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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 6. Epilogue: Re-engining the 1-11


Chapter 6

Epilogue: Re-engining the 1-11

Andrei’s memoirs devote a large amount of space to significant aspects of Romania’s political economy in the 1980s: namely, the obsession with export goals, the quality problems of manufactured goods, the asphyxiating and dysfunctional centralisation, the aversion of an ageing Ceauşescu to electronics and robotics – considered possible causes of social problems, such as unemployment or excessive leisure time.1 The most interesting thing, however, is what is not immediately apparent, that is, the fate of that aviation industry in which the Romanian regime had invested so much and which seemed to be reduced to the supply of helicopters and spare parts to Sudan and Angola.2 In fact, the 1980s tolled the death knell for the ambitious projects of the previous decades. It was during these years that two key features faded from the scene: the neo-Keynesian attention to supporting a branch of industry considered crucial in terms of innovation and employment – if not of prestige – in Britain and Romania’s diminishing political relevance as the maverick of the Soviet bloc. A neo-liberal approach and a progressive marginalisation would result, after Ceauşescu’s death and the fall of the Communist regime, in the demise of Anglo-Romanian cooperation in the aviation industry.

6.1 The ROMBAC Programme in ‘Epoca de Aur’

From 1978, the growth of the Romanian economy began to decelerate. Of course, its figures were still high compared to Western and Soviet bloc countries, even if statistics should...

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