Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Written Interview for Jane’s Defence Weekly

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Source: Thatcher Archive (THCR 5/2/225)
Journalist: Robert Hutchinson, Jane’s Defence Weekly
Editorial comments: Item dated by date of submission to Jane’s Defence Weekly .
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 1289
Themes: Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Labour Party & socialism

Question No. 1

Does the Prime Minister believe that any realistic reduction of nuclear warheads in Europe can be achieved in the light of the rapid expansion of Soviet theatre nuclear forces? Would any reduction be in the best interests of NATO, given the imbalance in conventional forces?

The NATO strategy of Flexible Response means that we do not need to match the Warsaw Pact weapon for weapon, man for man. But for deterrence to be effective NATO must be able to meet the Soviet threat at every level. We therefore need to maintain a wide range of weapons, including nuclear weapons. The current Soviet superiority in conventional forces highlights our need for nuclear forces, both theatre and strategic. Nonetheless, NATO's withdrawal of over 1000 nuclear warheads from Europe since 1979 and the plans to reduce our theatre nuclear stockpile still further by 1988 demonstrate that realistic reductions can be made, even in the face of a growing Soviet threat. What we are aiming for is the minimum level of weapons necessary to provide adequate deterrence.

The NATO dual track decision in 1979 sought to maintain the credibility of deterrence by correcting the imbalance created by the massive expansion in Soviet theatre nuclear forces, either through negotiation or by modernising our own intermediate range nuclear forces by the deployment of Cruise and Pershing.

However, NATO has always made it clear that this modernisation programme can be halted, modified or even reversed in the context of a balanced and verifiable arms control agreement. The Alliance can accept an arms control agreement limiting or eliminating longer range intermediate nuclear missiles as long as that agreement is based on global equality, can be effectively verified and contains appropriate constraints on shorter range systems to prevent any Soviet circumvention. President Reagan and I agreed at our meeting on 15 November to [end p1] give priority to achieving an agreement on these lines.

Question No. 2

Should the West be prepared to negotiate away some of its nuclear deterrent forces on the promise of future protection from the Strategic Defence Initiative?

The key words in your question are “some” and “future promise”. There is no reason why negotiations between the superpowers should not produce substantial reductions in their strategic arsenals now. We support the objective of 50%; cuts. We also support the conclusion of an agreement on LRINF provided the alliance's criteria are met. These reductions in deterrent forces can, and should, take place irrespective of what happens with SDI. As you say in the question the SDI at present only hold out the promise of future protection. Whether it can make such a contribution remains to be seen: that is what the research programme is all about.

Question No. 3

What are the Prime Minister's views on the inclusion of the British strategic nuclear deterrent in any arms reduction negotiations?

As we have made clear on many occasions, we have never said “never” to nuclear arms reductions. If Soviet and US strategic arsenals were to be very substantially reduced and if no significant changes had occurred in Soviet defensive capabilities, we would want to consider how best we could contribute to arms control in the light of the reduced threat. [end p2]

Question No. 4

How does the Prime Minister view the Soviets' track record of compliance with previous Arms Control Treaties?

The Government has always stressed the importance of the strict observance of arms control agreements by all parties. We have drawn to the attention of the Soviet Union on a number of occasions the need to comply strictly with such agreements. We have also made clear our belief that the Soviet Union has a case to answer about its compliance with existing arms control treaties.

Question No. 5

Is the Prime Minister still as firmly convinced of the wisdom of the Trident II purchase given—

a) Britain's position in the world

b) The stresses and strains inside the Defence Budget

c) The possibility, however remote, of a reduction in strategic systems being achieved.

Our independent strategic nuclear deterrent will remain vital to our security and to the security of our NATO partners for the foreseeable future. That is why we took the decision to purchase Trident. Any other solution would either be more expensive, not available in the timescale required, or both. Expenditure on the system, which will account for no more than 3%; of the total defence budget over the procurement period, is fully affordable. The real cost estimate for Trident has, in fact, fallen since 1982. In the last year alone there has been a real cost reduction of £260 million. No other use of the resources spent on Trident would provide a similar level of deterrence. The joint statement issued following my meeting with President Reagan on 15 November made clear both that the United States would proceed with its strategic modernisation programme including Trident, and would continue to give full support to the arrangements made to modernise our independent nuclear deterrent with Trident. [end p3]

Question No. 6

There has been much private and public criticism among some of the UK's Alliance partners of our failure to maintain real growth in the Defence Budget. How does the Prime Minister answer these criticisms and reconcile this with the robust support of defence her Government maintains publicly?

I am not aware of widespread criticism. On the contrary, I believe there is a general recognition of, and welcome for, the breadth and quality of the UK defence effort. Nor can the Government's commitment be in doubt. Seven years of growth in defence spending resulted in a real increase of some 20%; by 1985/86. As with any Government programme, we have to recognise that real growth cannot be sustained indefinitely. We are now planning a period of consolidation. The budget will remain at a much higher level than when this Government came to office. Moreover, in line with our policy of securing greater output from the available funds, defence is benefiting from the continuing drive to improve value for money and to introduce greater competition in equipment procurement.

Question No. 7

The Labour Party seems set on a unilateralist defence policy, indeed a ‘non-provocative’ posture, (maintaining, for example, that anti-submarine forces hunting Soviet SSBNs are provocative). How dangerous, in the Prime Minister's view, is this for Britain and NATO?

NATO is a purely defensive alliance, and there is no question of its being provocative. None of our weapons will ever be used except in response to an attack. The key elements of our strategy are the manifest determination to defend ourselves against all forms of aggression; the flexibility which denies the Soviet Union the possibility of ever predicting how we might react to an attack; and the possession of a full spectrum of capabilities, including conventional, theatre nuclear and strategic nuclear forces, which enables the [end p4] Alliance to respond to aggression at any level. The Soviet Union should never be allowed the option of escalating an attack to a level at which it might calculate there was no credible NATO response.

That is why Labour Party policies of unilateral nuclear disarmament and removal of American nuclear bases in the United Kingdom would be so dangerous. They would seriously affect our ability to deter aggression and prevent intimidation. They would increase the risks of conflict, not reduce them. And they would be wholly ineffective in convincing Soviet leaders of the risks inherent in any aggression. Unilateral action by the UK to remove nuclear weapons would signal a weakening of the Alliance and would raise serious doubts in the eyes of our Allies about our will to defend ourselves. The Soviet Union would reap the benefit.