Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Young Conservative Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Winter Gardens, Bournemouth
Source: Thatcher MSS (THCR 5/1/4/40 f27): speaking text and notes
Editorial comments: MT addressed the Conference at 1200. The central section of her speech - titled "defence and disarmament" - was released to the press; the opening was delivered from notes. A section has been checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 12 February 1982 (see editorial notes in text).
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2201
Themes: Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Economy (general discussions), Education, Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Labour Party & socialism, Religion & morality, Social security & welfare

[Rough notes by MT]

Congratulate you on largest Cons. conf.

[Be strong in defence of liberty

—in defence of our country

—in defence of our people.]

Inflation—fantastic achievement

Good basis but not enough.

Enterprise and efficiency.


Social Policies—Pensions—health pointing out that

In spite of recession

—Pensions …

—Health …

Can't please everyone.



Content, well-taught.

Parents playing their part as well as teachers.

A positive approach—

The right approach

A steady approach

A sustained approach for the long run.

But not going to do it

—all of those things would fail unless

—strong in defence of [end p1]


—our country

—our people.

Future—lasts longer than present generation of politicians

—duty of present politicians to ensure your heritage

—not to be the instruments of fashion or facile argument

—but the architects of enduring security, stability, liberty.

Keep Security—Disarm

We believe in pursuing our political case by Persuasion.

Shouting and shoving.

We must have thought out case and be able to argue it.

The 5 myths of the Unilateralists

1) If we give up the weapon we shall be safe.

2) The Soviet Union will not seek to achieve her ends by force.

3) Unilateralism is a moral gesture.

4) The Myth of Immunity.

5) Weakness prevents attack. [Start of typescript] [end p2]


The horror of the nuclear bomb needs no underlining from me. None of us can ignore the devastation which would result from a war waged with nuclear weapons. It is no wonder that many people—particularly young people—are so concerned and so fearful.

Indeed, it is precisely because this Government has faced up to the horror of war that we have gone to such lengths to prevent it. [end p3]

Those who want to work unremittingly for peace, for justice, and for freedom have this Government on their side.

And not only in their search for nuclear disarmament. We know all too well that conventional weapons—and what an inadequate term that is—can cause untold damage.([Marginal note:] Misleadingly comfortable.) The destruction of Dresden rivalled that of Nagasaki. [end p4]


Peace is not bought cheaply. It cannot be won without cost. The cost of Britain's defence is the price we pay to prevent war. The money for our armed services is truly our “peace tax” . [Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 12 February 1983:]

What a cruel irony it is that the word “peace” has been hijacked by those who seek one-sided disarmament. (Applause).

It's ironic because if only one side disarms, the other is far more tempted to aggression. Unilateralism makes war more likely.

We who believe in strong defence are the true peace party. [end p5] [End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 12 February 1983].



Those who support unilateralism believe that the nuclear weapon is so horrific that we should have nothing to do with it. Some of them counsel the West to give up its deterrent. That would leave the Soviet Union with a virtual monopoly of nuclear arms: that tyrannical regime, which cares not one jot for human rights, uniquely able to blackmail mankind.

May I remind those who hold these views of a lesson but half a century old. [end p6]

It is exactly fifty years since Hitler became Chancellor of the German Reich. And this very week, the people of Lyons are reliving the horrors of the Nazi occupation: the torture, the death and the concentration camps. If in the 1930s, nuclear weapons had been invented and the Allies had been faced by Nazi SS20s and Backfire bombers, would it then have been morally right to have handed to Hitler total control of the most terrible weapons which man has ever made? [end p7]

Would not that have been the one way to ensure that the “1000 year Reich” became exactly that? Would not unilateralism have given to Hitler the world domination he sought? That would have been the beginning of a new dark ages.

Put that way, of course, most people can see the unilateralist argument for what it really is. ([Marginal note]: THE SOVIET UNION WILL NOT SEEK TO ACHIEVE HER ENDS BY FORCE.) Sadly, however, there are many in C.N.D. who minimise the danger from the Soviet Union and refuse to acknowledge its tyranny in order to promote their scheme for one-sided disarmament. [end p8]

And this in spite of the Sakharovs and the Shcharanskys.

By underplaying the threat from Russia, they convince themselves that it would be safe for the West to dismantle her defences. May I quote from the Church and the Bomb? (p. 24) There the unilateralists say “The Russians do not want war: they recognise that war is not now a viable instrument of Soviet foreign policy” . I wonder how that sentence would translate into Hungarian or Czech or Polish? I wonder how it would be received in Afghanistan or in Cambodia? [end p9]

The trouble is that the sheer horror of modern warfare can drive people to unreason. For as Edmund Burke said, “No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”

They feel so fearful that they demand that something be done—whatever it is and whatever the consequence. Yet it is precisely when the dangers are greatest that our heads must be coolest. [end p10]

It cannot be sensible for the West to disarm and abandon this most terrible weapon to a nation whose philosophy and whose actions show their total disregard for freedom and justice. ([Marginal note]: UNILATERALISM IS A MORAL GESTURE.)

But, of course, many of the one-sided disarmers, don't face up to the logic of their case. They don't suggest that America should give up its bomb. They don't think that's realistic. They suggest instead that Britain should make an individual moral gesture. [end p11]

They want us to disengage from what they call the confrontation of the super-powers and set a moral example.

Mind you, it's an odd kind of morality which allows you to renounce your own nuclear weapons, secure in the belief that you are protected by someone else's. Evidently the nuclear bomb is too horrific for the British to own, but not too horrific for the Americans to protect us with. So long as they do it from their soil and not from ours. [end p12]

We are to be protected by our allies, but contribute nothing towards that protection. That, a moral gesture? ‘Some morality—some gesture.’ Some alliance—some friendship.

Yet that now appears to be the official policy of the Labour Party. They believe that we should dismantle our own deterrent, throw out our American partners, yet still expect them to defend us. [end p13]

Doubtless such a policy would impress the Kremlin but hardly with our resolution to defend ourselves. Indeed it would lead them to believe that they only had to step up their propaganda and the West would disarm without any need for the Soviets to reduce their weapons at all. That policy would make multilateral disarmament much less likely.

What need would there be for Russia to talk seriously about disarmament if she believed that the West would disarm on its own? [end p14] Britain's one-sided renunciation of nuclear arms would encourage the Warsaw Pact and tear NATO apart. ([Marginal note]: THE MYTH OF IMMUNITY.)

But underlying this idea of moral gestures is a simpler attraction. People believe that if we had no missiles of our own, and if we had no foreign bases on our territory, we would cease to be a target. [end p15]

They could not be more wrong. Just look at a map. Our position is so important that we could not be immune if war were to come between the two super-powers. The experience of two World Wars is that neutrality is no bar to invasion when geography makes you strategically vital.

And history teaches us another lesson.

Nagasaki and Hiroshima were not attacked because Japan had nuclear bases and missile sites on her soil. [end p16] They were vulnerable for precisely the opposite reason. Would the nuclear bombs have been dropped if Japan could have retaliated? I doubt it. Nagasaki and Hiroshima show just how vulnerable a nuclear-free zone really is. ([Marginal note]: DEFENCELESSNESS PREVENTS ATTACK.)

And we can learn from the experiences of our own time. It is weakness—and not only in nuclear weapons—that invites attack. [end p17]

The Russians were encouraged to invade Afghanistan because they believed the resistance would be minimal. That small country presented no threat to Soviet might. So it seemed safe to invade her when it suited them to do so. It is the lesson that every child learns at school: the bully sets upon the weak and not upon the strong. [end p18]

How can it be sensible to flout everything history teaches us and all that we have learned from our own experience? The only sure way is to convince the aggressor that he can gain no possible victory from war.

The nuclear deterrent has kept the peace in Europe for thirty-seven years—an achievement beyond price. In the same period, conventional war in other parts of the world has killed ten million people. Nuclear war is a terrible threat, conventional war a terrible reality. Yet we have been saved these horrors of war in Europe for almost the longest time for two hundred years. [end p19]

The deterrent has worked. Not only to prevent nuclear war in Europe, but conventional war as well. It would be madness to throw it away.

The so-called balance of terror keeps the peace. But it still means that huge arsenals of weapons are piled high on either side.

What we have to ensure is the progressive reduction of the level of weapons on both sides. [end p20]

The deterrent gives us the chance to seek balanced disarmament and still keep our security. Because neither side can see advantage in war, both sides increasingly become aware of the cost and the waste which the arms race involves. Slowly and patiently we can begin to disarm in a way which gives confidence to both sides. That disarmament must be mutual. It must be genuinely balanced. And it must be truly verifiable. For when national security is at stake, we cannot take things on trust—we have to be sure. [end p21]

I was, of course, pleased that last Thursday, the Church of England endorsed the multilateral approach and turned down one-sided disarmament by more than three to one. I also know the sense of urgency and serious commitment that Churchmen feel about Britain's responsibility to work for disarmament. I share that feeling. Multilateralism is not an excuse to do nothing. It is the opportunity for genuine disarmament. Our commitment too is to build real and lasting peace in a just world. [end p22]

Arms control and disarmament are therefore key elements in the policy of this Government. And no country has been more patient, hard-working and determined in the quest for arms control and reduction than Britain. [end p23]

It is our aim, together with our NATO allies to banish a whole class of nuclear missiles—those which pose the greatest threat to Europe. Success depends on the Soviet Union. Not on us. Provided Russia withdraws her SS20s, there will be no Pershing Missiles and no Cruise in Europe. That is what we mean by the zero option. It must remain our goal. We are the true disarmers. [end p24] If it cannot be achieved at first then we must still seek balance at whatever number, for that is the essence of deterrence.

The strategic nuclear weapons are also the subject of talks between the United States and the Soviet Union. The United States has proposed to cut the numbers of warheads by one third—a radical proposal.

NATO has been negotiating patiently on conventional forces for some nine years. [end p25]

In 1982 the West put forward new proposals which the Soviets at first appeared to welcome, but they have remained obdurate on two key issues. They will not reveal the precise numbers of Warsaw Pact troops in Eastern Europe and they will not agree effective procedures for verification. Despite the slow progress we shall not give up.

We are also deeply concerned about the weapons of chemical warfare. [end p26]

Britain has taken a lead with proposals for an international ban on the possession of chemical weapons. We destroyed our own stocks many years ago. Unilateralism did not work. The Soviets continued to build up their stocks.

There is no shortage of proposals for arms control. But in the end, it is not weapons which cause war, but the people who possess them. [end p27]

It is not enough for other powers to say that they will refrain from using nuclear weapons first. Such promises could never be relied upon if ever war started. We need something much more fundamental than that—a credible assurance against starting military action at all.

We threaten no-one.

NATO threatens no-one. Together with all the other NATO heads of Government, I made a solemn pledge at our meeting in Bonn last June. [end p28] That no NATO weapons—conventional or nuclear—would ever be used except in response to attack. [end p29]

Our message is

Idealist—it seeks peace with freedom and justice, not only for us but for those who long to escape from tyranny.

Realistic—it has taken the measure of those who threaten our way of life.

Practical—its proposals are attainable.

Proven—it has stood the test of time and preserved peace with liberty and democracy. [end p30]

To abandon it now would be the height of folly.

Our message is the way to true disarmament with true security and the way to a peace worthy of a free world—worthy of Britain.