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 ITN (Brussels NATO Summit)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: NATO Headquarters, Brussels
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Jon Snow, ITN
Editorial comments: Between 1130 and 1315 MT gave a press conference and interviews to the press.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1372
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)

Jon Snow, ITN

Prime Minister, in arriving at a consensus on a mix of conventional and nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future for the defence of the NATO area, does this mean that President Reagan 's dream expressed at the Reykjavik Summit of clearing the planet of nuclear weapons by the year 2000 is now finally buried by NATO?

Prime Minister

I think there is no possibility of clearing the planet of nuclear weapons by the year 2000, nor in the end at all, because after all, two World Wars have shown us that conventional weapons are not enough to deter war, and if we want a war-free Europe, then we must continue to have a nuclear deterrent.

Jon Snow, ITN

Yet President Reagan's re-stated commitment was still to work towards the abolition of nuclear weapons, even as recently as the Washington Summit.

Will he not travel to Moscow with that same ambition? [end p1]

Prime Minister

No. Ronald ReaganHe has always said, ever since Reykjavik, that he had a certain priority, which we agreed at Camp David:

First, to get the intermediate nuclear weapon agreement—land-based. He has achieved that.

Second, to negotiate a fifty percent reduction in the big intercontinental missiles; and

Thirdly, to negotiate on parity for conventional and to try to get a total ban on chemical.

That remains his priority—it is ours too.

Jon Snow, ITN

There are some who have commented on the growing sense of vacuum in the American leadership of the Alliance. It is natural, because there is about to be a changeover, but have you sensed it here and do you sense that you yourself, now as the longest-serving member of the NATO now having to take that mantle yourself?

Prime Minister

There has been no vacuum in the American leadership of the NATO Alliance.

The Ronald ReaganPresident has been staunch throughout. He has done probably more than any recent president to restore total confidence and strength to the NATO Alliance, and you should have heard him just a moment ago when he wound up the debate on East-West relations— [end p2] every principle in which he believed and how we must stay together, and that this is one of the most remarkable true alliances the world has ever seen.

We have kept the peace for forty years and all we have to do is stay together with the same beliefs, the same actions, keeping things up-to-date, keeping deterrence, and peace will be assured.

Jon Snow, ITN

Yet it was you who appeared to have taken the lead yesterday in urging the modernisation of battlefield nuclear weapons.

The French, indeed, said that you set the Summit alight on the matter.

Prime Minister

But you know, the French are in fact modernising their own though, as you know, they are not part of the military structure of NATO.

Everyone believes that if you are to deter war, if you are to have an effective alliance, you do not do it with absolute weapons. Therefore, you have to modernise. That is not in doubt; they all believe it.

Some of them are really rather shy in saying it as openly as we are, but I think you have to say it openly. I trust public opinion implicitly on this. They know you cannot deter with out-of-date weapons. They know they must be up-dated, so I do not find the same difficulties some of them do. [end p3]

But you know, it is in the Declaration that the weapons have to be up-dated.

Jon Snow, ITN

It is not in the Declaration in quite the way that you are putting it though, Prime Minister. It does not use the word “modernise” and it actually uses this phrase “keep up-to-date where necessary” which surely is open to all sorts of interpretations?

Prime Minister

Of course it is not. “Will continue to be kept up-to-date” I believe is the phrase— “Will continue to be kept up-to-date where necessary” . Well, you are not going to keep them up-to-date where it is not necessary, of course you are not, but you are splitting hairs! This is ridiculous!

These weapons will continue to be kept up-to-date because the whole policy of the Alliance is a sure defence, deterrence sufficient to deter any aggressor, so that he would know that if he tried to start a war he could never win—therefore he would not start it—and dialogue. The three: defence, deterrence, dialogue, and it is making those live in practical terms that we have been achieving this Summit and we have done it and we have displayed unity of the kind which has been the shield of the freedom and justice which we all enjoy, and this Summit has been a great success in re-establishing and reaffirming that unity. [end p4]

Please do not try to underestimate the tremendous success or the American leadership, or what America does for Europe by keeping 330,000 American troops on the central front in Europe accompanied by their families.

Jon Snow, ITN

Twice in the last two weeks, Prime Minister, you have come to Brussels and you have made a very strong attack on the kind of demeanour of the Soviet Union in defence matters.

Is there not something of a contradiction about on the one hand saying, as you have done, that we must give Mr. Gorbachev every encouragement to make reforms, yet at the same time continue to attack in the way that you have done in the last two weeks?

Prime Minister

No. You just have not got it right at all!

Look! I am a passionate believer in peace with freedom and justice, but we will not continue to have that unless we have a sure defence. We must have a sure defence. I recognise also that the Soviet Union, which has also been subject to attack from the outside, wants a sure defence.

So yes, I start off with: they have a sure defence, we have a sure defence—we both want it at a lower level of weaponry and we negotiate hard, because each is strong, because each knows we have to verify and when you negotiate hard, you negotiate in detail, you [end p5] negotiate in strength, those are the agreements that stick. Negotiate with someone who is weak and the agreement will not stick. That is why we have to be strong.

But on the basis of assured defence, on the basis that whatever happens we are sure, then I can afford to—and do—welcome the bold actions which Mr. Gorbachev is taking in the Soviet Union. I hope they succeed. I was the first to welcome them. I was the first to say we could do business with him, and I also welcome his resolve to withdraw from Afghanistan. I believe it will come about, but it is on the basis of our defence is sure. That is why we can do it.

Jon Snow, ITN

May I ask you finally, Prime Minister, do you understand the misgivings that the Germans express about being left as the only obvious battlefield in which these modernised battlefield nuclear weapons might be used?

Prime Minister

The Germans have the main armies on their soil because they are in the front line. That is geography combined with history. They are in the front line. Our troops are there. The main battlefield, nuclear weapons, are there, but let them not forget that we have our independent nuclear deterrent and that is Trident—or will be Trident; it is Polaris at the moment, but will be modernised with Trident. They also benefit from that. They do not have that. We have it. [end p6]

Jon Snow, ITN

But they still fear that they would be the first victims of the first strike in that flexible response that you believe in.

Prime Minister

Look! If you are on the front line, then if they cross that front line of course you would be the first victim unless you won every battle.

Jon Snow, ITN

So it is bad luck being German in a sense?

Prime Minister

No, no, no! Look at history! You cannot deny history. You cannot deny that it was Hitler that created the last World War and had to be defeated and the German freedom started the day the West won. They know that. That is their geography. It is their history. They are on the front line and the greater their resolve to deter, the greater the certainty of their peace will be.