Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Radio Interview for BBC (Brussels NATO Summit)

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

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

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1258
Themes: Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (USA)

Lance Price, BBC

Prime Minister, what has been the achievement of this Summit? Has it been an exercise in papering over the cracks?

Prime Minister

Certainly not! Why do the press say that? You know it has not.

You know that NATO has kept the peace in Europe for forty years through being strong enough to deter any aggressor, through having the policy that I have always called “the three D's” - strong defence, deterrence sufficient to stop an aggressor, and then dialogue on both disarmament and on the wider things.

What we have done is to reaffirm the policy that has kept the peace to show our unity, to show our determination to keep our weapons up-to-date sufficient to keep the same policy going that has been so successful in the past.

Lance Price, BBC

The final communique talks in terms of updating conventional and nuclear forces where necessary. Is that not a compromise which leaves open varying interpretations on what is necessary and when it is necessary? [end p1]

Prime Minister

No, of course it does not. You would not up-date them where it was not necessary, would you? Of course you would not. You up-date them where necessary.

That is the policy you pursue with your conventional. You up-date your aircraft, your anti-tank weapons, your tanks, your guns. We are up-dating our Polaris to Trident. Various other nuclear weapons have been updated - there are other weapons which need up-dating.

We have Cruise missiles; the Soviet Union has Cruise missiles. You up-date them because obsolete weapons do not deter. Of course you have to keep them up-dated.

Lance Price, BBC

Is this Summit a clear signal to NATO's military leaders to press ahead quickly and urgently with modernisation?

Prime Minister

It is a clear signal because they have a detailed meeting in Spring, the Defence Ministers. A clear signal from the political heads of state and heads of government that the weapons that need modernising must be modernised and they must go ahead with policies to do that and details plans to do that. [end p2]

Lance Price, BBC

Does modernisation not automatically imply up-grading. If you move - the example that has been given - from a musket to a machine gun, you have got a different weapon, haven't you?

Prime Minister

Yes. So have the Soviet Union. They have probably done more modernisation than everyone else.

That is why you have to be sufficiently up-to-date to deter. You do not deter tanks with cavalry. You do not deter an up-to-date, highly efficient army, air force and navy - which the Soviets have got in both conventional and nuclear - unless you are similarly highly efficient, highly professional and highly up-to-date.

Lance Price, BBC

Could you understand the disappointment of some people who might feel that the spirit of the times after the INF treatment is one of reducing weapon levels and here you are talking about up-grading them and improving them?

Prime Minister

I am talking about being sufficient to deter the threat. That is what NATO is all about. From the basis of a sure defence, we can welcome many things that Mr. Gorbachev is doing in the Soviet Union, because our defence is sure. If his plans were, unfortunately, to fall apart and they were to go back to someone like Stalin, our defence would still be sure. [end p3]

Look! You have one of the greatest things: you have a NATO Alliance that is staunch, that has kept the peace with freedom and justice. This has been a reaffirmation of that strength, of that unity, of that staunchness, of our determination to keep defence and deterrence at whatever level is necessary to deter the threat, and then to have dialogue to try to get the level of that weaponry down, but you go into that negotiation strong.

If you are negotiating strongly, in detail, with someone else who is also strong, those agreements will stick. They are not sloppy, wishy-washy; one person is not weak or likely to give way.

They know from today that the policy will continue. We shall continue to be strong, strong enough to keep peace with freedom and justice.

They have just the same right to defend their own system - though we do not like it - just the same right as we have, so we do it on a basis of mutual respect, and therefore, as President Reagan said in summing up this morning's meeting in a quite brilliant speech: they were our allies in World War Two; we did not choose them as potential enemies; it was they who chose themselves and cast themselves in that role. Our job was to keep the peace with freedom and justice and that is what we are doing, and that is what we are going to continue to do into the indefinite future. [end p4]

Lance Price, BBC

You have spoken of the clear numerical superiority of the Soviet Union in terms of conventional weapons. Is not just talking about numbers slightly misleading, given the West's superior technology in these weapons?

Prime Minister

Oh well, their technology is ahead of ours in some conventional weapons and they are catching up very very fast.

I gave some examples. They have got the only big strategic missile that can be moved around the country by rail. They move it round the country - it is a new one - by rail, and they can move it into those areas which were previously occupied by the SS20. It is the SS24.

They have done in the last year ninety launches for military purposes into space.

This is a highly sophisticated military economy.

Do not confuse their military economy with their ordinary civilian economy. They are highly efficient, doing a lot of modernising, doing a lot of up-dating, and they are a very very formidable power. That is where their strength lies. It does not lie in the standard of living of the people; it does not lie in the human rights of their people. Their strength lies in their military strength, and that is what we have to deter. [end p5]

Lance Price, BBC

Could I ask you one final question?

We are in the last year of the Reagan Presidency. What is your assessment of his contribution to the defence of the West over those eight years, starting with a build-up in arms spending in the United States itself and a levelling-off in the later years?

Prime Minister

His contribution to our liberty, to the strength of NATO, has been enormous, greater than any other president for a long time, because Ronald Reaganhe knew that to negotiate to get down weaponry we had to negotiate from strength; that the Soviet Union had to know that we not only had the resolve but we had the professionalism and we had the weapons.

He built up that strength and what did the strength do?

From the strength he managed to get an intermediate weapons reduction right down to nought. We would not have got that reduction in the Soviet strength unless we had had equal strength.

He has given back America confidence. He has ensured that America's loyalty, that America's faithfulness to the NATO Alliance, America's commitment to Europe, has been reaffirmed. There are still 330,000 American servicemen on the frontiers of freedom in Europe, in Germany. That is a colossal American commitment. [end p6]

We owe a tremendous amount to the staunchness of President Reagan, for the way he has rebuilt the confidence of the United States and together, we still have this great leadership, this joint leadership of the Free World, and the fact that we are prepared to defend it staunchly gives hope to those who want freedom but have not yet got it.