Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for ORF (Austrian TV) ("vintage Thatcher")

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Hans Benedict, ORF (Austrian TV)
Editorial comments: For copyright reasons the reporter's questions have been replaced with brief summaries. (The full text can be consulted on the CD-ROM or at the Thatcher Archive.) 0930-1030 set aside for interviews with Austrian TV and Die Welt. On 28 November the UK Ambassador to Washington, Sir Oliver Wright, sent the interview to National Security Adviser, Robert McFarlane, describing it as "vintage Thatcher". McFarlane submitted it for the President's review (see McFarlane briefing for Reagan, 10 December 1984 in Thatcher Record) and the President marked it read it on 11 December 1984.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4746
Themes: Defence (general), Defence (arms control), General Elections, Privatized & state industries, Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Labour Party & socialism, Religion & morality, Terrorism, Strikes & other union action

Hans Benedict, ORF

[Summary of question: At Conservative Conference you said your party would always be pro-American; implications of this remarkable statement?]

Prime Minister

I do not find anything remarkable about it. We are part of the same Western Alliance. We stand together in defence of freedom. The United States sends 300,000 of her people to Germany, on the Central Front, to defend that freedom, and their families. I think the United States is a remarkable, generous people, prepared to stand up for the defence of the free world, knowing that there can be no peace in the free world unless there is peace in Europe.

Should we not openly thank them for that generosity and realise the sacrifices they are making, not only for their defence, but in defence of our freedom? That is the view I take. [end p1]

Hans Benedict, ORF

[Summary of question: Practical implications, especially regarding US policy towards Soviets?]

Prime Minister

No. It does not mean that you automatically support everything the United States does. If you are great friends with a person, you owe them your judgment and you try to influence them before certain decisions are taken.

We keep closely in touch with the United States, both through our embassies there and through frequent visits of Ministers. We let our views be known on certain situations, hopefully before a crisis is reached and sometimes there are things on which we do not agree with the United States, for example, the way in which she tries to operate her legislation in an extra-territorial way, and we say why we believe that is harmful to America's interests.

So it is what I would call a true friendship. We stand for the same things. We appreciate their efforts. We consult with one another, and we try to influence one another before fundamental decisions are taken. But if ever anyone tries to separate the United States and Britain or the United States and Europe, let it be known that attempt will ne ver succeed! That is essential for our defence and the defence of freedom everywhere. [end p2]

Hans Benedict, ORF

[Summary of question: What do you mean by extraterritorial legislation?]

Prime Minister

It means that they try to apply their own laws to their own subsidiary companies outside their own country. If some of our companies have subsidiaries in the United States, we expect them to abide by United States law. If they have subsidiaries in our countries, then they have to abide by our law, and it gets very difficult if the United States says that the law which people must adopt when their companies operate elsewhere is the United States law and not the law of the host country.

Hans Benedict, ORF

[Summary of question: Next US President [sic] expected to reopen arms negotiations. Since Chernenko 's illness is there a power vacuum?] [end p3]

Prime Minister

I do not know that any of us know, but we all make our own assessment. I do not think that assessment varies very much. I think we all feel that the decisions are made collectively in the Politburo. Undoubtedly, some people are more influential within that Politburo than others, but it is a collective decision.

We believe that both sides really would like to negotiate, because we are on the verge of new scientific developments in outer space and if those developments were to be applied to a new generation of armaments, anti-satellite satellites and so on, it would cost us all an immense amount of money. We should both do it, and in the end we should both finish up with the same sort of balance but at a higher level of expenditure and resources applied to it. And what we both think, I think, is: can we not avoid that and keep security at a lower level of armaments? And we shall keep security, provided it is always balanced.

And so it is worthwhile really struggling, after the United States elections, to get disarmament talks going on things like nuclear, on things like chemical warfare, on things like conventional armaments, because we have experienced conventional wars in Europe and they too are terrible. On all aspects of armaments there is an opportunity.

There are in the Soviet Union people in power who remember the last War. Surely, I feel, that our generation that remembers it has a special duty to try to secure [end p4] disarmament agreements so that we can hand over to another generation security, yes; defence, yes; but at a lower level of expenditure, so that we can put that expendit ure to doing other things that we all wish to do.

Hans Benedict, ORF

[Summary of question: Are you confident Kremlin able to make binding decisions, given Chernenko’s health?]

Prime Minister

I believe that there is an opportunity after the United States election. I believe that not only the United States and the Western Alliance accepts that; I believe that it is understood and accepted in the Soviet Union, and the question now is: how to bring it about, not whether it should come about; but how to bring it about.

Hans Benedict, ORF

[Summary of question: A balance of power or balance of supremacies, as each side seeks new supremacies? ] [end p5]

Prime Minister

I think you will find that most disarmament is based upon a balance between the United States and the Soviet Union.

You are talking about new research. Yes, there has been some, but the time lag between one piece of new research and turning it into technological weapons is enormous. That development is tremendously expensive. Of course, both sides will do research. That is inevitable. They will do research on electronic beams; they will do research on lasers; they will do research on weapons in outer space. But what is theoretically possible is one thing. Translating it into weapons that will work is a very long process. It is a process that I hope we do not have to go through.

If we could both foreswear certain areas where we would not enter into making those weapons, we should keep the balance. If we do not foreswear it, both sides will do it. There might be a slight gap as to who gets there first, but do not forget the United States had superiority in nuclear weapons for a very long time. She never never used that superiority—never—because NATO is not an offensive alliance; it is a defensive alliance.

But can you not see what I am saying? Let us stop the next generation developing, if we can by agreement. If [end p6] we cannot by agreement, each side will fear the other will get it first, and will go on. But I think we both realise the enormous resources that would have to be devoted to developing those weapons. And certainly, the Western World has so much more to do with its resources than turn them into weapons, but it does realise at the same time that freedom will not last just because it is freedom. Freedom will only endure if we are prepared to defend it against allcomers and to have weapons of such strength that they will deter anyone from starting a war.

So yes, you have to have defence. You must have balance, and when you come to an agreement, you must be absolutely sure that the other side is carrying out what it said it would do, and that is why it is so important to have verification. And when we negotiate with the Soviet Union, it is the verification which is very very difficult to achieve. But we have a generation there which remembers the last War; remembers its terrors, its horrors, its sacrifices, and I believe, therefore, that there is an opportunity now, and we should take advantage of that opportunity.

Hans Benedict, ORF

[Summary of question: Chernenko interview with Washington Post ten days ago said if United States only accepted [end p7] one of four demands this would bring about remarkable improvement in East-West relations. Should US do so?]

Prime Minister

I do not think the United States should give up anything in order to go to the negotiating table. That, after all, is a ploy to get someone to the negotiating table, and it is a dangerous ploy.

The United States should not give up anything to go to the negotiating table. The United States has said it will go to the negotiating table without prior conditions and I think that that is the approach that should be taken.

You are probably very very expert in these matters. Sometimes I have to be. I can only tell you that each and every negotiation on disarmament is highly technical, and you have to be very very careful in considering it and it should be considered in very great depth, and you can never never never make any great pronouncements on any particular disarmament issue on television. It is full of pitfalls.

But I do hope that the negotiations will begin again, because both negotiating teams are very very skilful in knowing the technicalities, in knowing the pitfalls, and [end p8] if they are started again and both sides want to reach agreement, then they must enter it in that spirit, but not giving up things in advance.

Hans Benedict, ORF

[Summary of question: deployment of SS20 in Czechoslovakia and East Germany causing more concern to local populations than to the West; statements by East European leaders such as Honecker that improvement in East-West relations generally and between the two Germanies especially, should continue, whatever happens with high-level contacts. A tendency of independent thinking developing in these countries, which West should support or exploit?]

Prime Minister

You are asking a very complicated and difficult question. Each country has its history. Each country has its national character. You cannot divorce those two factors, but those countries are part of the Eastern Bloc and that is a fact and it is not going to be altered in my view in the near future. They are part of the Eastern Bloc. Within that Eastern Bloc, each country has its own history, [end p9] has its own character, and that is a factor which has to be taken into account.

Yes, your Polish people are different from your Hungarian; your East Germans are different from your Czechs. We have all known those countries, and no alliance can ignore those differences, but they are, as you known part of the Socialist Bloc and I do not see that situation changing.

Hans Benedict, ORF

[Summary of question: Should West try to divide East European countries from Soviet Union?]

Prime Minister

We actively seek more contacts with those countries. They are, after all, part of Europe. We do not have the peace of the world unless we have the peace of Europe. Those countries are part of Europe. They are part of European history, part of European heritage.

We have had so much history together. We have had contacts with them over the years. Yes, we seek trading contacts. We help some of them with financial arrangements as well. It is natural that we seek links across that divide in Europe. It is important we go on seeking links.

To seek peace, you have to do a number of things. You must be strong in your own defence. That must never be [end p10] let go. You have to be strong enough to deter aggression, but you also actively have to work for deeper understanding, deeper knowledge, more contacts, across the European divide. We are actively seeking that, actively seeking it with all of the countries, and with the Soviet Union. After all, we travel freely and easily the world over. Their people cannot. We believe that if we did see more of one another, if their people travelled more easily and more freely, it would contribute to the peace of the world. It would also undoubtedly contribute greatly to their standard of li ving and their standard of life.

So it is this active seeking better understanding as well as the strength; defence, deterrents and greater understanding.

Now, do not try to put anything more complex on to it than that. We all understand. We all understand how sensitive these matters are, but we shall work in that way. Defend, but security at a lower level of armaments. Actively seek more contacts, greater understanding. That can only be conducive in the end, I believe, to peace, and with peace w ill come a higher standard of living and a better quality of life.

Do you see anything wrong in that? It is the policy which I shall pursue. I believe it is the policy the United States pursues. We pursue it from strength. We pursue it with the greatest possible sincerity and conviction. [end p11]

Hans Benedict, ORF

[Summary of question: NATO Supreme Commander Rodgers said three days ago NATO could only surrender or use nuclear weapons in face of Warsaw Pact attack.]

Prime Minister

Surrender is not an option and lovers of freedom must make that clear.

The purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter war from ever starting, for obvious reasons: the possibility that if you started war, nuclear weapons would be used, is so terrible that no nation would ever start war.

That has worked. We have had peace across Europe for a longer time than for many many decades, because of the existence of nuclear weapons and the terror if they were used.

So the purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter, not merely nuclear war, but any war, across Europe. It has succeeded. I believe it will go on succeeding. That is why we have them. We have not found another way of deterring war which is as effective as that.

Hans Benedict, ORF

[Summary of question: Rodgers pointing out no European NATO country other than Britain has met 3 per cent spending increase. [end p12]

Present state of NATO political and military preparedness?]

Prime Minister

We have honoured the 3%; increase. I think you will find that a number of other countries in the NATO Alliance had very considerable increases, particularly Germany, before we had the extra 3%; which we were all asked to contribute.

But my point, if I may say so, is still valid. Yes, we have extensive conventional forces. Ours are totally professional. We do not have conscription. Every single British soldier, sailor or arman is a professional and a volunteer—a professional. It is a very very marvellous army, air force and navy. Yes, we have good conventional forces and I was just re-reading some of Winston's Winston Churchill speeches recently. It is not only the equipment that you have got. It is the spirit and the determination which counts.

But we hope those conventional forces will never need to be used, because the danger would be that if you get a conventional war started, that one side or the other would go nuclear. That would be so terrible on either side that it has not started, and one must in all of these arguments get this firmly in mind. Nuclear weapons are so terrible that neither side would start a war, because of the terrifying attacks on their own people, on their own countries. And it has worked.

So, yes, I wish nuclear weapons had never been [end p13] invented, but you cannot dis-invent scientific knowledge and even if they were all destroyed and then a war was started, even then you could not regard it as if they had never been invented. It would be a race as to who could reproduce them first. So you cannot act as if this knowledge did not exist.

We knew that, after all, in the last War. It was a race. The knowledge was known. It was a race to turn it into technology.

So do not think that you can act any more in future as if we did not know about nuclear weapons. You can no more act as if we did not know about nuclear weapons than you could act as if we did not know about gunpowder. It is a face of life, but it is … just take it for what it is … the most powerful deterrent to war, the most powerful deterrent we have yet found. One day, perhaps we will be able to agree that we should not have any more wars, but evil men have been born since the beginning of recorded time. Tyrants who are very able have managed to get other people with them, have managed to subjugate other people. That is not going to stop, and so the nations that believe in freedom and justice must be staunch and strong and realistic—all those three—and have the resolve to defend, so that any tyrant should not succeed.

Hans Benedict, ORF

[Summary of question: But some European NATO members not up to standards of British Forces; General [end p14] Rodgers referring to that.

What is NATO going to do about that?]

Prime Minister

NATO is strong. NATO is a strong alliance. Yes, there were some problems about, in fact, stationing Cruise, but Holland and Belgium also agreed and are making arrangements.

You are, if I might say so, undermining NATO. I am not in that business. NATO is strong.

Let me put it to you a different way. The Soviet Union suffered the biggest defeat for a very long time when we stationed Cruise missiles. Britain was first to station them. I knew we had to get them stationed and so did Chancellor Kohl and Chancellor Schmidt. It was vital. The Soviet Union thought that because we are a free society they, through propaganda, could act on our public opinion so that public opinion said: “Oh no! Nuclear terrible, don't station them!”

They failed! It was a colossal failure! It was one of the most significant failures of history! They misjudged the strength, the resolve, the psychology of the free world. Now let us look at it that way.

And then, of course, you find the latest possibility of things in outer space and the United States successful experiment under which a weapon came in and another one went up and they united together. That is just one weapon. It would not be easy to do if there were a lot. That was just [end p15] an experiment.

But NATO demonstrated its strength, not its weakness.

Can I just come on to one other thing? Defence played quite a large part in the last election in Britain. Very rarely do foreign affairs or defence play a large part in elections. But the Labour Party were talking about unilateralism, unilateral giving up of nuclear weapons. Ridiculous! If one side gave up nuclear weapons, you either have to rely totally on the United States and say: “We do not in fact agree with the morality of nuclear weapons, but we are prepared to be under the United States umbrella.” What a terrible thing to say! How utterly immoral! To say: “We do not like it, but we are prepared to have yours, provided they are on your soil and not on ours.”

So they wanted to be unilateral and then they wanted to turn American nuclear bases off our soil. That will never go down with the British people, because it would mean that if you got a conventional war, the only option was surrender, and we are not surrenderers. And the British people, many many people who have never voted Conservative before, would have nothing to do with that Labour policy, because it was not British.

Britain is a free country. She has defended herself and other people and the British were not going to have it. The British know—we British know that it is weakness that attracts war, not strength, and we were not going to be weak.

It was marvellous, not only right, it put me back in No. 10, not only that, it just showed the strength of the British [end p16] people. So let us talk about the strength of the Free World. The strength of its determination to defend itself, but let us equally say the Free World is defensive. No-one need fear anything from it. We are not going to attack anyone, but we are going to defend, and therefore, we wish we did not have to have these tremendous weapons, but we do, and we go back to the thing we talked about before: let us get the friendship greater and let us make it perfectly clear that no tyrant could ever succeed.

That is a vision. It is worth working for. If we can hand that on to future generations, what a marvellous thing, but look at our strengths.

No-one in the Soviet Union on television is trying to undermine the Soviet Union, so let us, on the television in the Free World, recognise our responsibilities to freedom.

Hans Benedict, ORF

[Summary of question: Threat of terrorism: attempt to kill you; Mrs. Gandhi assassinated; your Government recently expelled some Libyan nationals were expelled from Britain.] [end p17]

Prime Minister

May I say how deeply I felt the loss of Mrs. Gandhi. The assassination was vicious, barbaric, terrible. For many of us, Indira Gandhi was a symbol of India. I talked with her often, not only as Heads of Government, but there was always some special quality about our talks. I think perhaps we had a unique understanding of one another's problems. She was not only a very strong and a very formidable personality; she was warm, humane, full of understanding and I shall miss her very deeply, very deeply indeed. But it is a tragedy for the whole world as well as a tragedy for India.

She would never have shrunk from going around India, from doing her duty, because her life was in danger, never, and none of us must!

It is one of the paradoxes that freedom offers freedom to do evil, as well as freedom to do good, and in the end, most of us believe in freedom, not only because it is the only thing that gives dignity to life, but because we believe that there is far far far more good in human nature than there is evil, and that the good will overcome the evil. Nevertheless, there will, of course, be times when these attempts succeed, and you cannot eradicate evil from the world. We can only do everything we can to protect the lives of people who are in danger; everything we can to try to uphold the law in our own countries, to see that the guilty are apprehended and then that they are convicted.

We tried at the London Economic Summit, realising that there is a wave of terrorism the world over and that [end p18] terrorists help one another the world over—to have a much closer cooperation. That closer cooperation is working.

We do not think it is possible to eradicate everything. You cannot eradicate evil. They too, can get hold of the latest technology. They too, know how one tries to prevent terrorism. They too, know some of the steps one takes. We must make it acutely difficult for them, but in the meantime, we must carry on with the government, the law, of a free people in a just society.

Hans Benedict, ORF

[Summary of question: What required to make it “acutely difficult” for terrorists?]

Prime Minister

Well, if I were to say so, I would make it easier for them, wouldn't I?

Hans Benedict, ORF

[Summary of question: reports that Libyan money paid to National Union of Minerworkers and this one reason for their decision to continue outright confrontation with the Coal Board and consequently with the Government. Your comment? [end p19]

Prime Minister

Bearing in mind that the Libyan Embassy in London was used for the purpose of murder on the streets of London, when some of the people in the Libyan Embassy fired shots from the windows of the Libyan Embassy on to a crowd assembled outside, kill ed a Yvonne Fletcherpolicewoman and injured a number of other people, bearing in mind that because of that we broke off diplomatic relations with Libya, the people of Britain were shocked that the NUM should have gone to the government of a country which did that in Britain—deeply shocked. And so was the Leader of the Neil KinnockLabour Party. Many many many trade unionists—and I think the overwhelming majority of miners—even those on strike—British people have a great sense of fitness, of things which are not done. You do not do those things because they are not right—and they felt this deeply—and I think they made their views known. We feel it deeply because it is but a short time ago since that policewoman was murdered and shots fired from the Libyan Embassy, and it is that which shaped peoples' opinions about this attempt on the part of the leadership of the NUM which, I may say it would appear most of the Executive of the NUM did not know about, and I believe that they would have recoiled and found it repugnant in the same way as most of the rest of us did. So one must not in any way condemn the overwhelming majority of miners for it. I believe that they felt the same as we do. [end p20]

Hans Benedict, ORF

[Summary of question: Where will this confrontation lead?]

Prime Minister

We simply cannot be threatened by the use of violence and intimidation to do something which we believe is fundamentally wrong.

First, that strike came about because the leadership of the NUM would not even ballot the members of the union, and it is a rule of that union that they do have a ballot. They have ballotted twice during the present leadership of the NUM about striking; both times they have refused to strike, because I think they knew that they had the best deal that they have ever been offered. And so this time they were manipulated into a strike by a series of devices without a ballot. Some areas, nevertheless, had a ballot and insisted because their ballot said they wanted to go back to work, insisted that they were keeping the rules of their union and therefore they are working.

So we have a situation in which those people on strike were manipulated to go on strike without even having the dignity of a say in whether they should strike or not. That strike has then been maintained by violence, violent picketting, by throwing of bricks, ball-bearings, boards with nails in to get into the feet of the horses if the police have to be mounted to protect the miners who want to go to work. It [end p21] was maintained by that kind of violence and intimidation.

There have, of course, been a number of arrests and those people will come before the courts in the normal way of British justice.

No government or no people can surrender to that kind of mob violence or intimidation, because if we did democracy would be finished, and that is why a large proportion of the miners are still at work. They are fighting not only for their own jobs; they are fighting not only to assure people that if they order coal from Britain's coal mines they will have security of supply; they are fighting to uphold the rules of their union, which are democratic rules and they are fighting to see that democracy triumphs over mob violence and the battle is on now between the overwhelming majority and the extremists and I believe the overwhelming majority will quietly, steadfastly win. It has not been easy, but the overwhelming majority will win this battle for democracy against mob violence.