Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference after Brussels NATO Summit

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: NATO Headquarters, Brussels
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: 1200-1245.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4056
Themes: Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Media

Prime Minister

I thought it would help if I made an initial short statement—I hope short!

I am delighted to be making my first official visit to NATO as Prime Minister and it is a particularly opportune time to do so, in advance of the NATO Summit, and I very much wanted to come here before Lord Carrington—a great servant of western security—completed his term as Secretary-General. I have four main purposes to the visit: first, to emphasise the importance and continuing relevance of NATO; second, to prepare for the NATO Summit in discussion with Lord Carrington; thirdly, to set out Britain's views on current defence and arms control issues, which I have done through my address this morning to the NATO Council, and next; consult with and be briefed by senior NATO officials and military commanders. [end p1]

As you know, I am a passionate believer in NATO, in its solidarity as a defender of freedom, and I start from the point that the Government's responsibility is always to be strong enough to deter an aggressor.

One of the most difficult tasks facing NATO is the new-style Soviet leadership under Mr. Gorbachev. There is much to welcome in what he is trying to do—and you know I have been vigorous in supporting him in his internal reforms—in the sense that the more he succeeds domestically the greater the sum total of human freedom.

We ignore at our peril the fact that Soviet policies abroad remain a serious threat. Their central objective is to separate Western Europe from the United States and to dissolve NATO unity and lower allied defences, and a denuclearised Europe would admirably serve their purposes.

At the same time, the Soviets are playing on the national desire of the West through a carefully cultivated image of reasonableness. Consequently, NATO faces a much more complex situation, in which political unity and resolution are as important as military strength. To deter effectively, you must have the military strength; it must be modern—you do not deter with anything obsolescent—and you must have the resolve. They are all important.

Our first priority must be to preserve the organic link between Europe and the United States. [end p2]

Second, we must continue to convince our people of the need to maintain strong defences at an adequate level of defence spending.

Third, we must ensure that we continue to have a technological edge over the Warsaw Pact, and that is why I believe the SDI Research Programme to be so important. Keeping ahead is in itself a powerful deterrent!

Fourth, we must maintain NATO's strategy of flexible response, which requires a mix—a credible mix—of weaponry, and that includes a nuclear element. I regard dreams of a nuclear-free world as just that—dreams. You cannot dis-invent nuclear weapons, and if we require a credible nuclear element we must push ahead with modernisation of NATO's nuclear weapons in the wake of and consistent with the INF Agreement.

Fifth, we must therefore improve East-West relations with clear arms control objectives.

There is, in my view, no case for negotiations further to reduce nuclear weapons in Europe before a substantial reduction in conventional and chemical weapons has been achieved.

Finally, we need to strengthen the European pillar of NATO, ensuring that steps to develop cooperation do in fact do that, rather than create alternative arrangements which could undermine it in the longer term.

This, in summary, is the British message which I have brought to NATO and will deliver to SHAPE this afternoon.

Can we have your questions, thick and fast please! [end p3]


Prime Minister, given your passionate belief in NATO, why is this only your first official visit?

Prime Minister

First official visit as Prime Minister. We did have a meeting, you know, when President Reagan came back from Geneva after the Gorbachev meeting, but it is very unusual, if I might say so, for heads of government, I am told, to come. I am very glad I have come and I just wanted—ahead of the Summit—to get in one or two absolutely fundamental things: that NATO continues; its solidarity, its cohesion, from all its members are important, and the right questions to ask are not so much to start with the detailed ones. The right question is how do we maintain an effective defence at all levels sufficient to deter any aggressor so that he would not dream of starting a war because he would not win? That is the duty of heads of government.


Prime Minister, may I ask you two questions?

Firstly, should we take your visit to NATO as a message that you want to keep a distance—dissociate yourself—from developments in the Western European Union concerning the European defence and the strengthening of the European pillar of NATO? [end p4]

And the second question is a more specific one. After the recent discussions you had in London with the Turkish Prime Minister, Mr. Ozal, and the discussion I presume you have had with Mr. Papandreou last week during the EEC Summit, do you believe that the Davos meeting between the two prime ministers will improve the relations between the two countries and help to strengthen the southern flank of the Alliance?

Prime Minister

First, Western European Union: we are a member, we are a strong member, and we are a very important part of the European pillar of the NATO Alliance.

We keep 66,000 troops in Germany if you take army and air force. Britain also has troops in thirty other countries in the world, in one form or another, so we are a very strong member of the European pillar, fully integrated into NATO and we are very strong members of the WEU.

I would like to have it absolutely clear that work through the WEU is fully consistent with the strength of NATO, because I believe that alternative arrangements must enhance NATO and not in fact act as a rival to it, and I would like to see WEU headquarters—of which we have part in London—come to Brussels as an earnest of our intention that the European pillar must be within the NATO structure. [end p5]

Secondly, NATO and Mr. Ozal: I shall be visiting Turkey comparatively shortly and be continuing discussions with Mr. Ozal. Turkey is, of course, a very important part of the NATO Alliance.

Thirdly, I did not have any discussions with Mr. Papandreou on defence matters just a few days ago. Our time was rather fully occupied with other things—I think very successfully.

I hope that the meeting at Davos will result in resolving some of the outstanding problems between Greece and Turkey and in particular some of the problems of Cyprus.


Prime Minister, the Soviets have shown western journalists the dismantling of some of their INF missiles—or some of the missiles that they are taking away under the INF Treaty from East Germany.

In propaganda terms and in public relations terms, are they not stealing a march on NATO, particularly when the divisions between you on the question of whether to modernise the short-range nuclear weapons is clearly so deep?

Prime Minister

I hope they are not stealing a march on the West, and if they are, I hope you are not helping them to do it!

After all, we live in liberty. We live in justice. That liberty, that justice, is guaranteed by NATO and by its solidarity. [end p6]

It is a disservice to freedom and justice—and your freedom to write and report—if one does anything to undermine that solidarity and one does not fully and accurately report the fantastic efforts of this country, of the United States, in the disarmament field, but always knowing that our defence must be sure and certain at every single stage.

You know, freedom is not only freedom to dissent. It is freedom to uphold those great institutions and arrangements which ensure that your use of that freedom will continue into the future.

Question (same man)

Prime Minister, could I just follow up on that question of the short-range nuclear weapons, however?

If the Soviets are seen to be taking away their INF missiles, can it be such a good thing to be seen to be modernising and increasing nuclear missiles to take their place?

Prime Minister

First, I hope that the Soviets are taking away their intermediate ones. They have got a lot more than we have, as I have often pointed out. They have got over 1400 to take away. We have only 400, so just let us make it absolutely clear that it was they who started this group of weapons and we did not put ours up for four years after they had started. That is significant, so I hope that they are going to take them away. [end p7]

Our duty—on the other point you made, I am very very strong about this—our duty is to see that our defence is sure so that your freedom may continue. To see that that defence is sure, you need very professional and sufficient armed forces; you need up-to-date weaponry of every kind—nuclear and non-nuclear.

Of course you modernise your aircraft; of course you modernise your tanks; of course you modernise your weaponry; of course you modernise your guns; of course you modernise your nuclear weapons just as you modernise others. You do not deter with obsolete weapons! You do not, as a prime minister, or as an alliance, put your troops in the field knowing their weaponry is less good than those that they face.

Modernisation is a part of deterrence. It is a part of defence, and it is totally and utterly absurd to separate out the modernisation of nuclear weapons from the modernisation of anything else.

The Intermediate Nuclear Weapon Treaty is about land-based missiles only, that is all. It will be upheld and observed meticulously.

If your freedom to continue to ask me these questions is to continue, the forces which defend you must not have obsolete weapons—they must have up-to-date ones. Therefore, it is a bounden duty to see that they do. [end p8]


Prime Minister, the Federal German Government has made it clear that in its view immediate modernisation of short-range and battlefield nuclear weapons is not a pressing priority in the wider context of efforts to negotiate further arms reductions and, moreover, has implied that it would wish to see a further reduction in some of those short-range nuclear weapons.

Do you regard the Federal German Government's position as, in your words, totally and utterly absurd therefore?

And secondly, if I may put to you this question, there is, in parallel with the Montebello decision, discussions which your Government are having about other means of “compensating” for the INF Agreement, particularly the possibility of air-launched Cruise missiles on American F. 1–11s. When would you think a decision would be taken on that matter?

Prime Minister

There is no such thing as “compensation” . It is a false issue and I cannot think why it is raised.

There is an Intermediate Nuclear Weapon Agreement on land based missiles, that is all. It was brought about because the Soviets put up their weapons first and refused to take them down. We then put up a much lesser number and said we would go on matching theirs if need be, and they in fact negotiated. That is a land based intermediate weapon and that is the only thing upon which there have been negotiations. [end p9]

The question of compensation is a false issue and I do not know why you raise it. It is a false issue. I hope you realise it is, though I despair!

The Intermediate Treaty will be observed meticulously. Other weaponry, whether air- or sea-based, whether nuclear or conventional, are like everything else: they must be up-to-date to be effective and if they are not, you are risking an ineffective defence.

The question of compensation does not arise. There is nothing to compensate. We have no agreement about intermediate weapons in the air or on sea. We are talking about modernising them. We have not the slightest shadow of doubt that the great Soviet military machine will continue to modernise in almost every sphere.

The crying need, in my view, on arms control next, from the viewpoint of the defence and freedom of Western Europe, is to negotiate on conventional—to get down the Soviet conventional superiority and to negotiate on chemical. When we have concluded those negotiations, perhaps we can return to other nuclear weapons, but the need is first for conventional and chemical together.

Question (same man)

Are you going to answer about the Federal German Government's position? [end p10]

Prime Minister

I have answered the question by saying that the main need now is to negotiate first on conventional and chemical before anything else on nuclear, and as far as Montebello is concerned we are continuing the existing programme of modernisation agreed at Montebello some five years ago, so the idea that there should be compensation of something that only occurred just a few months ago is just quite wrong.


Taking the fact, Prime Minister, that also in the short-range nuclear weapons the Soviet Union has more on its side than NATO has, together with the conventional imbalance, does this not in your eyes give an argument in favour of the West German position that both these categories should be negotiated together to try diminution, and not just conventional, by leaving in the short-range weapons area the disproportionate strengths?

Prime Minister

No. The aim of the Soviet Union is to get denuclearisation of Europe. For that, she wishes to open negotiations on short-range weapons, because that will assist the Soviet Union towards her objective, leaving her in a totally superior position. We must not be part and parcel of assisting the Soviet Union to reach that objective. We must, in fact, therefore first negotiation on conventional and work out our precise positions on that. [end p11]

We are negotiating on chemical. Chemical gives enormous problems of verification. But if you go to negotiate on short-range before you have completed your negotiations on conventional and chemical, I believe that you are in fact assisting the Soviet Union to achieve her objective—denuclearisation of Europe—and that in fact would undermine NATO—as she intends it to—and we should not have any part of that.


Prime Minister, a short question before your visit to Turkey.

Are you hopeful that the Turkish Air Force will be reinforced in the short-term with the British-made Tornado fighters? What are the prospects in that matter?

Prime Minister

Well they could not buy a better aircraft, could they? (laughter). They could not buy a better aircraft. Marvellous! It is also German, Italian and British, absolutely superb. Thank you for your kind advertisement!

I expect it is a matter of credit among other things, but I very much look forward to my visit to Turkey and to talking with Mr. Ozal and I have not the slightest shadow of doubt that that will be among the matters discussed. [end p12]


Madam, excuse me please for my English! My question is … I am Yuri Karanof (phon.) of “Pravda” of Moscow.

Prime Minister



Is the modernisation of nuclear weapons of NATO some compensation of the Treaty of INF or not?

Prime Minister

I have indicated my view. There is no such thing as compensation. There is nothing to compensate.

We shall keep the Intermediate Nuclear Weapon Treaty meticulously.

With regard to all of our other forces, we continue the same policy that we have always had: you modernise your weapons, otherwise they are not a deterrent. You do not send your armed forces in with obsolete weapons and you cannot say you have a defence policy if you do.

Along the same lines, you modernise your nuclear weapons—other than those which are the subject of treaty. That is why we are modernising Polaris with Trident, and we do so in accordance with the Montebello Resolutions agreed five years ago which are still taking effect and still being developed as to precisely what modernisation is required on some particular weaponry. [end p13]

Question ( “Times” , London)

Prime Minister, there are, I think, two separate issues: one is the Montebello Agreement which was to deal with modernising weapon systems; the other is a decision which is now being discussed at very high level within NATO and demanded by military commanders throughout NATO, that following the removal of INF weapons, there should be or there may have to be— “adjustments” is the word they use—to make sure that flexible response deterrent strategy is still workable, so am I not right in saying that there are two entirely separate issues here and that the second issue—not modernisation—is whether you should replace the removed INF missiles with others such as, for example, more F. 1–11 bombers, in Britain?

Prime Minister

When I was in the Soviet Union, someone raised aircraft and I said: “You know full well that aircraft and the intermediate nuclear weapons which could be delivered from them are not part of this negotiation; yours are not and ours are not! You also know full well that if you have something which is rapidly becoming obsolete, a nuclear bomb, that you have in fact to modernise that equipment, otherwise you have no intermediate nuclear on aircraft, so you have that modernisation to face in any event.” [end p14]

Of course, on your second point, the doctrine is of flexible response. It has been for a long time, and there is no point in having a doctrine of flexible response unless you have the weaponry to match that doctrine. That does not alter the fact that your Intermediate Nuclear Weapon Agreement is on land-based missiles only. It does not involve the Soviet Union's aircraft or intermediate air weapons. It does not involve the Soviet Union's intermediate weapons which can be delivered from submarines, nor does it involve ours.

I may say it is easier perhaps for the Soviet Union to move her strategic weapons further back into the Soviet Union and still be able to target the cities in Europe which could have been targetted by the intermediated weapons.


Prime Minister, you spoke against everything that could undermine the Atlantic Alliance, NATO.

I wonder if, in your opinion, a Franco-German initiative could fall into the category of things that could undermine NATO and how you see them in the framework of WEU and the European pillar reinforcement you talked about? [end p15]

Prime Minister

There is no reason why the closer cooperation in certain aspects between France and German should not be within the whole NATO idea. I think it is important that it should be and I think that it would help if WEU were transferred to Brussels so that it is quite clear that it is NATO which is the shield and defence of freedom and justice and we must do absolutely everything to improve that.

Can I just also say on the other question, if the Montebello programme is implemented, NATO will have the full capability it needs for flexible response and the Montebello decision was a long time before the intermediate nuclear weapon one, land based.


Chancellor Kohl is in Washington today amidst these continuing reports that the Germans would have internal political difficulties with plans to modernise the short-range missiles.

Do you think, when it comes to the NATO Summit at the start of March, that there might be some disagreement between yourself and Chancellor Kohl on this issue?

Prime Minister

I think the important thing will be to reaffirm the solidarity of NATO. I myself think it is extremely important that we, all of us, do that, both in the need to have up-to date weaponry and in the need to demonstrate our resolve. [end p16]

I do not think it will be difficult to do that because I think also most of us will be able to agree—indeed, I think also Chancellor Kohl—the importance of getting conventional talks going in an effective way, because that is where the Soviet Union has an enormous superiority, and I think Chancellor Kohl has been the first to say—indeed I have seen public statements by him that we must not have a third zero-zero on nuclear in Europe. He has been very clear, and he is an absolutely staunch member of NATO and believes staunchly, as I do, in the European-American-Canadian Alliance, that that is vital.

Question ( “Financial Times” )

Prime Minister, throughout this press conference and in your last answer about the Montebello programme, in which you said if that alone were implemented then flexible response could be carried out, you seem to be implying very heavily that these adjustment ideas for perhaps a temporary reallocation—reshifting of essentially American resources in Europe—and in the context of Britain it has been suggested that more F. 1–11 bombers might arrive and possibly some submarine-launched Cruise missiles might be based at the Holy Loch in Scotland. Are you now telling us that, really, after consideration that you feel that these options are really no longer necessary? [end p17]

Prime Minister

No, I am not telling you that at all. That is why I started off by saying and it governs almost everything else—the duty of a head of government, along with other heads of government in NATO, is to see that we have an effective defence policy.

That consists in adequate expenditure on defence; it consists in an adequate mix of weapons for flexible response; and it consists in seeing that they are relevant and modern to the threat which faces us.

Those problems arise far before any of your questions do. Those problems endure from the beginning of NATO until the end of it, and it is to meet those fundamental principles of NATO, those fundamental principles of defence, long before an intermediate treatment, that we modernise our weaponry in accordance with our allies, and unless we do, neither you nor our freedom are protected, and we do not just say: “But you cannot modernise this because of that!” . You say: “You do not have a defence policy unless you are modernised, unless you have sufficient resources and unless, in fact, you have sufficient armed forces and you have sufficient resolve!” Those far pre-date any questions which you are asking me—and endure.

Question (same man)

Sorry, Prime Minister, my question was not about modernisation—it was about these ideas for adjustments—may be temporary adjustments—in the deployment of certain American forces in Europe. [end p18]

Prime Minister

But I indicated to you those are part of keeping the main defence effort, of course they are! And they are not only American weapons. After all, we have aircraft and we have nuclear bombs.


Prime Minister, when you made the point that there was a crying need that the next step of arms control should bring down the conventional superiority of the Soviet Union and second, the chemical weapons, how does this square with the idea and hopes that the Soviet Union and the American President can come to a conclusion of an agreement on strategic nuclear weapons in his presidency?

Prime Minister

Strategic nuclear weapons: we are behind the United States and the Soviet Union in their negotiations.

The negotiations are not easy. They are highly technical, as you know, because you have to watch the mix of methods which you are negotiating about and how many of them are fixed and how many of them are mobile and whether they are sea mobile and so on and so forth. [end p19]

It is a highly complex negotiation. It is a very very difficult verification exercise, even more difficult than the intermediate, although the intermediate is not easy because they are mobile, but I thought I had made it clear that it is after the fifty percent reductions have been negotiated and I do not know how long it will take—whether they will get it before the Moscow Summit or afterwards.

I think the next negotiation must be the conventional and chemical. I have been negotiating on chemical for quite a time and there have been various verification proposals put forward.

I think the really worrying thing is how far you can have a truly effective verification of chemical, particularly as you have the binary chemical weapon and one side of the binary can be made in one place and the other in another, then held in separate stocks for a very long time. It is, as far as I can make out, the most difficult verification process that we shall have and there are various proposals on the table, but I do not think we have yet got a satisfactory one.