Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1988 Jun 3 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for BBC2 Newsnight (East/West)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Charles Wheeler, BBC
Editorial comments: 1500-1545 MT gave interviews to BBC and ITN.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2913
Themes: Civil liberties, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states)

Charles Wheeler, BBC

Prime Minister, you were in Moscow a good year before President Reagan. Did your Moscow trip change you and your perceptions and do you think Moscow has changed President Reagan 's perceptions of the whole East-West situation?

Prime Minister

I was in Moscow a comparatively short time after Mr. Gorbachev 's famous speeches, when he made it clear that he was seeking a very deep reform. Did it change one's perceptions?

I think in a way it is bound to if you get out and about. Do not just stay in the formal buildings in Moscow—get out and about among the people. They are very warm, they are very responsive, they are very interested. I had the feeling sometimes that they had been starved of the kind of discussion that I was able to have with some of their commentators on television; that it was a new experience—they were a little bit wondering—but that there was somehow, even then, a new feeling in the air and that, as you know—we spoke at the time—I found it very very fascinating, interesting, exciting, a bit of an unknown, as it still is, and wondering what one could do to help it along. [end p1]

I am sure the Ronald ReaganPresident has found the same, because when we were talking he said the thing that really moved him most was the response of ordinary people to him as they made a point of getting out and doing some walk-abouts, and that is spontaneous. You can tell if it is arranged. It was quite spontaneous. And also, the kind of dialogue that he had with the young people at university. So I think both of us, at slightly different times, have been very moved, but there is still a great unknown as to where it is going to finish up and that is really the thing that is occupying one's mind, one's interest.

Charles Wheeler, BBC

You have not mentioned Gorbachev, which you did last time we talked at some length. Do you think he still is, as Reagan said, a serious man imposing serious reforms?

Prime Minister

I thought I did mention him just after Mr. Gorbachev 's famous speeches.

Charles Wheeler, BBC

Sorry! Yes. [end p2]

Prime Minister

Because, really, the new hope began with that sudden new vision which was just a great historic fact and he has kept to that new vision with great constancy, and I think he is determined to go through with it.

It all came at a time when President Reagan was in the United States. He had got a new-found confidence in the United States, in everything that it believed in; that we were a very loyal alliance; that we had been very firm and sure on defence; the West had become more confident; more confident, sure in its defence; more confident, truly re-confirming the freedom under the law which is the essence of our system. Then all of a sudden, this miracle of Mr. Gorbachev 's vision in the Soviet Union, and it is very very exciting. The one could not have happened without the other, but they both happened at the same time.

Charles Wheeler, BBC

Is it a permanent miracle? Do you feel that he will manage to sustain this?

Prime Minister

I do. I feel very strongly that he is quite determined to go through with it, because he has seen and I have a feeling that certainly many people at the top in the Soviet Union and possibly many other people as well know that they could not have gone on [end p3] surviving as they were. The military strength which was their outstanding characteristic was taking so much of what they produced. They could not have gone on with that military strength, because people wanted a higher standard of living. Therefore, they had to change and in changing, when you embark upon one of these great changes you do not know quite the speed at which it will go, you do not know the difficulties you will have. I do get this feeling from Mr. Gorbachev he is not going to be offput by the difficulties. He has a vision of the possibilities and the opportunities and he is going to go through with it.

I just sometimes wonder what the map of Europe will quite look like and what the politics of it will be in twenty or thirty years time, because we have lived for so long with a sharp frontier of freedom across our continent. Now, I think that that will become less sharp; that their freedoms in the Soviet Union and in the satellite countries will be enlarged. I somehow doubt whether they will get the breakthrough to democracy as we know it, based on restraint of government and fundamental rights of the subject.

Charles Wheeler, BBC

Let me ask you about the Summit, if I may. It produced very little in the way of concrete achievements. Does that devalue the process? [end p4]

Prime Minister

No, it does not. You see, sometimes, if you sign an agreement …   . yes it is a concrete agreement—and they did ratify it—and I was so very very pleased that Congress agreed it before the Ronald ReaganPresident went so that the ratification was complete. Now that was more than just a signature. If Congress had not ratified it, it would have undermined the President in any other negotiations, and I think behind the scenes they probably got some technical breakthroughs in the START agreements.

All right, they are specific signposts that you can see, but the more difficult thing is to get the change of atmosphere and, as I tried to say this morning, to bring about change of attitudes and perceptions. You see, if people begin to believe that they can do it, they will do it, and so that kind of confidence and belief that you are going somewhere—that it is exciting, that you can do it.

And also, the other great big piece of atmospheric change was that you will recall two or three years ago the Soviet Union people were being led to believe that the West was very bellicose, that the Soviet Union was under challenge by the West and they were in danger. We knew it was not true. That is what they were being fed and if that is your daily diet and you have nothing else, then you tend to believe it. Well that has gone!

Charles Wheeler, BBC

What about the other way round? Was not our perception of the Soviet leaders and Soviet people also perhaps rather exaggerated and primitive? [end p5]

Prime Minister

I do not think “primitive” is quite the word to use. I think perhaps many of us were not able to get out and about far enough from Moscow and indeed, our embassies could not either, and therefore you had to rely on the few personal contacts of people here who told you some really very grievous stories about the poverty that you would find outside and, of course, I understand you still do see queues for things that we take for granted.

I think that we were looking—we rightly still look—not to see only what is said, but we still look at the Soviet military strength, we still look to see what they are doing, because in military things you want to safeguard your defence. If you make one mistake, it can take you years to catch up and you may render yourselves vulnerable for a certain number of years, which would totally undermine your strength.

As far as the other matters are concerned, they are changing—more so than when we spoke in Moscow just over a year ago. For example, at that time, I was wondering very much, you will recall, whether they were going to change their foreign affairs or whether there was a real vested interest in carrying on as they were with the subversion, with keeping their troops in Afghanistan, with keeping the Cubans in Angola, with keeping influence and subversion throughout Africa and also in Nicaragua and so on. [end p6]

I have the impression now, and of course, very much with Afghanistan, that those things too are on the move. We could not have dreamed three years or so ago that the Soviet Union would actually come out of Afghanistan, actually walk out. Now they are and I have the impression that the Soviet Union would be quite happy if some accord could be reached on Angola as a result of which the Cubans would leave.

Now that is quite considerable. That is a very considerable advance. Again, one watches because you always have to be careful. Should things go wrong, then our position must not have been compromised in any way.

Charles Wheeler, BBC

Well, last February, I think at a private meeting of NATO ambassadors, you warned—if I have got this right—that the changes in the Soviet Union might erode the perceptions in the West of the Soviet threat to the detriment of NATO.

How do you square that warning with your insistence—and Reagan 's now—that we should help the Soviet Union with perestroika? There is a very delicate line there. [end p7]

Prime Minister

No. I have never seen this division—this contradiction which you say you see. To me it is not a contradiction at all. As I say, I see the vision, I see the determination in the Soviet Union to change things. How far they will change I am not quite sure.

I notice that Mr. Gorbachev is looking back to the times of Lenin and what is called “democratic centralism” . To me, that is a contradiction in terms, but it seems to me that he is trying to get as much out of a new vision without fundamentally differing from Lenin, but I am able to see and to welcome that just as the Ronald ReaganPresident is, because I can see that it will help the Russian people. I can see that it will give them a very much better quality of life. Even the freedom of discussion for them is a dream that is being fulfilled. But I can do it so long as I know that our defence is sure and for that I do not look at some of the propaganda they make; I look to see what they are proposing in the armaments talks and it is no earthly good just making a speech about it. It is actually doing the deep negotiation and the verification and I know full well that in spite of some of the things that are being said they still have all their strength, they are still modernising, and therefore we must do too. [end p8]

Again, just remember what I said a moment or too ago. If we let go—because people in the West … it is the essence of democracy … we like to think the best of others; we like to think “Oh well, now they have changed, there is no need for us to defend!” but we have been through so much that we know that unless our defence is sure we might sacrifice another generation.

So even if something happened in the Soviet Union, even if everything went wrong, the defence of freedom is sure and that, may I say, I think is a great comfort to those people in the Soviet Union who would want more liberty and who do not yet know it. There are still some people in psychiatric hospitals, still some people in prison for their beliefs, still some people being handled, I expect by the KGB, without very much difference, because it takes a long time for any change in instructions to work right through that bureaucracy.

Charles Wheeler, BBC

Prime Minister, at this summit there was a lot of talk about human rights. President Reagan talked a great deal about Soviet Jews, exit visas and so on. Do you think the West is perhaps harping on this too strongly and not looking at human rights in the broader context? There is the introduction there—gradual admittedly—of the rule of law? [end p9]

Prime Minister

No, we are not harping on it too strongly. We are welcoming the changes that Mr. Gorbachev is making. We welcome the increased numbers of cases that are coming out. We are welcoming the increased numbers of people that in any event are being allowed out. We are saying: “Are you sure you have got freedom of religious worship? I know that you have said it, but it does not seem to us that you are getting the full freedom of religious worship!” , but there was a part of President Reagan 's speech this morning which was very very telling indeed. He said part of the technique of the left wing is to undermine our faith in freedom. Part of it is to say: “Oh, do not talk about human rights! You will not get on very well with us if you do!” Why should we not talk about what we believe in?

It is the fundamental division between democracies and … our kind of freedom under the law and the United States is based upon the fundamental dignity of man as expressed in the Old Testament and the New. Now that means that you have certain God-given human rights which no-one can take away. That is understood in democracies and therefore, the whole of our philosophy is the limitation of the central power of government so that the people may live their lives in freedom and to make freedom work you have to have a strong rule of law. Let me say a rule of justice, because law is not right just because it is law—it is because of the inherent ways in which we make it. Therefore, we restrict the powers of central government to enlarge the freedom of the people under a rule of law. [end p10]

You go over to a different system—democratic centralism if you call it that—communism, any kind of dictatorship, it is that any powers to the people come only from the state. Now here we are coming up against the fundamental difference: that we believe in human rights, we believe they belong to all people but they cannot necessarily get hold of them. So it is not for anyone else to tell us what we can say or not to talk on what we believe. They can reject them but they do not. They are going further. They do not reject them, I think, because they know in the end you only get the best out of a people when each of them feels satisfied with the kind of lives they are able to live and after all, the community is made up of individuals.

Here we come to the crux of it, Mr. Wheeler, and we must not shy away from it.

Charles Wheeler, BBC

Prime Minister, if Mr. Gorbachev is moving in that direction and is introducing the rule of law and is letting people out of jails and so on—admittedly in his own time, not as fast as everybody wants—is it helpful to harp on it publicly, with a touch of what Lord Carrington called “megaphone diplomacy” which we saw when President Reagan—unlike you, who very discreetly met the refuseniks and dissidents—turned it into a television spectacular? [end p11]

Prime Minister

I was the first person to do it and therefore met as many as I could. Not all of them were able to get there.

But, you see, look at the language you are using, Mr. Wheeler! “Harp on it” , “megaphone diplomacy” ! Why are you using that selected language? Why? Are you not playing their game?

Charles Wheeler, BBC

I was quoting Lord Carrington.

Prime Minister

Lord Carrington was not talking about megaphone diplomacy about human rights. It was about something totally different.

Now! No, we must not in fact be bullied out of talking about these things and of course we are entitled to say: “Look! Are people still being put in psychiatric hospitals when they are not psychiatric cases at all?” because if we do not, they might stop the changes they are making.

I do not know whether they are doing it wholly because they believe in it or because they think that it will help at the moment. I think Mr. Gorbachev knows there has to be more personal initiative, personal responsibility, and that that is halfway and I think he is absolutely genuine about that. I am not sure whether they would go [end p12] as far as we would by saying: “Look! These rights do not belong to the state, they belong to some belief deeper than that!” but he is—and the President has acknowledged it and I have—and I think when people are doing the right things and you still talk about it then you say: “Look! Please, yes we are very pleased that more is being done. It is our information that there are still things happening which perhaps you do not all know about, but please can we bring these cases to your attention?”

Charles Wheeler, BBC

Prime Minister, you are going in November to Washington where you will meet not only President Reagan again but also meet his successor. Dr. Kissinger is talking in public quite considerably about the need to get some continuity to American foreign policy. He has criticised former new Administrations for pulling up what he calls “the plant of foreign policy” to examine the roots and then trying to plant it again, so that it has caused interminable delays in East-West relations in particular.

Is your visit to Washington at that rather unusual moment going to be a chance to help smooth out the continuity of American foreign policy western foreign policy? [end p13]

Prime Minister

I hope and believe that it will be continuous because it has been a breakthrough of a kind that we have not had for years. This is not just “I can change this” and “I can change that” .

President Reagan is negotiating on behalf of the United States of America. Any future President will be negotiating on behalf of those same people.

I think the breakthroughs that we have had are so momentous that it will be continuous and that a future President will wish to ensure that continuity because it will be for the good of mankind as a whole as well as East-West relations, but I hope that they will be sorting this out in their election campaign. You know, I am pretty well cross-examined during an election campaign and I hope that will be a matter that will be quite clear by the time I go over in November.