Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1988 Mar 3 Th
Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for TV-AM (Brussels NATO Summit)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: NATO Headquarters, Brussels
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Adam Boulton, TV AM
Editorial comments: Between 1130 and 1315 MT gave a press conference and interviews to the press.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1591
Themes: Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Famous statements by MT (discussions of)

Adam Boulton, TV-AM

Prime Minister, is there a contradiction between the picture of the Soviet Union strengthening its military might, you gave yesterday and the view of giving credits to Mr Gorbachev you apparently laid out today?

Prime Minister

No contradiction at all. The very first day I met Mikhail Gorbachevhim when he came to Britain on an official visit before he was General Secretary, I set out our policy very clearly. I believed in a strong defence, that there was no point in his ever trying to separate us from the United States or from NATO and that I understand although I do not like his system, he is just as much entitled to defend his system with the Warsaw pact as we are to defend ours with NATO so therefore I approached our relationship on the basis of mutual respect. We both wanted strong defence and I thought we both wanted it at a lower level of weaponry. We shall continue our policy of defence, deterrence and dialogue. But we did want it at a lower level of weapons and therefore we had something in common. We would negotiate toughly as he would.

You know, negotiations from strength and tough negotiations [end p1] are the ones that will stick and that intermediate nuclear weapon treaty of land-based missiles that President Reagan has got, will stick because we have been strong, because it has been toughly negotiated.

Adam Boulton, TV-AM

I appreciate that there are two elements in your view of the Soviet Union, nonetheless in the run-up to this Summit and at this Summit, you stressed the threat aspect of Soviet military power, reportedly talking about the ‘Soviet bear’. Why did you feel a need to do that now? Were you worried that the peace process may go too far?

Prime Minister

Certainly not. That is totally different from the answer which I have just given you. We know the modernisation that is going on in the Soviet Union. We know for example some of the facts that I gave: there is one new submarine deployed every thirty-seven days, they have got the latest, most up-to-date strategic missile; the only one that can be moved from one place to another by rail and therefore can be put in some of the areas they have got which have been vacated by the SS20's. We know the tremendous modernisation they are doing of their tanks, of their aircraft—650 new aircraft in the last five years. Now we cannot just discount this. If we are to have weapons sufficient to deter and your defence is not sure, unless your army, navy and airforce have weapons and profession sufficient to deter any agressor, you have got to give warning. It is because we have a sure defence, we can afford and do say to Mr Gorbachev, “Look, we think what you are doing in the Soviet Union is [end p2] bold. We think it is historic, we think it is right. We think it is bold, historic and right not only for the Soviet Union but for human rights as a whole; a little enlargement of them” and therefore the West we can do it all from the basis of a strong defence.

Remember it was I who said first “Mr Gorbachev is a different leader from any other I have ever met. He is a man I can do business with.” The phrase has been taken up the world over. It was I who was first to say when I went to Moscow “You are doing something which is historic, it is bold. We wish you success in your reforms.” And now I say “Yes, you are coming out of Afghanistan; we welcome that” .

I can do it because first we have got NATO behind us and our defence is strong and sure provided we keep it that way and my first duty therefore is to keep it that way and my other duty to enter the dialogue and welcome what he is doing. The two go together; I could not do the one without the other.

Adam Boulton, TV-AM

Mr Gorbachev of course has problems of his own. How confident are you that he will be the Soviet leader you will continue to do business with?

Prime Minister

I most earnestly hope Mikhail Gorbachevhe will. I admire boldness and courage wherever I see it. I know full well that when you embark on something as fundamental as he is, because the Soviet people have been told they cannot do anything unless they are given permission, now they are told that they really must exercise more personal responsibility and initiative. [end p3]

When you do that and get a certain increased freedom of speech, all the criticisms and the difficulties will emerge first and you have got to live through that period and you have got to have enough faith in what you are doing to go through that period and the enormous benefits will come later. I hope he will succeed. I believe he is very much firmly in command and I believe he has confidence and I believe he is resolute in what he wants to do.

My insurance policy the whole time is if it falls apart and they were to go back to a Stalin-like figure, our defence is sure and we can deter anyone.

Adam Boulton, TV-AM

On that point, the form of words that has been agreed here, does that mean in your view that NATO next year will take the decision to modernise the battlefield nuclear weapons as you want?

Prime Minister

Well, some of the artillery nuclear weapons have already been modernised. Other nuclear weapons are being modernised, we are updating Polaris up to Trident. What we have said is nuclear weapons have to be modernised as necessary. We use the word ‘up-to-date’, if it translates into German there is virtually no difference between ‘up-to-date’ and ‘modernised’. You get difficulties with translation sometimes. We all agree they have to be modernised. You do not deter with obsolete weapons so they have to be modernised. You then have to look across the field of your nuclear weapons and see where you take your next ones and the defence ministers will meet soon. It is for them to translate that instruction into greater detail. [end p4]

Adam Boulton, TV-AM

And you are confident that they will?

Prime Minister

Yes, they have in fact gone into much more detail in their meetings than we do in ours. That is what you would expect. You get the general political direction and then they translate it into detailed action.

Adam Boulton, TV-AM

The arms reduction process now looks ahead to President Reagan going to Moscow. He apparently has not abandoned his dream of a nuclear-free world even although you feel that is impractical. Are you worried that in the twilight days of his presidency he might go to Moscow and ‘sell the store’ to get into the history books?

Prime Minister

Not in any way. The declaration you have got in front of you, agreed by all of us, says that conventional weapons are not enough to deter war, after all two world wars—terrible world wars—taught us that. Conventional weapons were not enough to stop that. The nuclear deterrent is the most powerful deterrent and keeper of peace the world has ever known. Now we have set the agenda, we set it really when I went across to see President Reagan at Camp David shortly after Reykjavik, we set it that that agenda has been adopted by NATO and it is after the 50%; strategic missile reduction that we really must concentrate on negotiations on conventional weapons because that is the area in which the Soviet Union is so greatly superior to anything that we have in quantity and in some cases they have a very high quality in their weapons. [end p5] Their tanks are superb, they are building aircraft—very very competent aircraft. So that is next along with chemical. Now we have got rid of our chemical stockpile in Britain but the Soviet Union has not. That showed you do not do anything unilateral because you could not trust them to follow but now we have the chance to ensure that they get their chemical stockpile and their modernised chemical weapons down. Verification will be difficult. That is what is holding up the next stage.

Adam Boulton, TV-AM

Nonetheless it does look likely that the next President will cut the American presence here, doesn't it?

Prime Minister

I do not know. I hope not. What the Ronald ReaganPresident has done has been to reaffirm America's commitment to the freedom of Europe because it is the fundamental centre—America and Europe are the fundamental free world—and each matters, and each matters to the other and an attack on one is an attack on any of us. He has fundamentally reaffirmed that and the effect of this conference will last long into the next United States Presidency. A President commits not a party but a country.

Adam Boulton, TV-AM

Finally if I could ask you what role do you see for yourself in the Western alliance while America choses its next President and if you will be hosting a fortieth birthday NATO Summit in Britain next year?

Prime Minister

Well, the same role as I have had for the last eight to nine [end p6] years, making certain strong defence, strong deterrence but always being prepared to talk from a basis of strength knowing that our defence is sure and always being prepared to welcome people who are doing what I think is the right way to go. After all that is the way to encourage them to go further in the right direction.

Adam Boulton, TV-AM

And the fortieth anniversary Summit?

Prime Minister

I have not really thought about the fortieth anniversary Summit. I wanted to make certain this one is a success—and it has been a great success.