Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at Soviet Official Banquet

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: St George’s Halls, The Kremlin
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments:

1920-2140. The BBC reported that President Gorbachev - who spoke first - had seen an advance copy of MT’s speech. An extract from the speech, edited by Charles Powell, was later published in the IDU's magazine, Democracy International, in September 1987. See THCR 2/11/17/1 part 5. The second draft of the speech (dated 20 March) can be read here.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2564
Themes: Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Middle East), Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Civil liberties

Prime Minister

Mikhail GorbachevMr General Secretary, Nikolai RyzhkovMr Chairman, Ministers and fellow guests, I am proud to address the distinguished members of the Soviet Leadership in this historic place. Ya ochen rada opyats nakhoditsya v Moskvy (I am very glad to be here in Moscow again).

The Kremlin has been witness to many of the momentous events in the history of your great nation. One of my distinguished predecessors, Sir Winston Churchill, came here in 1942. Speaking then, he said that he would not have come to Moscow unless he felt sure that he would be able to discuss reality. I echo his words. Thank you for inviting me to make this visit, the first official visit by a British Prime Minister to the Soviet Union for twelve years, and for your hospitality and for your warm reception. It follows a long tradition of contact between our two countries over the centuries. Many people, very many people in Britain, remember vividly the highly successful visit which you paid us, Mr General Secretary, just over two years ago and we hope that you will visit us again soon. We would also welcome a visit from Nikolai Ryzhkovthe Chairman of the Council of Ministers. One of the things which all those who met you in Britain remember most clearly is your direct approach to issues; we like that, indeed I have a modest reputation in that way myself. The relations between our two countries can only be sound if each side knows precisely what the other is thinking and the reasons why [end p1] and of course we can learn each from the other.

You will recall that Alexander Pushkin and Eugene Onegin learnt all his knowledge of political economy from we British. One of the first things we are told about him is he spurned Greek poetry and myths but how he knew his Adam Smith. As an economist profound, he understood and could expound the means by which a state gets wealthy and how its livelihood is controlled. Smith said it has no need of gold; producing goods will keep it healthy.

I know that memories of the Second World War are vivid in your country; so they are in ours; we fought the Battle of Britain in 1940 alone against the whole might of the German air force, our great cities were bombed night after night. Many of our sailors took part in the northern convoys with heavy loss of life to ensure that supplies got through to help the Soviet war effort. Our people then fought side by side to turn back the tide and monstrous tyranny and oppression. The Soviet Union itself suffered unimaginable and tragic loss of life and ruinous damage in battles fought on your own soil. As a young woman I followed with anguish but also with admiration the suffering and the heroism of the Russian people.

That bravery and fortitude is as evident today. A few weeks ago I was visited by one of your firemen who had fought the blaze at the Chernobyl nuclear power station with such outstanding courage. He came to us for an award for his courageous fight—a true hero.

Mr. General Secretary, I do not want this evening simply to set out the British view on a number of issues for the record, rather I want to use the opportunity to examine two very important questions: how do we manage change in our societies—and how do we assure ourselves of security? The two [end p2] questions are very closely linked because it is increasingly difficult for any country, above all, a great power like the Soviet Union, to draw a clear dividing line between what happens inside its borders and the wider world within which it has to seek security and prosperity.

My visit to the Soviet Union comes at what is evidently a very exciting and stimulating moment in your national affairs. Indeed you yourself have called it a revolution. We read your speeches, Sir, with great attention. We hear your references to openness, deomocratisation, independent judiciary and incentives. We have read your references to free labour and free thought in a free country. In our society, those words convey hope and faith in the spirit of the individual, a belief in freedom and justice. It is because we value these things, not only for ourselves but for other people, that when on the 3 September 1939, Hitler refused to withdraw from Poland we went to war to stop tyranny from spreading across Europe. Against that background we welcomed the opportunities which your proposed changes will bring. Both for the prosperity and well being of your own people and for the prospects for increasingly open contacts with other countries and peoples.

The fact is, Mr General Secretary, that we are increasingly one world and need to think globally. National boundaries can no longer keep our countries and peoples in separate compartments. One has only to think of matters so diverse as acid rain, pollution, disease, broadcasting, sport, books and ideas, travel, all these things are bringing about changes which do not always recognise the boundaries drawn on maps. The result is that one country's policies, practices and standards increasingly affect the lives of others and they in [end p3] turn are affected by the hopes and ambitions of other people. More and more, we face problems which we can only solve together.

This need to consider the impact beyond our borders of what happens within them, applies to what is for me the most crucial question of all: that of how we establish greater confidence and trust between the countries of East and West; this is vital if we are to reach agreements which allow us to reduce the burden of armaments and devote more resources to the well being of people. We all want to see such agreement. But whether they can be reached depends not only on the skill of the negotiators, it depends much more fundamentally on how Governments and peoples in East and West view each other, what they believe about each other's intentions, how they judge each other's readiness to honour their commitments and how they judge each other's long-term objectives in the wider world.

For example, we in the west have the system which we think is best for us. We fight the battle of ideas by letting the results of our own democratic system speak for themselves, but we seek no-one else's territory or possessions, nor do we seek to impose our political system on others. For we believe in the right of other peoples to determine their own destiny. It is only natural, therefore that statements that you will struggle for the total triumph of socialism all over the world raise fears among our people because they are seen as a threat.

Or take the question of human rights, the extent to which you, the Soviet Government, meet the commitments which you have freely undertaken in the Helsinki Final Act will determine how far other countries and other peoples have confidence in the undertakings which you give on, for instance, arms control. The greater your readiness to release prisoners of conscience and to allow those who wish to do so freely to leave their country, and we [end p4] welcome the steps which you have already taken, the greater the readiness that you will find in the west to believe that peaceful and friendly relations with the Soviet Union cannot only be maintained but extended.

Similarly, General Secretary, the Soviet Union's readiness to withdraw their armies from Afghanistan with the shortest possible delay so that the Afghan people can exercise their rights to self-determination will have a crucial part, not only on the future of Afghanistan, but in deciding how others see you and whether they trust or fear you and make their plans accordingly. You would have our full support in implementing a solution which will allow an independent and genuinely non-aligned Afghanistan to live in friendly relations with all its neighbours.

Mr General Secretary, I believe we have a unique opportunity to increase understanding and confidence between East and West. But just as we would expect you to judge us not only by what we say but by what we do, so we will reach our judgement not on intentions or on promises but on deeds and on results.

Mr General Secretary, every nation has the right to be secure and to feel secure. We in the West find our security in the Atlantic Alliance which binds Europe with the United States. It is a defensive alliance. We threaten no-one. NATO gave a solemn assurance in 1982, none of our weapons would ever be used except in response to attack. The mistake is sometimes made of believing that Europe can be divided from the United States. But on the fundamentals and in our determination to defend our democratic values, we are inseparable.

It is because of the unity of the NATO alliance and because of our hopes for greater confidence between East and West that we are ready to look for ways to achieve security [end p5] at lower levels of armaments. I do not believe that it makes sense to try to achieve this in one leap. It makes better sense to approach it step-by-step, but we must always keep in mind the impact of each agreement on our overall security. The priorities are now surely clear to us all; an intermediate nuclear weapons agreement with restraints on shorter range systems, a 50%; cut in United States and Soviet strategic offensive systems and a worldwide ban on chemical weapons, and of course reductions in these areas will enhance the importance of eliminating disparities in conventional forces.

You recognise the validity of this step-by-step approach, Mr General Secretary, in your statement of the 28 February in which you proposed a conclusion of a separate Intermediate Nuclear Forces Agreement, and I very much hope that such an agreement can be reached. But at each stage of the negotiation we must ensure that each side enjoys undiminished security and in judging that we have to look at the whole range of armaments, not just one category. We can agree to longer range intermediate missiles in Europe being eliminated but we must also have constraints on shorter range missiles to ensure there is no circumvention of this agreement and the next stage must be further negotiations to reduce the imbalance of shorter range systems as the Warsaw Pact has a massive superiority of nine to one. There must also be real progress in negotiations to deal with the Warsaw Pact superiority in conventional forces. You yourself recently proposed, Mr General Secretary, that the way to deal with this is not for the one with less to increase his forces but for the one with more to reduce them. I agree entirely. These cuts in strategic weapons should also be within reach. [end p6]

There is no reason why such reductions should be made to depend on limitations on the United States research programme on strategic defence. You cannot stop such research any more than you can stop the onward march of science in general. Man will always strive to push forward the frontiers of knowledge and we know that similar work is being undertaken in the Soviet Union. I do not think that there will ever be a complete defence against strategic nuclear weapons but we cannot foreclose on the chance that defences could make a valuable contribution to a more stable relationship.

As President Reagan and I agreed in Camp David in December 1984 the aim of any strategic defence system should be to enhance not to undermine deterrents, to maintain balance, not to achieve superiority. That is why we should be trying, not to prevent research to the point of establishing feasibility, but to manage the results of that research so that neither side feels threatened by it.

It is already agreed that any deployment would have to be a matter for genuine negotiation. A further step to create confidence might be to have a timetable spelling out the planned research programme of both parties supported by a commitment not to withdraw from the ABM treaty for a fixed period. It ought to give both sides enough certainty about the other's intentions to enable reductions in strategic weapons to proceed.

We also need to reach, as a matter of urgency, agreement to ban chemical weapons. Although Britain gave up hers in the late 1950's, the Soviet Union has a massive superiority over the West in these weapons. Agreements in these areas, with provisions for strict verification in each case, would be a very remarkable achievement and we should concentrate on that. [end p7] I do not believe it makes practical sense to try to look beyond them. If we are too ambitious we risk sacrificing what can be achieved now.

The fact is that nuclear weapons exist and the knowledge of how to make them cannot be erased. Conventional weapons have never been enough to deter war. Two world wars showed us that. They also showed us how terrible a war fought even with conventional weapons can be yet nuclear weapons have deterred not only nuclear war but conventional war in Europe as well. A world without nuclear weapons may be a dream but you cannot base a sure defence on dreams. Without far greater trust and confidence between East and West than exists at present, a world without nuclear weapons would be less stable and more dangerous for all of us. I will recall to you some words of Sir Winston Churchill: “Be careful above all things” he said, “not to let go of the atomic weapon until you are sure and more than sure that other means of preserving peace are in your hands.”

That is why the Government which I lead will not abandon the security provided for our country and for the NATO alliance by nuclear weapons. Our own nuclear forces will remain at the minimal level needed to guarantee our own security and contribute to the security of our allies. They may be very small compared to the forces of the Soviet Union but for us they are and will remain crucial.

Mr General Secretary, I make these points to you, not in any combative spirit but in the hope that by clear thinking and frank speaking and in a spirit of realism and mutual understanding, we may build a better and more constructive relationship between our countries and so make our contributions towards a more secure and peaceful world.

Mr General Secretary I started my speech [end p8] on a note of hope and it is with hope that I wish to end. I have high hopes for the future development of our bilateral relations, tomorrow we shall witness the signing of some agreements between our two Governments. One of them sets out ambitious new ideas to improve communication between our two peoples. We in Britain have always had great admiration for the contribution which your country has made to European culture over the centuries. That contribution was based upon unrestricted contacts and exchanges across the whole of Europe. I attach very great importance to re-establishing them. We would like to see many more of your young people come to Britain to see for themselves and we would like to send more of ours over to the Soviet Union. The free movement of people and ideas is an essential part of creating trust.

I have high hopes, Mr General Secretary for the success of the negotiations in Genava and in Vienna for a reduction in arms and I have high hopes that the important developments taking place in your country will contribute to greater confidence between east and west. There is a famous passage in Shakespeare which speaks of a tide in the affairs of men which when taken at the flood leads on to fortune; perhaps Mr General Secretary, you have already caught that tide, you have certainly embarked upon a great endeavour and we most earnestly wish you and your people well. Your success would bring in other tides on other shores far beyond your own.

So Mr General Secretary, I raise my glass to you and to the success of the course on which you are embarked. You carry our sincere good wishes. I raise my glass to the wellbeing of the peoples of your great country, to all my Soviet hosts in gratitude for their magnificent hospitality and I raise my glass to the relationship of goodwill and mutual respect [end p9] between our two countries. Za vashe zdorovye. Zhelayu vam uspyekha. (To your health; I wish you success.)