Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Radio Interview for IRN (Brussels NATO Summit)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: NATO Headquarters, Brussels
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: John Fraser, IRN
Editorial comments: Between 1130 and 1315 MT gave a press conference and interviews to the press.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1357
Themes: Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Leadership, Famous statements by MT (discussions of)

John Fraser, IRN

First of all, Prime Minister, could I ask you … you called this Summit, you thought it was important for the sixteen NATO leaders to gather at this time.

Have you got what you were seeking?

Prime Minister

Yes. We have not met together since about 1982 in Bonn as an alliance, except to receive President Reagan 's report when he saw Mr. Gorbachev for the first time, so it was a long time since we had had a chance to reset the agenda for NATO as an alliance.

I thought it vital, as President Reagan was going to Moscow, for everyone to see that we were absolutely behind what he was doing and that we set the agenda and also that we set it not only for the duration of President Reagan's presidency, but well into the future for the United States.

John Fraser, IRN

And what is that agenda? What is the message that is going to come out to the world from this NATO Summit? [end p1]

Prime Minister

The message is that the very policies that have kept the peace in Europe for forty years have been the strength of NATO, which has kept strong and sure defences strong deterrence strong enough to deter any aggressor, and on that basis has in fact entered into dialogue with the Soviet Union about other matters as well as about disarmament. It is a fuller relationship. We can do that so long as our defence is sure.

That means not only the words, but the policies sufficient to give life and strength to those words.

John Fraser, IRN

But what about the Soviet bear? What about the problem that the Soviets have more conventional weapons than the West, that they have been modernising their nuclear weapons faster than we have?

What is your message on the continuing dangers from Russia?

Prime Minister

The Soviet Union has the same kind of right as we have to provide for her own defence. Do not forget, she too has been invaded. She too wants a sure defence.

We do not like her system, but she has the same right to a sure defence as we have. I do not challenge that right. I understand that is what a country wants. So do we. [end p2]

As President Reagan said in the closing stages of East-West relations discussion, it was a tragedy that the Soviet Union, which had joined us in trying to defeat Hitler, chose to be a potential enemy. We did not choose them as a potential enemy—they chose, under Stalin, to be that. That was the line they pursued.

Their strength is their military strength—not the standard of living of their people. They have not put very much into that. It is not their human rights. Their strength is their military strength.

We saw them trying to succeed in their objective of world domination of communism. We therefore had to get together in 1948—because that was the path the Soviet Union had chosen—to say: “One foot across that NATO line and you will plunge us all into war! And we are going to be strong enough to see that you never dare cross that line!”

John Fraser, IRN

And you are convinced that NATO is still strong enough?

Prime Minister

I am convinced that NATO is not only strong enough now, but has reaffirmed its determination to continue to be strong enough and at the same time we have dialogue on very hard negotiate agreements to get that weaponry down, because I believe with Mr. Gorbachev—he [end p3] wants to be strong and secure as we do—but we both want it at a lower level of weaponry and we are both strong and we negotiate toughly and you know, tough negotiations with strong agreements, those last and those will endure.

John Fraser, IRN

You have also told the Summit that she must give credit where credit is due and you have praised Mr. Gorbachev for his internal policies.

To what extent is that feeling shared by the rest of NATO, that his leadership does represent a new era in East-West relations?

Prime Minister

Well, Mr. Gorbachev came to Britain first, as you know, because we invited him, before he was Secretary General, and I said then—this is what I have said to you on defence and I said after I met him: he is a quite different Soviet leader from any I had met, although he had not got the top job then he had an important job—and I said then: “He is a man we can do business with!”

He then became General Secretary of the Soviet Union and he started a really bold historic policy. Now, let us recognise that. It is bold. He is trying to get more personal involvement of members of Soviet society, of ordinary men and women in the Soviet Union, in making their own decisions. That is good. It is enlarging freedom. [end p4]

From the basis of a strong and sure defence for ourselves, we can welcome it, because if it fell apart and they went back to a previous age we are still strong enough in our defence, so yes.

And others now recognise it was bold. I was the first, again, officially to welcome it when I went to Moscow and said that we must praise him for what he is doing. Others now, I think, do the same thing. Indeed, I think there was almost unanimity in that praise, recognising the difficulties—there are difficulties—but praise, and also, I said when he decides to come out of Afghanistan and he has, we must praise that, because we have been urging it, and when he does it we must praise that.

We can do all of this from the basis of a sure defence. Our defence is our insurance policy. If things go wrong, our defence is sure, our freedom is still sure.

John Fraser, IRN

Finally, Prime Minister, there has to be a question over the problems between Britain and Germany, the difference of emphasis between Britain and Germany on the modernisation of short-range nuclear weapons.

You found a form of words in the declaration from this Summit to cover up that difference. You wanted to talk about modernisation, the communique actually talks about keeping these weapons up-to-date.

Have you managed to just paper over the cracks? Do you think this is going to be a problem in the future? [end p5]

Prime Minister

Look! I do not know why the press talks about “papering over the cracks” .

The press profits, as everyone else does, from a very strong NATO Alliance. Everyone in that room knows we have to have modernised weapons. You do not deter anyone with weapons that are out-of-date when theirs are modern. Of course you do not! So it is in the nature of the Alliance that the weapons have to be kept up-to-date.

The difference is how much do you say openly and how much you quietly do between your Defence Ministers.

I have always taken the view that if you are a leader you should be clear in your leadership. You should say what you want and why you want it, and then you should trust the people. They have a deep instinct. They know you cannot deter an aggressor with out-of-date weapons, so there is no difference on what we have to do. There is a difference on how precisely open we were about it—and we have been open. These weapons will continue to be kept up-to-date as necessary, as far as nuclear weapons are concerned as well as conventional.

It is not papering over the cracks. It is being open about what we want to do, there being no difference about what we want to do. [end p6]

John Fraser, IRN

But you seem to be more open than Chancellor Kohl!

Prime Minister

I perhaps have a different style of leadership.

Let me say this: there has been no more staunch member of the Alliance than Chancellor Kohl.

We deployed Cruise missiles first because we are that sort of country. Chancellor Kohl deployed them second, but he also deployed with them the weapon that the Soviet Union feared, which was the Pershing, the Pershing 2.

He has been absolutely firm about it and I know of no firmer advocate of NATO Alliance and no more staunch friend to the United States, other than ourselves, than Chancellor Kohl.