Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1983 Feb 16 We
Margaret Thatcher

Interview for Sunday Telegraph

Document type: speeches
Document kind: Interview
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Gordon Brook-Shepherd, Sunday Telegraph
Editorial comments: 1630-1730. The transcript is of poor quality.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4854
Themes: Agriculture, Commonwealth (general), Commonwealth (Rhodesia-Zimbabwe), Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Defence (Falklands War, 1982), Trade, European Union (general), European Union Budget, Foreign policy (general discussions), Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Media
Note: the speech of the interviewer was occasionally unclear on the recording.

GS

As I say, everybody knows you have got very clear objectives in domestic policy and you stick to them… and I wonder whether you have ever had the same sort of feeling about foreign policy. Whether you have ever said to yourself, this is the central thing I want to achieve for Britain, for the world, or for the world in general. Whether you have ever had the time or the inspiration to think that long in other words on the world scene.

PM

I think when I came in I was taking two distinct different lines. The first were the immediate problems which were there and which had to be sorted out. The one was Rhodesia. Now that loomed very large and it loomed immediately. It loomed immediately for reasons you know. One had to go to the Lusaka Commonwealth Conference. I will never forget it because when I arrived there was immense hostility, awful things written about one in the press. And when one came away they realised that one was a rather different person from what they had thought. But that loomed large and it was immediate and because for fifteen years we had tried to sort it out and it hadn't been sorted out and it was a very great problem. So that was an immediate problem.

The second thing that was immediate was the budget for Europe. And we had a real problem there. That had to be sorted out. And from the very first European Council meeting I went to, which was in Strasbourg with Valery Giscard d'EstaingGiscard in the chair, one had to start. It was a meeting and one had to start right at the beginning. So those were the two. And I knew that we just had to tackle those.

I also put some very strong views on defence, because one had certain perceptions on the Soviet Union. Now that was what I said on the other line, on the wider strategic line. I have certain perceptions of the Soviet Union. I knew that we had to be absolutely strong in defence. I had studied for some time their enormous increases in armaments and their objectives. This comes from very very long ago. I first became interested in Communism I think from just reading about it when I was about sixteen or seventeen. Not surprising, of course we were … again because that period you will remember that the Soviet Union had a non-aggression pact with Germany and of course it was broken. And then all of us, from having had very considerable ideological differences with the Soviet Union which even I knew about as a teenager—that Communism [end p498] was not something that I found any attractions in at all. And then we suddenly had to change and because we were both on the same side and one, they very much took Winston ChurchillWinston's line—look you have to have strange alliances if you have a common enemy. So we had that sudden change, always a change with many many “Bewares” . One was very very wary of that alliance. We knew that the Soviet Union had gone into Finland. And I said that I had earlier looked at some books on Communism. I do remember a book by Jan Valtin—I hope I have I pronounced it correctly— “Out of the Night” —a fantastic book on Communism which I read very early and the thing which always struck me very very vividly was the sort of total extinction of all personal liberty, and I was very much struck by that right from the word go. Also having read of these and an amount about it that their objectives were World Communism. They had a world objective—world domination—which they pursued by one means or another. And this obviously has never left me.

But the longer term objectives. You see, we had the immediate objective—Rhodesia and the European Budget. The longer term objective in my life has always been a wish to extend freedom and justice to all people. Wish to extend what we regard as the essentials of civilisation based, I would say, on our values, and our values I know come from a mixture of Judaism and Christianity. But they are the sanctity, the freedom of the individual, of which the other side of the coin of the freedom of individuals—I am always saying to people—there is no freedom for the individual without a system of justice. And by that I mean a just law, governed impartially. They are two sides of the same coin.

I have always had that, not at the background of my mind, but very much in my blood stream, that's the only way I can put it.

But at the same time if ever I have had a view of the Soviet Union and a view of other Communist states it is that these must not actually extend their borders. And insofar as there is a third world, a non-aligned world, the view that I have to take is this. Of course they want increasing prosperity, who doesn't? I don't know any individuals or any countries that don't want increasing prosperity, not only in material things but because it gives you the opportunity to do so many really interesting things with your life. To enlarge your understanding, to enlarge your knowledge, to enlarge your experience in the store house of the world, in art, in music and in everything else. But our job in a way was to try to convince them that the way to increasing prosperity and to a better way of life [end p499] lay by our Western way, by adopting more our Western way and not playing with the Communist bloc. Because, if you looked at it, the two things are related. There is your freedom and your economic success—they are intimately related. You only really get the great economic success over a long sustained period of increasing prosperity if you get the freedom of people to start up on their own; the freedom of discussion; the freedom to receive new ideas, and to receive new ideas and to create new ideas you must have a freedom of discussion the whole time.

Do you remember that marvellous book by Karl Popper— “The Open Society” —and how at some times people played with the idea, and I can remember in war-time, that dictatorships are so much more efficient than the West—they can get things done much more quickly. Now over a short war-time period on armaments that might for a few months, perhaps a few short years, be true. In the longer run it isn't. Because the dictatorship does not permit the alternative idea, the alternative view. And therefore if you extinguish the alternative idea, the alternative view, the freedom of discussion, they… you very quickly become an ossified society. And also within a matter of months or years, people do not work as well, they only do what they have to do, what they are forced to do, whereas in a free society the moment you are in danger you all come together, you are motivated to keep it.

So always at the background is one's perception of the Third World, that their way to a better way of life comes by being closer to our way of life and therefore one's foreign policy is to some extent governed by that. And as far as the Soviet bloc and Communist countries, we don't threaten them in the sense that we don't try to cross their borders. One learned this comparatively, well in one's early political life, that you may have ideals, and you do have ideals and you always have to be fired by those ideals. But you do not on the other hand say because that country does not accept my standard of values I will have nothing to do with them. The first is the view that you might influence them. But then secondly there are many regimes in the world who do not adopt our standards and values. They may be the more readily persuadable to go to those than any alternative revolutionary regime that may take over. And I think the classic example of that is Iran and the Shah. They would have come out, I think, to more of our values.

Therefore it is this combination of two things. One's deep ideals together with what is practically possible to do now, or take one more towards those ideals. What I have set aside as being not possible that we can do now, but equally I know that you cannot run a foreign policy on trying to [end p500] threaten the Soviet Union or other countries that think differently from you in any way. Threatening is no part of our civilisation. Attacking physically by force others is no part of our civilisation, and that is why we always think in terms of defending—if I might sum it up—in defending the things we believe in and being strong to defend, because life has taught us that if you believe in something it is worth defending. Strong in defence. And for the rest you do by persuasion and example.

Let me put it this way, I was surprised in a way, in modern times you can actually keep down the people as long as you can in a Communist society. The Soviet Union—I still remain somewhat surprised that they have managed to keep them down for over sixty years, though some of the old tyrannical empires lasted much longer. It is something that one has always considered, whether the new technology that we have actually allows you to keep down and condition people very much longer than you could without that. It may be so, you know. I remember going to a lecture at college by Peter Meadawar, who was at Oxford—he was an elderly professor at Oxford—and I still remember it, it was not a terribly long lecture, indeed I can tell you I was rather startled, it ended after twenty-five minutes, and we were used to a customary hour. It was to a conference at Somerville. And he said that, in dealing with the new bio-chemicals, the time may come when you can perhaps condition and control peoples' minds. I remember the sense of alarm; the bells all rang, the sense of alarm that that struck. And it may be that with the radio, with television, with the new technology, that it may be that in some ways it might be easier for them by the selection of information that they let …

GS

…   . radio before the television. These people, they've got the computer. It's very interesting that they are very careful, I'm told by some people, not to let too many computers get outside of the main stream of the party. The point being that if you get a computer in non-reliable hands it can then come back to you with … The Americans have tried to sell computers and they say, “Oh no, we can't do that’. [end p501]

PM

It seems to me that they have had two things. They have had devices in the early stages enabling them to keep a closer watch on people than ever before, and closer hearing on people than ever before. And maybe we are coming to the stage when those things could go the other way. And when you get satellite television, whether just as they now cannot stop people listening to radio, they can't jam the whole sound, whether the time will come when we will be able to beam in some television. And it may come that way. Now, have I really answered your question?

GS

Yes, you have. That is what I call the philosophy of it. But now we come then to the …   . in fulfilling this role, my next question is, and this is a question of policy rather than philosophy, how are we going to play the dual, our dual situation, Europe and America. I mean are we going to, planning it ahead, can one plan it ahead? Can you say that, “Well, the time will come with America leaning more and more towards Latin America, we've got to put even more weight into Europe,” or do you say, “Well, Europe…” or can we go on as a deliberate aim, like a horseback rider at a circus, astride the two horses at once? I mean, what is our position?

PM

I see them slightly differently. You see them as two—I'll talk about these two in a moment—let me talk about them as one. I see them both—I see the North America, the whole of North America, which is the United States and Canada and the whole of Europe as really one bastion of democracy and they are the only bastions we have in the world. Well, no, that's not wholly true, India is as well. When I think about the Atlantic and when I talk about the Atlantic Alliance, that's the way that I see it. Not so much as Europe and the United States. I see it as the Atlantic Alliance and I see it as the biggest bastion of democracy. The biggest group of democratic nations the world over. The necessity to keep that, to keep it stable, to keep it for purposes of defence, to keep it as an example, and to keep it as an influence on others. I notice that we see far more of people, one another, in Europe than we do across the Atlantic which I regret, and that's why I am always very pleased when George Shultz comes over or George Bush. But it is a weakness in a way in the Alliance. We see our European partners more than we actually see them across the Atlantic. It is institutionalised, yes. Yes, it's a pity. Europe is a force of stability in the world. [end p502]

Now some people will say that Communism is stable. That was true for a long time. It is no longer. It is no longer. For a long time Communism was stable but it is no longer true. But you can have your stability coming, you've got a sustainable stability in your democracies which you have not got, I think, in any system of force. So I see it very much as a Western Alliance.

GS

You don't see a tug of war between the two?

PM

No, I don't see a tug of war. When I do see people trying to play them off one against another I get a little bit impatient. I really get impatient because it's not seeing the larger view. I get very impatient if they don't see the larger view. I get very impatient if they only look to see an immediate view.

GS

There was a lot of this talk, remember, when we had the Siberian gas pipeline problem and the steel embargo business … One had a sort of feeling …

PM

What can I say? I'll have to be careful. But I'll say this. No, two things. I was going to say that I see America in two ways. One is in the Western Alliance. I also reckon that the United States not only looks eastwards across the Atlantic, which of course it is her natural tendency to do, because not only are we an English-speaking people, but because many many Europeans went there as well. She also, a large part of her, looks westwards across the Pacific and also south down to South America and the Caribbean. And we in Europe have to take into account those other geographical interests and philosophical interests that she has. Our foreign policy must be tempered by your geography, must be tempered by your geography. Yes, it must be. And therefore she must in fact take a very considerable interest in the West across the Pacific, where she has got Japan and of course again across to China and actually if you look West don't forget the Soviet Union is jolly close to Alaska. Yes—just across the top. Just across the top. So she has got to look all ways as well and we must understand that.

And insofar as we also have Commonwealth interests, which again I never forget, because we get together once every two years in our Regional Conferences. In some ways our Commonwealth interests can also bring us quite near to the United States. [end p503] For example in the Caribbean. And also in the Falklands. Now, the Falklands to me has a strategic as well as a British people interest

Now, you were asking me … I know what I was going to go on to say. Those were the two things. But I know what I was going to go on to say—the Siberian pipeline. When it comes… trade policy of course is also a very, very important part of both your philosophic policy and your foreign policy. Very, very important indeed. And the Siberian pipeline comes into trade policy to some extent. West/East policy. Let's have a look at West/East. I am absolutely all for the stopping the latest technology from getting to the Soviet Union. For defence reasons. For fundamental defence reasons. I confess that I have grave doubts whether normal trading sanctions would have any effect whatever on Soviet policy. I put it very carefully, because in that sort of society, all right, if you don't quite get enough food as you wish, first you can probably get it from another part of the world, always with trade sanctions someone will sell you what you want. And secondly in that sort of society you can use it almost as a matter to increase the kind of pride. “All right, they won't let us have … we will do it ourselves.”

GS

It's happening in Poland …

PM

What I do not think is right is to sell them subsidised stuff from Europe at cheaper prices than we can get for them. The point is fundamentally wrong. There is a surplus policy in Europe. You can never divorce your trading policy from your foreign policy. And here we are right up against it. We, I believe, have run a wrong CAP policy in Europe, having surpluses, and subsidised surpluses leads to subsidised surpluses. The United States has surpluses and is saying if you are going to have subsidised surpluses we are going to have subsidised surpluses. So you get in competitive subsidies which the richest nation will always win. It goes further than that. If you go into that, you're right into the heart of foreign policy, because you are upsetting other people's economies. Often the economies of friends. You also are running what I call a paternalistic Third World policy and I am against paternalistic [end p504] policies, as you would gather from my very deep philosophy. My very deep philosophy is that you should try to do every thing you can to help people to their own independence in their own way. You do not say we are, we and the United States, are the granaries of the world, we'll produce the food surpluses, we'll sell them cheap. You say to them, you have good soil. And they want it this way. One of the most encouraging things at Cancun was, “We do not want your surpluses except as a matter of an interim and… disaster. We want to grow our own.”

GS

Give us the tools and we will finish the job.

PM

Quite. They won't always, but it's just really in a way the way you bring up a child. Now, am I being helpful or not? It is comparatively clear always in my own mind …

GS

We are jumping around from… that doesn't matter, we have got the main theme. You mentioned the Falklands. Now, I know you have seen Helmut Kohl since our victory down there—I can't remember which other foreign leaders you have seen. But when you talked to somebody like Kohl, or any other leaders you have met in the last six or seven months, do you get the feeling talking to them of an increased respect for… that we have, by that action… that we have stiffened the West?

PM

Yes, I think wherever I have been I seem to have found agreement quite a lot, that here is undoubtedly someone who actually got up and defended freedom. We didn't just talk about it. Oh yes, there is undoubtedly. And of course we had the North Atlantic Alliance meeting over here in Westminster Hall. And several European leaders… and I went to Berlin. Very interesting when I spoke there about defending freedom and justice. There aren't many statesmen who come to us and say not only do they believe in defending freedom and justice but when one of their territories lost it for a time… we went and got it back. They looked at one another. When we lost it temporarily, we went and got it back.

GS

I'm thinking of the effect on the nervous nellies of NATO. They are not all stalwarts. We have got four or five nervous nellies [end p505] among them and…

PM

I have had to be talking about defending and the necessity for defending nuclear weapons as well. You see, I think a lot of people must have felt the same about every new dimension of weaponry throughout the ages. Every new dimension of weaponry must have led to enormous heart-searching, of course it would. But you couldn't disinvent the weaponry. Whether it was dynamite, whether it was aircraft, bombs from aircraft. The destruction of Dresden was dreadful…

GS

Do you think it is because these Cruise weapons are new in that sense… starting with the efforts we make… it is still depressing to see the extent to which the anti-nuclear opinion polls are being… you have got dual-key, including some of the backbenchers. Do you think this is because these are new and unfamiliar? I mean, they have forgotten about… missiles and aeroplanes that take off from East Anglian airfields. They are so outside the ken of the ordinary person. When they are confronted with something new being trundled into this room they say, “My goodness, that's a strange fish, how are we going to control it?” When you say every new generation of weapons brings an argument, do you think this applies to the Cruise missile problem?

PM

Partly, but I think it is something a bit deeper than that. They are looking at things as every previous generation has with a new weapon. What would happen if we had a nuclear war? Whereas when you sit where I do, you realise that the value of these weapons is as a deterrent. So basically you are looking at it in fundamentally different ways. Of course a deterrent is not a deterrent unless you are prepared to use them under certain circumstances. But to me the fact is that these weapons are so horrific that where the hostility between two powers that have both got those weapons, the thought is so terrible. But you stop all battle, not just nuclear, you stop conventional…

GS

Really what you are saying is that they think in terms of them going off and you think of them as not going off. [end p506]

PM

I think in terms of stopping them going off. That's right. I must say that the way they talk about it makes my blood run cold sometimes It's as if conventional weapons are all right and nuclear arms weren't. “Conventional” has been a sort of misleadingly comfortable word. The last War was the worst we have ever experienced. And the latest war is always the worst you have ever experienced. So we turn to stopping the Great Wars. And the argument one puts so frequently to people is, look, don't you see, we have had peace in Europe for thirty-seven years. If we go on for another six years, I think it will be the longest for two centuries…

GS

Major war…

PM

Yes, the longest major war [sic] for two centuries. If the possession of nuclear weapons is the more likely to lead to peace, do you not think the possession of nuclear weapons is justified? Some of them say no. Extraordinary. Some of them say no, and I have said to them, tell me, you use radio-activity for many, many things, but please tell me, do you mean to say that you would rather have the sort of thousand bomber raids that we have had, you would rather risk having all the things we have had in the last war—and don't forget we were getting rockets then, and of course the race was who got the nuclear bomb first—than stop such a war by having nuclear. But I mean the terrifying thing is that some of them would have unilateral disarmament and put us, in my view, in danger, the worst this country has ever known. Because they talk about peace, they forget about the Gulags, the Shcharanskys, the Sakharovs, Poland, the tanks into Hungary. Well, I don't need to tell you.

GS

Well, I was in Hungary when they came in…

PM

I get the people coming to me, they came from (Afghanistan) village Really I would just like some of those ladies on Greenham Common to have heard what actually happened to that village, an eyewitness account. I think of that as the peace they are risking.

GS

I had four hours with President Zia just before the Falklands. He is a great admirer of yours. You made a jolly good speech in … just stood up and talked.

PM

Yes I did, in a refugee camp. Mohammad Zia-ul-HaqueHe came with me. My goodness me, he has done a fantastic job, a country like Pakistan to take in two and a half to three million [end p507] refugees and actually accommodate them and the people. Its not only that the official camps have been put up. It's the ordinary people in Pakistan; they just go and take whatever they have got, some rice, they will just leave it, whatever they have got they will just leave it there. It really is remarkable.

GS

On this nuclear deterrent thing. Is this going to be our battle clearly for the next few…

PM

Well, we have started to hit back now. I think we have never really got down to explaining it.

GS

And is there anything, Prime Minister, in what one would say, I mean is the position on dual key going to stay here?

PM

Well, they have not yet [word missing] that it's [word missing] joint decision. When I say joint decision, the things don't either leave their bases or go off unless both the United States and we decide—a joint decision is dual control. Just exactly for the airplanes to leave their base. And then the airplanes leave their base before the bomb is discharged. Just as Cruise leave their base before the bomb is discharged. This is what gets me, the people in the last government had the same joint decision as I have. And what peeves me is that they want to bust the whole thing and all of the details wide open, and frankly that would be extremely useful for the Soviets to know. They had the same joint decision applying to nuclear weapons, American nuclear weapons, already on our soil. So you see this is really what I think has happened, because people think that it is new to have American weapons on our soil to defend us. It isn't. They have been here for a very long time and they don't realise that. And when Owen mentions Thor, Thor went out in 1963. The system which Owen worked with Callaghan was the joint decision and he was responsible for that decision, just as much as I am, except I suppose that he was answerable to Callaghan. And Thor—we owned the missile—and the United States owned the warhead. And we each kept physical control of our own part. That was the difference.

GS

Well, as I say what is depressing is that one can't so far… and if only they realised the extent to which they were playing… [end p508] putting this whole thing in its place. Going right back to the Cold War. The young generation have forgotten what the Cold War was. They are forgetting almost about Berlin and the blockade. I asked a young person the other day who Winston Churchill was. Not a working-class girl, not a highly-educated girl. And she replied, “Wasn't he the man who made a funny sign with his fingers?”

PM

They don't understand the difference between unilateral and multilateral disarmament at all. Also they don't understand the views that some people took over Cruise, as you know. Well, you know the history of it. It was when we got parity between the great powers.

You were afraid that Russia could sweep across Europe, target her SS20s and sweep across, with no deterrent until she got to the shores of France or Britain's borders. And there would be no deterrent to her at all. And therefore we had to get America locked into…

GS

A final thing really about foreign affairs in general. If I could pick up again at the very first question. That you had a clear objective domestically and about the problems of foreign policy. Do you find that the sheer business—I don't know whether you get on well with the Foreign Office or not—the sheer business of foreign affairs is so complicated and so messy, with so much one step forward and two sideways, that you have certain impatience with it temperamentally? [end p509]

PM

No, I don't have any impatience with it temperamentally. In fact I know that I have to have a lot of patience with it temperamentally. I know that I have to have a lot of patience with it, because in the end the number of contacts you make and oneself represents one's country, and persuasion is your greatest weapon. It's a combination of what you can do and how you persuade. No, it takes up much more time than I had expected because the fact is that everyone who comes into London wants to see one. I mean it might be a Minister of Commerce, it might be a Foreign Minister, heaven knows the number of people I see. Well, they all want to. And some of them say that they won't come unless they do.

GS

This is fascinating. I remember 1957, the year after Hungary, talking to Nehru for about two or three hours on … And suddenly he said if only people would leave me alone. I have got so much to do in… and what you said just reminded me that everybody who comes, travels in Europe or America, or Asia, they all stop off with you. All planes as you know land at four o'clock in the morning, and they all want to see you. What I am getting at is that he found he was slightly impatient of world affairs because they impinged on all he was trying to do for his own country.

PM

I think that possibly the difference between his generation and mine may be a difference in communications, it may be a difference in summitry. What happens the other side of the world affects the standard of living and the perception of the future in Britain. Foreign affairs are really no longer foreign. This is perhaps one of the fundamental differences. And of course there is so much trade in foreign affairs too. But I, what I have not said anything about is the Middle East, which I must say is that I read back its history and I must say that I think it's going to be one of the most difficult problems of all.

off the record material removed