Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1985 Mar 20 We
Margaret Thatcher

Interview for Washington Post

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: George Will, Washington Post
Editorial comments: 1630-1700. The transcript was made from a poor quality recording; Charles Powell later made a number of amendments to the text, clarifying meaning and repairing omissions which are incorporated silently in the text below(see THCR 5/2/165 f5 where the original can be viewed along with his handwritten changes). A brief account of the interview was published on 28 March 1985 though several other columns by George Will subsequently referred to it.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3670
Themes: British Constitution (general discussions), Civil liberties, Conservatism, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Higher & further education, Industry, Privatized & state industries, Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Science & technology, Transport, Trade unions, Famous statements by MT (discussions of)

[Note: this transcription was made from a poor quality recording.]

George Will

Howe seems to say that it probably won't work and we'll be dismayed if it does work … would you be dismayed if strategic defence worked and …

PM

Well, if strategic defence worked you'd have both sides wanting it. That’s really what I tried to say in my Congress speech. Deterrence really depends on one's balance at every level. If you get this remarkable system working, both sides will have it. I'm sure the other side would go for it. President Reagan says that he’s quite prepared to share it with the Russians.

George Will

Suppose, which I think is what realists in administration think, in five years they decide that technically and financially it makes sense to have certain … submarine bases, missile …

PM

Look you're getting too detailed and going ahead too fast, much too fast. There's the four points that we agreed at Camp David, the four points we still stick to. Have you looked at the ABM Treaty?

George Will

Yes …

PM

Yes, well you know that actually they had a great deal of foresight when that treaty was drafted—there's a section and … quite clearly, they could foresee the time when there would be new weapons developed and they made provision for it and the structure is all there.

George Will

To re-negotiate?

PM

That's right. The structure is all there in the Treaty. I've forgotten, is it Article 13? There's Article 5 and Article 13, but the structure, I went through it several times, the structure is all there. They decided exactly what was permissible under that treaty. The structure is therefore, if there should be any alleged infringements of the treaty, there's a Consultative Committee and provision for consultation in the event that new systems would be developed. [end p1] The Treaty requires negotiations before deployment. But if you go through the whole thing, there's nothing against research, really it is an extremely good treaty. Now it's a treaty as you know without time limit, though there is provision in it that if either side wants to get out of it they have to give notice. In my own mind I am quite certain that the Soviet Union itself not only has been … doing research but would go on doing more and more research. The process is the same in the development of any weapons system. First, you get the weapon, then you get a defence against the weapon, and then a defence against the defence …

George Will

I think what bothers people in the Reagan Administration, they thought that in the Foreign Secretary's speech there was a sense of that … is over now for all time. We're going to have deterrence based on mutual vulnerability.

PM

Look, you get a weapon, then you get a defence against that weapon, then a defence against the defence, I don't see science suddenly stopping at any one particular place, do you?

George Will

No, certainly not, not since the …

PM

But the absolute essence of it really is to have balance and to maintain deterrence. That was in the Camp David statement accepted by both Britain and the US. If you look at the Geneva talks there is an interesting point: both sides are seeking the elimination of nuclear weapons, both sides.

George Will

They've said that since 1959—no American Administration has taken it seriously.

PM

I entirely agree but now they're both saying the same thing.

George Will

Do you believe that they have accepted mutual vulnerability, that's really the argument that some people are having with the Europeans. Some people in the Reagan Administration believe [end p2] that the only rational explanation of the configuration of Soviet forces, Sir Geoffrey said … and he said that sort of Russian neurosis they … over insure. Other people say no, they're not interested in what you describe as balance, they want a strategic security. Do you think they want balance?

PM

When it comes to talking nuclear weapons, it's a very grave question. It's a very, very self-assured person who would say what is over-insurance and what isn't. Because I would have thought that you could get totally unacceptable damage … at a lower level. So once you start to say over-insurance … you could get unacceptable destruction at any level … as the world is at the moment. The fact is that so long as you've got some of them getting through, you'd never, if a war ever started, you'd never know what was going to happen, never. And that would be so even if there were no nuclear weapons like ours … conventional war started and don't forget, technology has not only gone to … but some people seem to think that conventional war would be cosy or …

George Will

Some people think the lesson of the 1973 Yom Kippur war is that no conventional force war can last a week because the tank drivers are driven insane by the noise.

PM

I am used to all sorts of theories but I would not necessarily rely on them. In my life the unexpected happens and you have to be prepared for it. Not what you think will happen. But conventional technology. Look we had on our television the other day the 40th anniversary of the fire-bombing of Tokyo. Now the idea that conventional war is somehow cosy, I can't think of another word at the moment, is just not on. It would be absolutely terrible. What nuclear has stopped is not only nuclear war but conventional war as well. Now supposing we abolished nuclear weapons, if you got conventional war starting you'd be exactly in the position you were in in the last war. It was a race for the latest technology and whoever got the latest technology first would have immense superiority. [end p3]

George Will

Are the Western nations ready do you think to pay the price, the expense … to match the conventional forces if we did abolish?

PM

Look, right now and for the foreseeable future in political terms we're going to be relying on a nuclear deterrent. That's the point I think we're getting now. To the end of this decade, the end of this millennium we're going to be relying on a nuclear deterrent.

George Will

During the Gorbachev transition I remember seeing on US TV you saying, “I like Mr Gorbachev, we can do business”

PM

That's right.

George Will

What business is that?

PM

Well they didn't give it the full clip.

George Will

They never do on television.

PM

No, they don't. The whole clip was, he represents communism, I represent a free society, I'm quite convinced you'll argue anywhere the answers … infinitely superior, I'm not going to convert him, he's not going to convert me. We wish to live in security and peace with freedom and justice and our way of life. They wish to have their own security and they wish to do it on a basis of respect for their right to have their own security, but in spite of all those differences, we're two interested parties. There shall never be a conflict, hostile conflict, war between those peoples and leaders of the free world, therefore I can do business with him in negotiations. Secondly it makes sense particularly in a democracy, and though we have no difficulty about it in a democracy, it also makes sense for them that we maintain that security at a lower level of weaponry. So therefore we can do business on that basis. Now there is a third point. We are much more likely to get a treaty in my view provided each understands what the other is like. And you make your assessment …

George Will

That's what, sixty-eight years after the revolution, that sort of opens to arguing. [end p4]

PM

Yes, because we are used to travelling the world and know what it's like. They do not know what a free society is like. And you may talk the same words, they will talk about democracy and it means something different. They have no idea how not to have a centrally controlled society. They don't understand how society that isn't controlled can work.

George Will

So you think it would be a good idea just to get Gorbachev out to see things …

PM

That's exactly what we're doing. When you say to a person who has been, totally been brought up and never known any other system than that …

PM

[?]

Tell me, when you accuse them of being centrally controlled, and they say we don't understand, what do you mean centrally controlled? We say, look how does a factory know what to produce and how much? We tell them.

George Will

PM

I say … how else will they know? I went to see …I think it was in Yugoslavia, when we were going to Skopje in the State, they were short of detergent, they told me long before I got there, every housewife told me, the Consulate told me, they were short of detergent in the shops. They hadn't had enough for about three months. This was causing massive problems. And they told me, when asked “What are your problems?” they said “We are short of detergent,” and I said, “Good heavens! What are you doing bothering yourselves about that? Tell your grocers to go out and buy some. It's your grocers' job. Not yours.” “We don't make any.” “There's plenty overseas. Tell them to go and buy some in. They should know where to get it.” “But what would they use for foreign exchange?” I'd say, “Well, get it from the bank, someone will have it down to exports and get foreign exchange in and …” Now this is totally alien to them. What I'm saying is they couldn't comprehend it. And this is why you have to get them out, because we have some idea in theory of what a controlled society is like and you know that it's not possible. And this is what they are learning, that it is not possible to issue that number of precise orders and still get what people want. Where's the good of having too many, you know, congratulating a factory on producing a couple million brown mackintoshes if they are left on the shelf?

BI

But they would comprehend it for essential raw materials. What they don't comprehend it for are people.

PM

Yes. So when they go into Marks & Spencers or into Littlewoods or wherever it is, or into a Bloomingdales or [end p5] Saks Fifth Avenue, they wouldn't understand how it worked. But they can see that it does work and this is why you see we are trying to get away from the small amount of regulation that we have, and indeed the process has been very successful. But that's why you may talk the same words, but they don't mean the same. And when you talk human rights you can understand that they do not begin to understand a society in which we say human rights, some human rights are so precious and so fundamental that the state has no right to take them away. That they wouldn't understand. This is why you have to get them out and talk to them.

George Will

Let me ask you about …

PM

That's why. Yes, I did like Mikhail Gorbachevhim because we talked more freely, more easily, argued and discussed together more freely and more easily than I have talked with almost any other Communist Head. Not totally, there are one or two that you can when your wholly in a tete-a-tete, just perhaps one note taker, talk freely and easily, but in order to keep that relationship it's best not to talk about it.

George Will

Did he seem reasonably cosmopolitan or is that a hard judgement?

PM

I don't think he has travelled that much and so it was very, very important that he came …

George Will

When Max Kampelman was at the Madrid talks on Helsinki … he went round to see the Soviet Delegation one afternoon and one of the members, a young man of about forty-one was very tanned. He said where have you been? He said for the first time in my life I've just been to see the Ocean. His name was Andropov. And this from the privileged elite of the Soviet Union, he had never seen an ocean.

[(Marginal note:]Misunderstanding: it was Andropov 's son!)

PM

And he had never, when he was appointed, visited a non-Communist state, never. You see, how are they to have these concepts? And yet they are different from China in this respect. They were the home of Marx, the first country to adopt Marxism and Leninism, and therefore to them they are the custodian of the pure science of Marxist Leninism, and as you know from their writings they call it a science, it isn't of course.

George Will

But they believe it don't they?

PM

I don't know.

George Will

Did you get the impression from him … do they believe that … [end p6]

PM

Look, they know it's not either. Chernenko did a very interesting speech just before I went round, … on the plane over, which was all about aren't they lucky they're the only country which has a scientific form of government, and yet a scientific form of government should after all, which is why you call it scientific, you only produce results quicker. And they don't quite understand this and they say that it's because people aren't working it right, but it is because the doctrine is all wrong, some of them may understand that the doctrine is all wrong. And now if you look at Mr Gorbachev 's acceptance speech you will find almost the pure Andropov/Chernenko doctrine in it. Our system is not producing the results, we must be much more disciplined, we must have some more initiative, and there must be no deviation. And there you come to that fundamental dialogue, the system isn't working and therefore you require more initiative. But the initiative is not producing a deviation. And there you have that. I think that they feel that because they are the custodians of Marxist/Leninism which, the theory is that it works and therefore it must work, but it doesn't and that's because you are not working it properly.

George Will

That's right.

PM

Now in China they are not the custodians of Marxist Leninism, they have Maoism, they saw a cultural revolution, and they saw the immense damage it did. And they will call themselves a socialist country but they are not absolutely hinged to a Marxist Leninist soviet type of Communist doctrine. They are going to get something which suits their people, it will be what they call a socialist system, but they are going to get something which suits their people because it produces the goods. But even so, if you find people who have lived in a controlled society where it was the state which said what a person's rights were, you are beginning without knowing it, you are beginning with the same words to talk at cross purposes. Then if it was to comprehend you must comprehend what the other person means, not what you in his shoes would mean, what he in his shoes means, and you only get that …

George Will

Do we mean the same thing by security?

PM

If you define it, security within your own borders.

George Will

But if they felt menaced by a particular kind of Communist regime in Afghanistan and had to send their troops to change the Communist regime?

PM

That's why you say security within their own borders. Now they have something which I tried to say in that speech to Congress. Part of their Marxist Leninism is that this [end p7] has inevitability about it and is a world-wide doctrine, and that there is a missionary element in their, there is an evangelical element in their system and they are positive that both (a) it's inevitable, and (b) you have to help it to come about. That therefore makes them do things overseas to help that we perhaps don't do. We believe in freedom and justice. We have not got a positive mission to convert the whole world to it. We certainly believe in fundamental human rights. We say of the Third World, look each of these Third World countries must have the right to determine their own way of life and they might have a different system of democracy from that which we have. But I think it's a mistake to think that we can export our system to the whole world. Our system depends upon our history, the character of our people, their education, their experience.

George Will

Let me ask you briefly about domestic affairs here, because Britain made me a Conservative Republican and I was a Federal Democrat when I came to live here for two years in the early 1960s … and recall that the weight of the governing party … President Reagan came in and said the American people are healthy, entrepreneurial, spirited, instinctive capitalist, we just have to get the Government out of the way. Isn't your problem more complicated? The British sort of aren't that way are they?

PM

The problem is this, they were. That's why we were first in the industrial revolution.

George Will

When—in the 19th century?

PM

Most of the major industrial inventions were ours. The steam engine, Brunel's bridges, the spinning jenny, Arkwright and so on, you name it. And that's still persisted. We were the first to invent radar. The jet engine is ours. The vertical take-off is ours. The penicillins and so on. Cloning, there's a medical biology laboratory at Cambridge. So you've still got that research and inventiveness here. What we are not good at, and there is still a sort of basic snobbery in this country that trade and industry aren't quite the thing as professions and research.

George Will

How do you take pride in reformed snobbery?

PM

We are getting rid of it. It is partly that having had a big empire, most of our universities trained people for administration and we produce some of the best administrators the world has known. They went out and they did administer many colonial territories. They gave them a law and I think India was as well administered as it's ever been. Then all of a sudden we haven't got one. The Universities haven't turned over fully to other theses. I [end p8] went to visit two factories on Friday morning they've both got big exports to America, and a niche in the market … … plastic research. Somewhere in which a particular … in which the United States has not new materials is coming back. It doesn't come back unless you make it because people will go for a cosy life even with a lower standard of living.

George Will

Part of the way of making life more bracing, as it were, is to cut modern middle class subsidies. I was here in the summer …

PM

Can I just say one thing to you? Don't forget Concorde was an Anglo French invention, and I will say this, I believe the reason she does not fly over America is nothing to do with the sound barrier. It's purely because the Americans have not yet got one. Now let me also say, if we're talking about liberation, Have a look at your … figure. You talk about liberation and deregulation. None of my aircraft could pick up passengers from New York to Denver, from New York to Houston, from Houston to Chicago, even though it might suit to come that way round. We're not half bad.

George Will

I love it. I thank the British taxpayers.

PM

Do you like this fantastic [word missing] of which there is not the like the world over, an Anglo French collaborative project is out of production.

George Will

I think it's outrageous. I was talking to the pilot on the way over, and I said, “Why don't you fly across the Pacific?” He said, “Governments won't let us.”

PM

You've got to come down somewhere. You can't fly across America, you can't fly across India, because Governments will not let it fly over land and there the most fantastic … It's still rare in this country and the molecular biology discoveries were ours. Go down and have a look at the laboratory. The Milstein, … the molecular biology lab at Cambridge is fantastic. But let me say, what did they do? They didn't patent it. They put it out in a research paper. When they say jet engines. We heard the Comet first. So we still get some of these things. We are doing a fantastic amount of research. Fantastic, but for a small country we still get quite a lot firsts, but we have not yet got the profit motive. People still don't understand that you drag up the standard of living of a country by having it strong, and there's still a British streak in this, instead of saying go, go, go, there's too much difficulty getting there. [end p9]

George Will

You've been in power six years now.

PM

There's been an enormous difference. We've done things that no-one could have thought we could have done. First we have seen … look three governments have been brought down in a way by this trade union thing. We've privatised on a scale no one's ever seen. We've bought the biggest share issue to the market, British Telecom.

George Will

I think Reagan will be remembered most for saving the Welfare State. He made it solvent, and perhaps you for democratising the trade unions.