Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for BBC (Brussels NATO Summit)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: NATO Headquarters, Brussels
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: John Simpson BBC
Editorial comments:

Between 1130 and 1315 MT gave a press conference and interviews to the press.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1729
Themes: Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Famous statements by MT (discussions of), Foreign policy (Middle East)

John Simpson, BBC

Prime Minister, you were much the prime mover for this Summit. What was the point of it? Why did you want it so much?

Prime Minister

I felt we needed to have a demonstration of the strength and unity of NATO before the Ronald ReaganPresident went to Moscow - which I hope will come about late Spring, early Summer - for the next stage of the negotiations on armaments control.

John Simpson, BBC

Does that mean to say that you want President Reagan to stick to a specific line? You were very upset with him, weren't you, when he went to Reykjavik and did not seem to be sticking by the Alliance line?

Prime Minister

The line is now set and has been set for some time. He has achieved the Intermediate Nuclear Weapon Agreement, which was a great achievement, which was achieved through the strength of NATO in deploying Cruise and Pershing. [end p1]

The next thing is the fifty percent reduction in the intercontinental missiles. That is a very difficult negotiation.

After that, we wanted the whole of NATO to agree the next priorities and undoubtedly, the next priority is to try to have some agreements on conventional weapons because there the Soviet Union has enormous superiority and they simply must come down to parity - and also to try to agree we should get a global ban on chemical. That will not be easy, but all of us agree the next steps. You know, when you all agree it increases the strength of every single person there.

John Simpson, BBC

So when President Reagan goes to Moscow, this is the kind of agenda that he is going to be negotiating from?

Prime Minister

That is the agenda we have set. It is NATO that has set the agenda.

John Simpson, BBC

Nevertheless, there does seem to have been one of these classic compromises over the issue of whether short-range nuclear weapons should be modernised, whatever the phrase is. It was a little bit of a fudge, wasn't it? [end p2]

Prime Minister

No, there is no fudge at all.

If you are to have your policy of a sure defence and deterrence sufficient to stop anyone from starting a war because they know they could not win, you can only deter if all your weapons - chemical or nuclear - are up-to-date. You do not deter anyone with obsolete weapons. That stands to common sense.

They had no difficulty in saying: “Yes, we keep modern and up-to-date with conventional!” and they all agree that your nuclear have to be up-to-date. Some are less willing to say it. It was not lack of fundamental agreement. Some believed that some of their peoples would not necessarily accept that.

You know the view that I have taken that you can trust the people, but you must in fact be absolutely frank with them. That their greatest certainty of the continuation of freedom and justice is a strong and sure defence and you do not have that unless your weapons are enough to deter any potential threat. For that, you have to look at the immense military might of the Soviet Union, that it is modernising, that its military might continues, might continue, will continue, does continue, and therefore ours must be strong enough to deter.

On the basis that your defence is sure, you can then welcome the changes that are taking place in the Soviet Union; changes that should enhance some of the very small freedoms of those people; should give them a little bit of the liberties we enjoy: knowing that if the whole thing falls apart and it goes back to being a very very authoritarian regime, then our defence is still sure. [end p3]

John Simpson, BBC

It does sound, though, a little as though you feel that the Germans were perhaps rather weak-spirited in being so opposed to the modernisation?

Prime Minister

Chancellor Kohl has been a staunch ally, very staunch.

We actually deployed Cruise missiles first. Chancellor Kohl deployed the Pershings as well as the Cruise, and he never flinched. He has been a very staunch ally; a very good friend of the United States, recognising what a good friend the United States is to Europe, so it was only a question of whether we were absolutely open about it in the Declaration, which I always believed we should be, and that view has prevailed, and that is good.

I do believe that you have to put the facts before people. You have to explain why you have done certain things, and I believe that they will follow leadership and they know the fundamental issues that are at stake.

John Simpson, BBC

A lot of people are going to be a little bit unclear about what your precise line is towards Mr. Gorbachev and the Soviet Union. [end p4]

Yesterday, you were talking about how the Soviet Union has these new and continually-improved abilities to invade Western Europe if necessary. Today, you have been praising Mr. Gorbachev for the changes that he is creating.

Is he still the bear? Is the Soviet Union still the bear to be afraid of?

Prime Minister

My line today is the same as it was the first day I met Mr. Gorbachev, which is when he came to Britain before he was General Secretary.

I then said to him: “Look! We believe in a sure defence of our own system, because we believe in peace with freedom and justice! You have a different system, but you are entitled to defend your system as we are entitled to defend ours! We therefore approach defence matters on the basis of mutual respect. You must be sure. We must be sure, but we both wish to be sure and secure at a lower level of weaponry!” He agreed that.

We both honour each other's alliances. I said to him: “There is no point in your trying to separate me from the United States. You will never succeed in doing so and I am not going to try to separate the Warsaw Pact countries from the Soviet Union!” Sure defence for us both at a lower level of weaponry. On that basis and hard negotiated detailed agreements on getting the weapons down. [end p5]

Then, when he became General Secretary and started this bold initiative, I knew the boldness of the man. I said the first day he came: “That is a man I can do business with!” That phrase went round the world. It was followed by other people, but it was a sure defence each, mutual respect, hard negotiation.

Because our defence is sure, I am able to say what he is doing will bring a little extra liberty, a little extra human rights, to the Soviet people. That is good. I was the first to welcome it after I said I could do business with him, and I now welcome his statement - and I believe he will follow it up, I believe he will have to honour it - that he will withdraw from Afghanistan and will not in fact make efforts to control the kind of government they have afterwards.

He is doing the things which we have wanted for years. When a person is, you must in fact say these moves are bold. They are historic. They are not only bold and historic for the Soviet Union, but they are for the West, because if they succeed, gradually that line will be eroded when the people the other side of the frontier of freedom will start to have more freedom, which help all mankind.

The line has not changed - go right back to the beginning! Sure defence, tough negotiations. This is a man I can do business with. This is a man who is being bold internally. This is a person who is going to come out of Afghanistan. The basis: our defence is sure, therefore I can welcome some of the things that he is doing and which deserve praise because it helps him to achieve it. [end p6]

John Simpson, BBC

But he still has the increasing capability to invade us in Western Europe?

Prime Minister

The Soviet Union strength is not economic strength. It is not political strength. It is not human rights strength. It is military strength. It keeps that military strength because it is all it has got.

It is its military strength which has got it up to being the second biggest super-power in the world. That is all it has got.

Now Mr. Gorbachev knows that that is not enough. He has not succeeded - and would never succeed - in jamming all of the ideas that go into the Soviet Union. You cannot jam every radio; you cannot jam every television; you cannot jam ideas. He knows he has got to build something else.

He will keep his strong military strength. That is why we must, until years and years ahead possibly, they have become more freedom, more justice, and we might then have got this level of military hardware down to the benefit of the world, but still secure defence. That is the basis of everything.

There is hope! There is more hope now than I have seen in most of my lifetime, because the defence is sure, because we have got someone we can do business with, because he is beginning to get [end p7] some of the liberties there which other people want, which other people have, which his people want. It is all right so long as your defence is sure and that must be equal to the level of the threat.

John Simpson, BBC

One final question.

President Reagan is now entering his last months as President of the United States. We do not know who the next President is going to be. Whoever it is, it will take a little bit of time for him to settle in.

You are really now becoming the undisputed single leader of the Alliance.

What do you want to do? Where do you want to take the Alliance while you have this ability to lead it?

Prime Minister

We have to keep together and have to keep strong. That was the purpose of having this meeting. This is why I wanted it and did everything I could to bring it about, and the fact we have had it takes us not only to the end of President Reagan's presidency, but through and well beyond because we have set, again, the future for the Alliance. [end p8]

Just think of it! It is this Alliance which has kept the peace in Europe for forty years. We go on being strong, go on with the three things - defence, deterrence, dialogue - and then, gradually, we shall see a better world. Gradually, so long as Mr. Gorbachev succeeds, we shall see an enlargement of freedom.

You know, that gives immense hope for the next century - greater hope than we have had before. It depends on staying strong, staunch, true friends, a good Alliance.