behalf of the World Bank highlighted that Romania had made huge progress over twenty-five years thanks to a catch-up strategy based on high levels of saving and investment. Over the 1950-75 period, by mobilising resources and limiting consumption, Romania had had the highest growth rate in Eastern Europe, sustained by a phenomenal amount of investments (with an annual average growth rate of 13.1%), most of which was ploughed back into industrial production. Thanks to enormous efforts, this development was reflected in the increased exportation of manufactured goods, with some success stories,...

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