Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1987 Sep 17 Th
Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for CNN

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive (THCR 5/1/5/482): COI transcript
Journalist: Ralph Begleiter, CNN
Editorial comments:

1030-1130. Copyright in the broadcast from which this transcript is taken is retained by CNN and the transcript is reproduced by permission of CNN. A set of written questions and answers also seems to have been prepared for this interview, though in what form it was used or published is unclear; the file sheds no light.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4650
Themes: Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Executive, Autobiographical comments

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

Good day, Prime Minister!

Prime Minister

Good day!

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

You have a large plate of wide and varied issues on your table every day here at 10 Downing …

I wonder if you can give us just a brief idea of where issues on arms control play in your overall scheme? (sic!) How important are these issues as compared to other things you deal with?

Prime Minister

Well, they are very important because they are quite fundamental in East-West relations, and that has been with us for [end p1] a very long time and will be with us for a very long time in the future. So they are a continuing source of discussion and we view them not only as arms control matters but as part of a relationship with the Soviet Union - very much as part, a very vital part.

Of course, from time to time some particular thing requires immediate attention, like matters of the Gulf which flared up, and we have to give that immediate attention, and we decide our things, of course, in cabinet.

We have a very different system and I have to go down and answer questions in Parliament twice a week. So we have regularly a cabinet meeting every Thursday morning. We have regularly an economic committee of the cabinet, certainly once a fortnight - probably more often. Regularly an overseas and defence meeting of the cabinet about the same; but the East-West is a continuing matter, which will affect us all for many years to come.

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

It seems as though many people - leaders as well as citizens of the NATO alliance - seem to want to get rid of, in some way or other, this nuclear threat, the weapons themselves and the threat from the other side, find a way to reduce that and eventually eliminate it. And yet, in the European part of the alliance, there seems to be a reluctance to eliminate these weapons. Why? [end p2]

Prime Minister

I think General Galvin put it very well the other day. We are seeking a nuclear-free Europe. We are seeking a war-free Europe and therefore, if I might respectfully say so, many people have got on to asking the wrong question. The question is not how to rid the world of nuclear weapons. If nuclear weapons are such a strong deterrent that they have managed to rid the world of war, that is much more important.

What I am seeking is a Europe and a world with peace, with freedom and justice. The nuclear deterrent has kept peace with freedom and justice in western Europe and the United States ever since the last war, and I sometimes say to people: “Do you mean to tell me that you would rather get rid of nuclear weapons and increase the risk of a conventional war starting, a conventional war which would be infinitely worse than the last World War and which would inevitably go to a nuclear war the moment it started?”

What you really want is a policy that will give us continued peace, not at any price, but peace with freedom and justice. That is the objective of NATO and it is with that question that one should start: how can we ensure that peace with freedom and justice?

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

So your view is that if it is needed to maintain that peace, nuclear weapons - the nuclear deterrent - ought to remain? [end p3]

Prime Minister

Most certainly. That was the view, too, which Winston Churchill put and said: “Never get rid of this weapon until you are sure - if you ever can be sure - that you have got something better!”

But it has, in fact, kept that peace with freedom and justice across that great frontier of freedom in Europe for many many years.

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

You said a moment ago that a conventional war would be infinitely worse than the Second World War, would probably escalate to a nuclear war within a short period of time.

Prime Minister

Yes.

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

How long could the NATO Alliance hold out without having to resort to nuclear weapons?

Prime Minister

It is the task of NATO to make certain that our defence is always sure - always sure. That is why I put the fundamental question to you. I believe that you cannot make our defence sure without a nuclear deterrent. [end p4]

You not only need that; you need to make it sure at many many levels. The nuclear deterrent is a fundamental part of our defence. Having excellent conventional also is a fundamental part. It is a whole defence, and at no stage must one ever undermine that defence in negotiating, in particular arms control agreements. You have to look at what you are negotiating in the context of: “Is our defence sure?”

You value freedom more than many people will say. You will make whatever sacrifices are necessary to ensure its continuance, but the nuclear deterrent is vital.

Let me put it this way: it would be very difficult for us to have a conventional deterrent alone. You have only got to look at the map to see that the Soviet Union is infinitely larger even than the United States - enormous by comparison with Western Europe. It is Western Europe over which two world wars have been fought. It is Western Europe which may be liable to be invaded once again. The deterrent stops that.

Just supposing some people got their way and said: “It goes!”. I do not think that we could conventionally deter an aggressor. And then, we should have to defend, but would you defend … would you put your forces in the field knowing then that we should be in the same position as we were in the last War? The battle would be on as to who got the nuclear weapon first and, of course, had Hitler got it first, the history of freedom would have been very different. [end p5]

So it comes back to this fundamental point: the nuclear deterrent is the most powerful protector of peace with freedom and justice the world has ever known. You do not want as much as we have got now, but you need a nuclear deterrent.

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

I was just going to say that it sounds as you would rather not see the super powers sign an agreement to remove some nuclear weapons from Europe …

Prime Minister

The question is a non sequitur. You need a sufficient nuclear deterrent.

We have a much smaller nuclear deterrent. We have an independent nuclear deterrent as a “last resort nuclear deterrent”. It is only about 3&pcnt; of what the Soviet Union has, but it is sufficient of a deterrent because sufficient could get through to deter.

I think that we have too many nuclear weapons at the moment. That is why we want to reduce them. We want to reduce both the amount spent on them; we want to reduce the numbers, because a small number than we have got now is sufficient to deter, and that is why I am very much for the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Agreement. It will take out far more nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union than the West has, because we have not come up to full deployment - so it is good as far as the balance goes. The [end p6] Soviet Union will take out far more warheads than we have to take out because we have not got that number.

What I am concerned about is that we also then look at the position with regard to chemical weapons and the position with regard to conventional weapons.

I think after the intermediate, they will look both at chemical and conventional and also at the big intercontinental ballistic missiles which the United States hold and which the Soviet Union holds, on which it will be possible to reduce those numbers and still keep an effective nuclear deterrent - but not at the cost which Mr. Gorbachev is trying to exact of getting rid of SDI. That would be wrong in my view.

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

Mr. Gorbachev is suggesting that an agreement on long-range strategic missiles might be possible by the middle of next year. Do you think that is possible?

Prime Minister

Mikhail GorbachevHe is talking about a considerable reduction in the numbers which the United States hold and which the Soviet Union holds, not affecting France's nor ours at all.

If he is going to insist that the United States, in effect, gives up Strategic Defence Initiative that, I think, would be totally wrong. The Soviet Union has excellent defences. They have got anti-ballistic missile defences - we have not - and they [end p7] are doing a lot of work on lasers. We should not give up, in my view, Strategic Defence Initiative.

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

But do you think an agreement might be possible on those long-range missiles as soon as six or eight months from now?

Prime Minister

I think it might be possible but not at the cost of giving up SDI and I am absolutely confident President Reagan would never give up the Strategic Defence Initiative.

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

Now, as to your own “last resort force”, when will you begin negotiations on those with the Soviet Union?

Prime Minister

I cannot foresee the time at the moment when we should begin.

Our force, even if you had a 50&pcnt; reduction in the Soviet Union's strategic force, would be a smaller proportion of theirs, even when we get Trident, than it was when we introduced Polaris. You do not give up 100&pcnt; of your own for the Soviet Union to give up but a small percentage of theirs. Ours is a “last resort” - almost minimum - nuclear deterrent and that is why I do not see the possibility of giving it up as things are or even as they [end p8] would be after a 50&pcnt; reduction. They are our total “last resort” defence. They are so small compared with the large number that in the last resort we would face. There would have to be such a fundamental change before we would consider it. Even so, I believe that the nuclear deterrent keeps peace with freedom and justice, because you do not go for peace at any price, but with our way of life.

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

In effect then, you are saying that Britain's nuclear arsenal is non-negotiable?

Prime Minister

No, I am not saying that and I have not said that.

I am saying that I cannot foresee a time at present when we would bring it into negotiations, because ours is small. To give up 100&pcnt; of ours, someone giving up a small percentage of theirs, does not make defence sense whichever way you like to look at it, and it is our duty as a government to see that Britain's way of life is safeguarded.

Do not forget that we had to stand alone for a time during the last war until the United States came in, and together we won back that freedom and justice in Europe, and so we must always have a “last resort”, effective, deterrent. [end p9]

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

There have been a lot of polls taken and, of course, we have all done some interviews with people in Europe and the United States, and there does seem to be a strong undercurrent among the people of a view that it is the Soviet Union - it is Mr. Gorbachev - who has made the largest strides in the last few years toward arms control.

What could you say or do to correct or change that impression?

Prime Minister

Point number one: it was the Soviet Union that put up 3000 [sic] warheads of an intermediate kind. We only have something like 300. If they had not put up that 3000, we should never have had this kind of weapon. They put them there, and they would not be beginning to negotiate taking them down unless we and the United States - we in Europe and the United States - had the guts to say: “You keep them there, we will put up our Cruise and Pershings!” And they tried to play all their propaganda on Europe and the United States that they could, but they underestimated us.

We were the first to deploy Cruise. Germany followed. Italy also agreed, and then Holland and Belgium, and it was not until we stopped threatening to deploy but actually deployed them that the Soviet Union began to think: “Well, now we will negotiate them!” The very agreement that I hope and believe will come about would not have been necessary unless it was the Soviet Union [end p10] that went ahead with those SS20s, with the missiles with their multiple warheads, and has an enormous number of warheads, far many more than we have.

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

I would like to hear what you have to say about the effect of the peace movements and so on that have sprung up over the last seven to ten years in Europe.

Would you attribute any of the success on negotiating this medium-range agreement to the pressure placed on western governments by the so-called “Green Movement”?

Prime Minister

None whatsoever!

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

Why not?

Prime Minister

Because we know that our duty is to defend freedom and justice and that is a duty which no government can opt out of. Perhaps we have not been strong enough in putting the point which I put to you that the agreement that I hope will be reached will not undermine our defence capability and General Galvin has made that very clear. [end p11]

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

Let me ask you for a moment about a scenario that I think neither one of us believes will occur in the near future, but suppose for a moment that the super powers did agree to eliminate completely their nuclear arsenals or to in some way restrict them so that they would not be used? Is there not a danger that even if the US and Soviet Union had such an agreement, a danger of the use of nuclear weapons by others in the world, perhaps those who are not now members of the nuclear club?

Prime Minister

Yes, there is a danger of nuclear weapons proliferating. We are very strong adherents to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreement. As you know, there was an agreement and 130 other nations have signed it, but yes, there is a danger that some of those who have not signed it may get it. There is always a danger. Tyrants have been born throughout the ages. They are not going to stop being born now. We have to make it such that they could not win, but there is always a danger that someone else may get it, and that is another reason for making certain that you yourselves have an effective nuclear deterrent.

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

How about the prospects for arms control agreements in the future?

We have got this INF Agreement that appears to be almost [end p12] certain at this point, but let us look beyond that. Do you see that as a watershed in the state of East-West affairs, in the state of arms control negotiations? Do you see that as a small blip on the screen?

Put it into a little bit of a context for us!

Prime Minister

It will be the first agreement which has actually resulted in the reduction of nuclear weapons and that, I think, is very significant.

As you know, SALT 1 and SALT 2 were intended in a way to reduce the future increase of nuclear weapons, but in fact, they have not led to the reduction of nuclear weapons.

This one will actually be an agreement which actually leads to a reduction in nuclear weapons, so it is different.

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

Does that mean that there will be further agreements? Has there been a substantive change in the relationship between the US and the Soviet Union that has brought this about?

Prime Minister

I think it is possible, as you know, from the agreement that President Reagan and I have spoken of many times that we had at Camp David, that we might go on to get a 50&pcnt; reduction in the strategic arsenal, which of course, has gone on increasing and [end p13] increasing and increasing. But again, not at the expense of SDI.

You know, the thing that saved us in the last war is that we were always ahead on the research and technology. Never forget that! We were always ahead on the research and technology, and in my view, the free nations - the West - must always stay ahead on the research and technology and that is really what SDI is; it is as fundamental as that.

I just sometimes look again at the history of the last war. Remember, I was a child when the aircraft had to leave their bases in Britain on a very important mission - to go and bomb the factories that were making heavy water, which we knew was fundamental to the atomic weapon, in Norway. They did! They were successful, and time after time the worry was that Hitler might get it first and remember, he used to proclaim: “We have a secret weapon!”

We used to get the doodle-bugs over here and the V2s. That, in effect was a missile with a conventional warhead. Just imagine … just think … he would have won if he had been able to put an atomic weapon here, on the rest of Europe, or the threat!

That came about - our supremacy in that - because we kept ahead on research and technology and that is the fundamental reason why I am a great supporter of the Strategic Defence Initiative. Also, because we have not put as much emphasis on defence - a deep defence - as the Soviet Union has, and in some ways they are ahead of us in their defensive mechanisms. [end p14]

(Tape Change)

Prime Minister

It is an enormous preponderance. I am sorry, it is 1300. I must do that again!

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

Did you actually mention the number?

Prime Minister

Yes, I did! It is 1300. Shall I just do a little bit? (discussion re repeat of small section of interview)

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

The question was about the perception that Gorbachev was the one who had really gone ahead and done all the initiative and brought about the agreement and then you responded by pointing out that they built up their missile force to this level.

Prime Minister

Yes, I will see if I can do it in a shorter time.

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

(this is a repeat of the question) Prime Minister, there is a broad impression it seems in Europe that it was Gorbachev who has taken the initiative in [end p15] the last few years that brought about this Intermediate Missile Agreement. What can you say to change or correct that impression?

Prime Minister

Well that is quite wrong! It was the Soviet Union that created and invented these weapons!

We saw the SS20s appearing. We said that is a new weapon. They have now built up those SS20s to 1300 warheads. We said: “Unless you take them down, we will deploy some in response, Cruise and Pershing!”

We negotiated for a long time. They did not take them down and they would not be thinking of negotiating with them now unless the United States and the whole of Western Europe had stood firm and we said: “We will deploy Cruise! We will deploy Pershing!”

We led first with deploying Cruise. West Germany came very quickly with deploying Cruise and Pershing. We still only got 300 up, so if Mikhail Gorbachevhe had not put his 1300 there, there would not be any need for this agreement. But he did put them - we responded. That brought him to the negotiating table and now we are having an agreement to eliminate them all. But it is a good agreement: 1300 warheads targeted on Western Europe and we get rid of 300 targeted on the Soviet Union. [end p16]

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

Now, it has been said by the United States repeatedly that the Soviet Union has violated past arms control agreements, which brings into question: “Why sign a deal with someone who cheats on an old one?”

Prime Minister

We are giving a great deal of attention - and President Reagan is consulting NATO - to verification.

You are quite right. You cannot rely on trust when you are dealing with the Soviet Union. You have in fact to build in detailed preparations for how you are going to verify.

It has been made very much easier, because Mr. Gorbachev has agreed that we eliminate all the intermediate weapons. At first, he was saying please, they want to keep a hundred. That would have been almost impossible to verify. Now it is much easier to verify complete elimination, but the detailed negotiations are going on. It is absolutely vital that we get the details right so that we can verify.

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

Let me turn for a moment to conventional forces. We have not spent much time on it and that is an important issue here in Europe.

I think many Americans have a misperception of how the defence system works in NATO and Europe. For example, it was [end p17] only last week that Donald Trump, a prominent real estate developer in the United States, posted advertisements in major newspapers essentially complaining that the United States is supporting Europe's defence. “Why are we spending this money? Why do we have our troops there? Why isn't Europe doing more?”

How do you respond to that kind of criticism?

Prime Minister

First, because that frontier of freedom going across Europe is America's frontier of freedom as well as ours, and we are jolly lucky that the frontier of freedom does not go across our territory - but we do know it goes across someone else's.

You have 330,000 troops there. Proportionately, Britain has the same number on the central front - proportionately. So we have 66,000 army and air force together. That is as much to us as the 330,000 to you.

It is vital that we all defend the frontier of freedom. It is vital that we stick together, because if we do not, we could be picked off one by one and it is as important to the United States as to Western Europe.

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

There was a time in the 1950s when the American troop presence in Europe was considered a sort of trip-wire that if there were a war in Europe immediately there would be massive nuclear retaliation by the United States. I think that is a [end p18] logic that has waned and it is no longer massive nuclear retaliation, but is not the trip-wire philosophy still somewhat in play?

Prime Minister

No. It is flexible response, as you know, and we have deliberately changed to flexible response, and I know that some people are worried that you cannot take out too many kinds of weapons or in fact you deny the flexibility, but when you are dealing with nuclear it is the fundamental deterrent - the thing that stops war starting - that you have got to concentrate on. It is a flexible response and not a trip-wire.

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

Why do you need the American troops then?

Prime Minister

So that the Soviet Union and any other aggressor is shown that the free world stands together. We need American troops because we do have flexible response. We need the nuclear deterrents so that war does not start, but do not forget Hitler picked off the nations one by one until eventually they said “Enough!” We all came in together. Do not forget that the whole of Europe was occupied, that must never happen again. Please do not question - I do not really think you are, but you have a job to ask the question - do not question the fundamental soundness of NATO, of all of us who believe in freedom and justice standing together to defend it and never let that weaken. Otherwise, if you do, those who have another system [end p19] which does not in fact have the same belief in human rights might just risk coming across and attacking Europe again, and if Europe fell it would be difficult for the United States to stand wholly alone.

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

Do you think there is a climate now - a right climate - for productive negotiations on reducing the conventional threat in Europe?

Prime Minister

Oh, we have been trying to do that for a very long time.

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

I know. A long time and nothing has happened!

Prime Minister

Indeed, for nearly fourteen years. I have always been very sympathetic to those diplomats who have to go and sit and try to negotiate, and it has been very difficult even to get details of the numbers that the Soviet Union have in the satellite countries, the numbers of people they have under arms. We know roughly they have got a million more men than we have and they have got many many more tanks - I think it is three times as many tanks - and twice as many aircraft and a million more men. But yes, we must [end p20] go on, but it is not really that we should reduce our conventional - they have really got to reduce theirs to come down much nearer to the numbers that we have. But yes, we have got to carry on!

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

Is there a climate for that?

Prime Minister

Oh yes, there is a climate for that.

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

Do you think the Soviets are prepared to do it?

Prime Minister

I think we have got to go on and not do any more reductions in nuclear, apart from the 50&pcnt; on the intercontinental ballistic. We have said to them: “Look! We in Britain got rid of all of our chemical; what did you do? You just modernised yours and got a much bigger stockpile!” The United States has got some old chemical weapons, not new ones. That shows you what happens if you just give up anything unilaterally or do not modernise, and that gives the Soviet Union an enormous advantage, and one of the things one fears is that she can put over a heavy weight of chemical weapons and then, of course, we have to protect against it, and it greatly constrains the way in which you can react. So yes, the next thing is to go to the Soviet Union and say: [end p21] “Now you have got to negotiate to get down your chemical weapons to the level we have and preferably to abandon chemical!”

When people say: “Oh, but the Soviet Union is making all the running on disarmament!”, oh not a bit of it! The Soviet Union has steadily built up her chemical weapon arsenal and in fact modernised it. We have not. Our only response, really, is nuclear, so of course we have to go to that. It is part of the fundamental imbalance and of course we have to go for conventional because it is part, again, of the fundamental imbalance. That is protected at the moment by the nuclear deterrent. That is another reason why you must keep it.

You have to look … can heads of government, heads of state, the head of NATO still say: “Yes, we have got enough to deter an attack and to make certain that the future of freedom and justice is assured!”?

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

One last question. Put yourself in a philosophical frame for just a moment.

Prime Minister

I am often in a philosophical frame but I do not stop there. I am very practical after that! No point in having principles unless you are certain that you can apply them and keep your peace with freedom and justice, and if you cannot keep the peace you must defend the freedom and justice - and you must win! [end p22]

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

Let us look ahead to the distant future for a moment - your grandchildren and my grandchildren. Can you envision a day when the iron curtain will not be there any more, when the tensions East-West will not exist, when there may not be a need for nuclear deterrents of the strength that exists on both sides now?

Prime Minister

I do not know, but I do know that seventy years … the Communist Revolution is seventy years this year … Mr. Gorbachev and it seems the majority of the Politburo have come to the conclusion that it does not work. It does not give the people of the Soviet Union personal dignity, it does not bring them prosperity. They know there has to be a change and the great question is are they prepared to make enough changes to bring dignity and prosperity because most of us believe that enough changes could not come about if you insist on keeping the Communist system there.

But they are having a go at trying to make changes. We shall not know whether that works for a long time, but it is a very brave courageous attempt and insofar as it gives greater freedom, greater dignity, to mankind in the Soviet Union we support it and I do support the efforts to make that change.

Ralph Begleiter, CNN

Prime Minister, thank you very much for joining us on CNN.