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1983 Sep 21 We
Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference after visiting British Forces in West Germany

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Munster South NATO Training Area, West Germany
Source: Thatcher Archive: transcript
Editorial comments: 1330-1400. The transcript appears to be incomplete. MT spent the afternoon of 20 September and the morning of 21 September visiting British units. Field Marshal Sir Edwin Bramall attended the Press Conference with MT.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2356
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Defence (Falklands War, 1982), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU)

Mrs. Thatcher

I think you will probably share the same impression as I have of British armed forces in Germany, the sheer professionalism, competence and their genius for taking pains comes through everywhere we go, we've seen the wonderful professional army and air force and marvellous morale of our armed forces and I know you would like also to send that message back home. I'm very grateful to Sir E. Bramallthe Chief of Defence staff for arranging this visit for me, it is the first I have paid to the British armed forces in Germany, as Prime Minister. I am very impressed indeed. Now shall we go straight on to your questions because I'm sure you will have a great number. Can you hear a thing?

Reporter

Could I ask you one, Prime Minister, as you started on the armed forces, Brian Hamilton, from British forces broadcasting service here: can you give any guarantees, or what guarantees could you give about manning levels and the future of British forces here in Germany?

Mrs. Thatcher

Those are governed by treaty, they are by treaty of 55,000. I do not see any … I have no plans to change this.

Reporter

What about the Adam Smith institute …   .?

Mrs. Thatcher

Yes, the Adam Smith institute is very important but it doesn't decide British policy.

Chairman

David Walter.

D. Walter

How long can you give that guarantee for? How many years?

Mrs. Thatcher

Well we're governed by treaty, you asked for guarantees into the future, I don't know that even you will be here interviewing me, will you give me a guarantee that you will be here in five or ten years time? No, you can't, but we are governed by treaty, the treaty is of longstanding, our contribution on this front in NATO. I believe is vital to the future of NATO and I believe it is vital to the cohesiveness of the alliance.

Reporter

There's a rather active peace movement in Germany right now and it seems a considerable amount of people here don't welcome Western allies more than they would Eastern enemies. Do you feel it does affect the morale or the motivation of British soldiers over here?

Mrs. Thatcher

I would not accept your fundamental premise. British armed forces in Germany are overwhelmingly welcome by the enormous majority of the population who realise that we are doing our task in defending Europe, as part of NATO, and our forces are very very welcome indeed, yes, there is a small peace movement, the true peace movement is NATO itself, of which we are a part and of which you see an example and a splendid example here. [end p1]

James Buckle

James Buckle, Financial Times in Bonn. There have been some whispers in Bonn that there's a feeling that the British perhaps aren't taking seriously enough the German …   . the political difficulties the German government might have with deployment, would you … with INF deployment. Would you accept that, Prime Minister.

Mrs. Thatcher

No, I would not, I've heard no such whispers and I shall be in bonn this evening and I've never known anyone more resolute than Chancellor Kohl that he will carry out his NATO promises and commitment and on time, unless by any chance there were to be an agreement on zero option in Geneva. By December.

James Buckle

How likely do you think such an agreement is?

Mrs. Thatcher

Almost negligible.

Reporter

Yes hello. Susan Perkins, Associated Press. You said that the number of British troops used is governed by treaty, would you like to change that if you could?

Mrs. Thatcher

No I have no plans to change it.

Reporter

Prime Minister, you've been primarily with British forces on matters concerning Britain but have you formed any impression of the extent to which the weaponry of NATO, either has become standardised or ought to move further or are we still a long way from our target in terms of what we're using, the facility to work together in fact?

Mrs. Thatcher

I should ask Sir E. Bramallthe Chief of Defence staff to answer that but we all know that standardisation has not gone as far as we would wish. What is a famous phrase—‘inter-operability’. Are you going to have a go at this—do you want the microphone? Not as good as we would wish. It's very difficult to get it better. We shall continue to try.

F/m Bramall

Standardisation is something that everybody wants and we're improving on this the whole time but it's sometimes difficult to bring about because people don't always start from the same starting point, they don't always want the same bit of equipment at the same time. So it needs a lot of negotiation but more and more our equipment is becoming inter-operable and we're able to exchange ammunition which is the most important thing of all.

Chairman

The lady from A.P. wants another go.

Reporter

Yes, the resources in the Bonn government, you were saying yesterday that a special consultative group in NATO in Brussels on Monday approved the new Western initiative in Geneva—do you know anything about this?

Mrs. Thatcher

The new Western initiative, I think they're possibly referring to what President Reagan said over the relationship between the INF deployment in Europe and looking at it on a global pattern. That is right isn't it? [end p2]

David Walter

How conscious have you been during your visit here of the extra strain on the resources of the forces by the Falklands commitment and how well do you think the forces …   .?

Mrs. Thatcher

I've not been particularly conscious of it, I think we learned a great deal from the Falklands, of course a number of people who would otherwise be here are there but I think that it contributes to the whole effort which we make to NATO by having been through that experience which we hoped never to have to go through and we hope never to have to go through again. But I'm not conscious of a shortfall here. I'm conscious certainly that they are very tight on numbers to carry out all the tasks they have to perform.

Chairman

Financial Times again.

Reporter

Can I just ask a totally non-political question—for your impressions of today?

Mrs. Thatcher

I have been absolutely thrilled with everything I've seen, thrilled with the morale of the armed forces, delighted with their professionalism of which I cannot speak too highly and I cannot speak too highly of the marvellous organisation which we've seen and the co-operation today. And I'm very grateful to Sir E. Bramallthe Chief of Defence staff and all the commanders. I would like to thank and congratulate everyone concerned in this visit and say thank you on behalf of Britain to the armed forces here, for the wonderful work they are doing in the true peace movement which is NATO.

Reporter

Are you going to fly a Harrier?

Mrs. Thatcher

I'd love to be able to fly a Harrier. I've been in the cockpit of a Harrier more than once but I do not think the Harrier would like to fly with me.

Reporter

I'm sorry to bang on about nuclear weapons, Prime Minister, but as you know the Soviet Union is insisting at the INF talks that the British and the French nuclear weapons be balanced out, would you be willing to go a bit further than you have up to now about the taking in of the British independent nuclear deterrent into the S.T.A.R.T. Negotiations?

Mrs. Thatcher

No, I dealt with it very very fully on Monday at length and I've nothing further to add, as far as what is happening at present, I believe that the effort on the part of the Soviet Union to get those included in fact is meant to side-track us from the real issue, the real issue at the moment is the deployment of inf, the Soviet Union have already deployed their SS20s in full strength, we have not yet started to modernise our similar intermediate nuclear weapons, they're trying to side-track the whole issue, we must not be side-tracked.

Chairman

Chris Moncrieff again.

Reporter

Prime Minister, you've said you'll obviously stick to the Treaty of Brussels agreement, about the 55,000, how would you feel if any representations were made to you to increase that number?

Mrs. Thatcher

Well we can't, I have no plans to change it at all at the moment, 55,000 it has been for some time and 55,000 it remains, I couldn't promise to increase it in any way we are already fully stretched. But that is one of our commitments and it will be honoured and it's a very important commitment. [end p3]

Reporter

I'd like to say, Prime Minister, first of all how glad we were to see you this morning almost gamboling round the area, and glad to hear that reports about your illness is not really true …   .

Mrs. Thatcher

Well … I don't know, they were made up, they were made up, they were just manufactured, you know, you didn't expect them to be true, did you? But if I only had to answer true questions I really should have a very dull time.

Reporter

How much is your visit due to your own concern with the services right here in BAOR, as opposed to your official concern?

Mrs. Thatcher

Oh, I think it's both, but as Prime Minister I really ought to know what is going on and one's experience becomes cumulative and one would have a very very much more vivid impression now I've seen it but also as you know everything that we do here has its essential deterrent quality, the more we train, the better we train, the more we are seen to train the more expert we are known to be, the more we strive for increasing perfection, the greater the deterrent. But should anything ever happen one ought to know the precise decisions which would have to be taken politically and of course the amount of political contact that there would have to be before that and one gets a very very much better knowledge of those decisions by having come out here and seen what goes on.

Chairman

The man who's sat up there.

Reporter

Douglas Hamilton of Reuters. Prime Minister, referring to the INF talks, there has been some speculation that Washington would be prepared to exclude the Soviet SS20s in the Soviet Far East if Moscow dropped demands to include British and French nuclear forces. How would your government react to such a negotiation?

Mrs. Thatcher

Look, there are various proposals, the place to negotiate is Geneva, if there are any new proposals they should be … they should go there to that table to be negotiated between the two sides who are negotiating and there is a regular consultative process between the United States and her NATO partners in this respect. But we really can't negotiate here or say exactly what we would think, you have in fact to negotiate at that table. And if the Soviet Union is serious on negotiating, as serious as we are, she will get down to negotiations there. Did I see someone else wanting to ask a question? Yes, here we are.

Chairman

The lady again.

Reporter

Yes, you said you thought the chances of agreement in Geneva by the end of this year were negligible, can you tell me why you're pessimistic about it …   .

Mrs. Thatcher

That was not what I said. I said the chances of agreement on zero option by the end of this year were, I believed, negligible. Thank you for giving me the chance to make that clear, that is not the end of the negotiations, as I've explained, I think in some seven interviews I gave since I've been out here…on Monday…that I hope and believe that negotiations will go on after those because if you can't get zero, which is a particular case of balance, then you can perhaps get balance at a higher number of weapons and you have to have balance and verification. If you get balance below the number of cruise and pershings that would otherwise be deployed, then they wouldn't all need to be deployed. So if we can't get zero and I think the chances of getting zero by the end of December are negligible, then I hope that the Soviets again if they're serious, will continue to negotiate but on a lesser number than the full total of 572, which we'd otherwise have to deploy.

Chairman

FT's persistent.

Reporter

Do you think the Soviets will continue to negotiate after deployment?

Mrs. Thatcher

I hope so. If they're as serious as we are about wanting genuine disarmament on a genuine basis, of balance and verification they will.

Chairman

Reuters again.

Reporter

Prime Minister are you concerned that there has not been broad based and bi-partisan political support for deployment in either West Germany and the Netherlands or Britain?

Mrs. Thatcher

But I believe there is…I'm sorry, again I do not accept your premise. I believe that the Netherlands will honour their commitment to deploy, it was a NATO commitment and I think if you go out and talk to people, ordinary people who in politics are concerned about these decisions, you would find them overwhelmingly in support of NATO and if you put it to them this was a NATO decision, that it's important for the future of NATO, it's important for our deterrent in Europe and I believe if put that way you'd get an overwhelming response and I do think one should be taken in by some of the peace movements, or assume that the view of what I believe is a small number of people should be attributed to a larger number —it should not. [transcript incomplete].