Margaret Thatcher interviewed on her relationship with Ronald Reagan
Summary of Question[How would you assess the relationship between you and President Reagan?]
I think it is this: that we thought the same way on the deepest fundamentals in politics; that liberty is the most fundamental thing under a rule of law and you cannot have liberty without the rule of law and the rule of law is to defend the rights of the individual, to defend the weak against the strong. And then you go back and say that the Government's purpose is to serve, the liberty of the subject. The greatest expression of liberty really and the relationship to the government is in the American Constitution—it is all there and it is absolutely perfect. [end p1]
I stressed the rule of law particularly—so did Ronald Reaganhe. I have so often said democracy alone is not enough; you have to have a rule of law. We would have called ourselves a “free people” before we had the modern definition of democracy.
We also hold a similar view that Communism, not being based on freedom under a rule of law, was the absolute negation of everything we believed in, but I think we also would both have agreed that freedom and the rule of law really were based not on secular things nor on humanism, but really came from the Judaic-Christian doctrine, which was the significance of the individual. So both of us regarded Marxism as an atheist creed; “religion is the opium of the people” is what the Marxists said and so you go right back to fundamentals.
I think the first time I heard of Ron Reagan 's beliefs was when he spoke at the Institute of Directors and right at the end he used words something like this: the background was that the role of government had steadily become enlarged. It has actually and I think there are good reasons for that but it had been swollen and enlarged too much and encroached too much on the fundamental liberties and that we were not doing enough about it to safeguard those fundamental liberties, and I [end p2] think he said somewhere at the end: “If our grandchildren ask us in a generation to come where were you when liberty was lost and what did you get to put in its place?” I think my Denis Thatcherhusband was probably there. I saw it in the newspapers; I got it from the Institute of Directors and it was so much in accordance with … . I think he was speaking there because he had been Governor of California and he was giving an account of how they had got rid of quite a lot of controls and a lot of expenditure and how they were getting value for money in California.
Summary of Question[He was newly elected Governor of California].
Yes, he was, and therefore he was describing what he had done and in a way he had the advantage of me because he was able to say: “This is what I believe! This is what I have done!” He really did encapsulate that freedom is the most precious thing, absolutely fundamental and if you let it go on like this—because there was at that time quite a considerable argument in this country, not an argument, almost an acceptance—and if I might put it this way: that things were going to get pinker! You [end p3] know, there was among the thinking of some in my Party if they were going to have a kind of Socialism, well, we would administer it better than anyone else and some of us were already rebelling against that. And there were the various “One Nation” papers and so on. But some of us were saying: “No! This is wrong. This is going in fundamentally the wrong direction!” and so this really fitted in with the views and feelings that some of us were having.
Summary of Question[Six years before you became Conservative leader in 1975.]
That is right, yes! At least six years.
But we were not yet back into power.
By that time, we had seen where this idea of “Look! The days are going to be pinker so you might as well be pink and go along with it!”, and Marxism saying the coming of Socialism is inevitable and some people were taking that view and others of us were going back to absolute fundamentals.
I remember Peter Utley wrote a booklet for us called “Why I am a Conservative” and expressed, as Peter would, fully these beliefs which I believed in [end p4] passionately and then I saw that Ron Reagan was coming over—I had heard him of course—and then I remembered that speech and it did make quite a profound impression on me.
We had done, I think, our Selsdon Conference at that time. Do not forget, Edward HeathTed went for the enlargement of freedom so it was absolutely in tune with freedom under a rule of law and if you lose this, what have you got to put in its place? So it all gelled together.
I am pretty certain we had been to the Selsdon Conference by then, all the feelings were there, we had a feeling that taxation was too high, that the state had swollen.
I think most of us accept that in a much more sophisticated society you have to have many more rules, for example about health and safety, you have to have rules for competition, you have to have a new reinterpretation so that the strong do not overbear on the weak.
Summary of Question[Obscure question: Attitudes and philosphies; both clear.] [end p5]
I have always been in this business of fundamentals, so has Ronald Reaganhe and it was a coming together, and there was little … at the time called “The Little Red Hen”. The little red hen had her own bakery and she baked her bread and she sold it and she decided her prices and she was happy and everyone prospered and flourished. Then come all the regulations—you have got to pay this, you have got to charge this—and in the end she said: “Well, it is quite wrong for me actually to exercise my own enterprise!” and the little red hen gave up and went away. I cannot remember it. At the time there was a very good Little Red Hen.
Summary of Question[Similar philosophies.]
I would say later, that the only real divergence we had is not in philosophy but is in a subsidiary point, when much later, not until he had been President for quite a time, it became a specific object of Ron Reagan 's to [end p6] have a world without nuclear weapons. I said: “That is not the objective! The objective is to have a world without war and at present it is necessary to have nuclear weapons because they are the greatest deterrent to war, to have a peaceful world!” Not peace at any price, but peace with freedom and justice.
Summary of Question[How difficult was this divergence over nuclear weapons?]
Well, whilst one started to explain it, not a lot, because one pointed out that however much your conventional weapons were, they had not been enough to stop the starting of war and he would accept that and therefore, when I went across after Reykjavik we had the communique and one said: “Now look! The nuclear deterrent is a fundamental part of our philosophy. It has in fact kept the peace for forty years and let me just point out what Winston Churchill said: ‘Don't you ever give this up until you have got something more powerful!’ and if you think that you can have a world without nuclear weapons, you are going to take us back to where we were at the [end p7] beginning of the last War. It would not stop a war even if you had heavy conventional weapons. All that would happen would be that a race would be on as to who would get the first nuclear weapons!”
Summary of Question[Understood.]
But he accepted that when one started to talk to him. From time to time, he would come out again with this world without nuclear weapons. It is a world which I cannot foresee existing because there have always been evil people in the world, they will always be born and there are always going to be and you have to consider the worst thing. You have to consider something so terrible that you can say to him: “You will never get away with this and so you do not start it!”
Summary of Question[It remained his fundamental belief.] [end p8]
I would have said it was an aspiration. It cannot be a conviction. It is unrealistic. It was one of the few times, you know, when I think his aspirations left the reality of human nature.
Summary of Question[Difficult to deal with someone who disagreed with you on this?]
But you then came down to look to see where we are now. We did the four points after SDI and we did “The Way Ahead”. We got “The Way Ahead” really talking it through after Reykjavik and so that might have been an aspiration somewhere on the horizon of his. It did not really enter into practical politics.
He said it and then Gorbachev picked it up and there was me saying: “Well, if you are going into this, you are going to lay the foundations for a Third World War if you are not careful!” So it was not so big as you would have thought because the horizon moves as you move, you know, it always does. [end p9]
Summary of Question[One particular item where the relationship really had an impact, when you were together in power - an aspect of governing?]
I do not think you can ever take one. You always want one.
We were absolutely at one on the fundamental relationship between East and West on Communism, absolutely at one. Communism had no idealism about it; it was totally contrary to the sanctity of the individual, totally contrary to everything we believe in.
I had made a speech, I think in Kensington Town Hall, setting out my views about defence and setting out my views …
Summary of Question[January 1976.] [end p10]
So Ronald Reaganhe knew that and I knew that. We had fallen from Government at that time.
It then came out very much in the Falklands War because Cap Weinberger was very close to Ronald Reagan and I was very much in tune with them both and once we got over … . do not forget, for the first four weeks of the Falklands War Al Haig was doing the negotiations.
Summary of Question[An anxiety?]
Yes, it was but I never believed, I must tell you, that the Argentians would withdraw from the Falkland Islands and I could see as it went on that it was just becoming a thing to draw out negotiations, but once it was over and once it was made clear and we delivered an ultimatum and they did not, as I expected, accept it, they were not going to withdraw, then we got really maximum cooperation.
Summary of Question[A great deal of military co-operation while US was …] [end p11]
You say that but I remember saying at the time Ascension Island belongs to the British Commonwealth. Ascension Island is a British territory, very much so. We used the facilities and they were very kind.
Summary of Question[Base being used even during first …]
Yes, of course it was.
Summary of Question[They pressed for diplomatic solution even after tilting in our favour on 30 April 1982?]
Oh no. The timing cannot be right and I will tell you why the timing cannot be right because you were negotiating all the time until we simply had to set a time limit and we did. Then, the task force got there. [end p12]
Summary of Question[US pressing for negotiated settlement even after declaring formally it supported us in the war?]
I doubt it because it did not declare formally supporting us until the negotiations broke down.
Summary of Question[Don’t get into detail.]
The negotiations broke down and then they formally did come out and were very very good indeed.
Summary of Question[Could we have won without US support?]
I do not know. Is it worth even considering or asking that? [end p13]
Summary of Question[Do you have an instinctive reply?]
I have not an instinctive reflex answer.
Summary of Question[Then don’t get lost in detail.]
We could not have won without Ascension Island, but Ascension Island, as I say, was ours.
It was a very good object lesson that these small bits of territory labelled “British” the world over, are very very significant from time to time.
Summary of Question[You first heard of him with his 1969 speech to Institute of Directors?]
It cannot have been when I first heard about Ronald Reaganhim. It just was not. When I was fully aware of how much our views were at one, because I had before that done some [end p14] lecture tours to the United States for the English-Speaking Union and, of course, I had been in and talked to the Republican Party and I knew what he was doing in California. I knew therefore on the economic side, on that side, what he was doing. It was the total sort of concept that was quite clear in that speech when he came over.
Summary of Question[He first met you, coming to the House of Commons, in 1975?]
Yes, he did. We had a long talk. He was with one of the members of the Republican Party then. And I also, by that time of course, knew quite a lot of his work with the trade unions and of course, the trade unions were also very powerful in the United States in some respects. They have a different kind of power from ours, different rules in different states, but he had something of the same problem as we did although on a much lesser scale, although some of the unions, like the Teamsters, were pretty tough and he had learned all about trade unions. [end p15]
I was having to learn all about that. I suppose that is not quite true because I remember when I first went into Parliament in 1959 a very famous case called “Rookes versus Barnard“ and I remember saying then to our Whips, I was only a backbencher at the time, I had not been in there long. I said: “Look! That man won his case without any help from we, the Tory Party, who stand for liberty and I feel thoroughly ashamed about it!”
I am repeating it was during that time of 1955–59 that our own philosophy really was fundamentally coming back to Tory philosophy in a much deeper way. It had certainly, because Rab Butler had abolished quite a lot of the subsidies and got rid of a lot of the controls but then there was this pinkish tinge and it was coming back in a much firm way. I only do this because the relationship got into the bloodstream to such an extent that I can remember some of the signposts but not all of them.
The Falklands was one of them. Libya of course was another.
Summary of Question[Libya a very difficult decision for you?] [end p16]
Yes, it was a very difficult decision because we had to really work through the fundamental reason for it. I will not do things without that. Paul Johnson had written a very effective book on terrorism and what he said was: “Look! If a terrorist is always going to know that no other country dare take action against him, he has won! That is no way to defend the rights of the individual!” and I had that in my mind. But we still had to make quite clear that it was going to be a legitimate Article 51 defence and therefore that the targets had to be quite clearly military targets and so on. So there was quite a lot of coming and going, as I said in the House.
Summary of Question[You urged limitation of number of targets?]
No. It was my job to see that the targets were legitimate military targets to give permission, which we did.
Then, after Reykjavik it was SDI. I had been to visit China and I had seen the SDI speech. It was a pity it ever became ‘Star Wars’ because for years I had been interested even in Opposition before I came into power. [end p17] There were many articles in things like “Aviation Weekly” and certainly in the scientific world I knew about them, to the effect that the Soviet Union was way ahead of us on lasers and was therefore probably working on new kinds of weapons which would upset the whole balance and I was one of those who was saying: “What are we doing about it?”
When Ronald Reaganhe came out with the Strategic Defence Initiative, it was not a surprise; it was not contrary to what I believe because I have always believed—and still do—that one of your duties if you are the nation on the side of freedom and justice, is to keep your technology and your science ahead of any potential aggressor because that, in fact, is what helped us win the last War.
So this came up, but what bothered me about it and which, again, is why I went to talk to him about it, was I could see not any way in which you could stop 100 per cent. Life is not like that. It was perfectly legitimate as the latest weapon of defence and the latest technology and the step ahead we should be, but there was no way in which anything from what I knew of that form of science, from what I could find out, that could ever be 100 per cent but that does not stop you if you have a terrible weapon from having a bounden duty to try to get the next defence. I wanted to sort out what it was. [end p18]
Summary of Question[When you went over you hoped …]
I wanted to get out, sort it out what it was.
Summary of Question[To get programme on agreed basis?]
That is right, that is right, because there was the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which we had been looking at for some time, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty had recognised that there would be new scientific developments, of which we knew not what at [end p19] the time, and had made a structure for dealing with them and I wanted to be certain.
I just have a belief that if you enter into agreements then you have a bounden duty to keep them and I wanted to see how the whole thing fitted in. But also to question the speech which I think went too far in trying to say that we can put a lot of stuff up there and no nuclear weapon will ever be able to get through.
Summary of Question[Render nuclear weapons outmoded?]
Yes, that was not so, it just was not. And then that 100 per cent perfection actually was dropped fairly quickly and then we really went into the real nitty gritty and there was the most excellent programme.
Mr. Ingham(Inaudible). [end p20]
SDI came before Reykjavik, yes but there were two, I went to Washington twice and the SDI was when we were on the way back from Peking, signing the Hong Kong Agreement. Oh yes, SDI came before Reykjavik because at Reykjavik it was when they said to him: “Will you drop SDI”, he said: “Never in all your life” and I was absolutely behind him in that.
Summary of Question[Understood.]
So that was the first time I went to Camp David and we kind of really thrashed it out.
Summary of Question[That was your visit to Camp David in December 1984, about SDI; then November 1986 was …]
Yes and it was a very very useful meeting, as we sat down and really thrashed it through logically, really did, step-by-step, it was very useful. Again, I think I could not have done it without sort of knowing him and he knowing that bascially I believed everything that he did. [end p21]
Summary of Question[You argued it out with him in person?]
Oh yes, he was there.
Summary of Question[Yes, but you had a personal conversation with him before the general meeting?]
I cannot remember, I cannot remember, I think I might have sent over something but I cannot remember. But we actually got it sorted out there and then.
Summary of Question[Let’s go back a bit.]
Over quite a time, not just like that, we had worked out our views on it. You see I am for doing the latest technology but I never like to make claims greater than I think can possibly be maintained. [end p22]
But it was a very good programme and was one where I could say: “We support this”.
Summary of Question[A necessary programme since Soviets had a programme of their own.]
Oh but I knew they had been doing some because of my previous work. They were not admitting it at that time. It was necessary, we were in danger of getting behind.
Summary of Question[He came to see you in 1975 when he had just ceased to be Governor of California.]
Yes, Ronald Reaganhe did.
Summary of Question[Was that when he first made a personal impact on you? [end p23] Had you seen his films?]
No I never really knew him as a film star. I do not think, maybe it is a terrible thing to say, I do not think I have ever seen him in a film.
I knew him as a person who held the same beliefs and who held them passionately, who was able to communicate them and actually was a doer from his time as Governor of California.
When he came in, and I had read some of his speeches because he has a way of putting things, we came in and we started, because at that time he was working on some of the trade unions, as we were starting also to work on what should we do about the trade unions because the whole balance of power was just totally out of kilter between the employer and the employee and there was no way at that time in which an employer could really resist a strike and we had to go right back through all of the trade union law, which took a great a deal of my time and we had a lot of study groups on it and I had to be very active on those, and so we were also trying to ask how he was [end p24] dealing with it and we also by that time had got a very good body of Conservative Trade Unionists who were prepared to stand up and be counted because you cannot do anything unless you have got that.
We were talking about that, also about the fundamental Soviet Union total absence of liberty. But I remember there was something else, because I went over to the States as Leader of the Opposition at about that time, and I had done quite a number, I had been to Moscow and I had been to Romania, one or two of the Eastern European Countries, I had also been to Bulgaria, and wherever you went there, wherever you went in any communist country at that time, you were pounded by a volley of statistics: “Since the Revolution we have got this much more agricultural production, so many thousand more tractors, so many more power stations utilising nuclear power, produce this much more, that much more, the rest much more.” And you know, I remember saying: “We never boast about our achievements, they pound this out the whole time.”
Well now, of course in the end it became wholly soulless. There had been also very much about that time the Helsinki Agreement when we were starting, I am sorry this is a bit muddled as I remember things, but really to press the human rights, really to press the human rights, partly because of the things which Ronald Reaganhe [end p25] and I believed, although at that time we were neither of us in power.
Eventually, this tactic of the communist countries, when I was there in 1969—”We built the biggest hydro-electric power station in the world in Siberia, etc, we built the biggest this and the biggest that”, and in the end people looked around and said: “If that is so, why have we not got more food in the shops? Why have we got less access to farming?” and so on.
I am just remembering things as I speak. So all of this was coming together again. First during what I would call the late 1960s up to 1970s, as we really were reidentifying our Conservative philosophy which we started when Edward HeathTed came in, about the first eighteen months, and then remember we retreated from that and so we were going right back to the fundamentals and redoing the basic philosophy from 1975, when I was leader, onwards. And that was a time when he was out of power and was also coming over and so again we were on the same wavelength, the human rights were going.
Summary of Question[What brought you together in these early meetings – 1975 & 1978 – was a shared philosophy?] [end p26]
That is right, the same fundamentals, absolute fundamentals.
Summary of Question[You were not discussing specific policies? That would have come later?]
Certain fundamental policies flowed from those philosophies clearly, that you always had to have a sound defence against communism, always, that you must never fear to go for the battle of ideas. The battle of ideas was a concept that was very much in my mind from quite an early stage and Ronald Reaganhe seemed to be very good on the battle of ideas and that when it came to, in our case, getting rid of some of the restrictive practices and the things which were holding back industry, we had certain problems with the trade unions, they also had them over there although they were slightly different in their legal origin in that they did not have an [end p27] annual income round.
The prices and incomes policy in this country of an annual round have done untold damage which still persists to this day. Now they got their strikes at the end of a three year contract but by gosh they were powerful and sometimes they also had other trade union problems and we used to talk about those.
So the necessity for staunch defence, the necessity for proclaiming your belief in the battle of ideas, and in his case the necessity for actually doing things because do not forget it was financially, which I had not had the chance to do but at that time we were developing the way to keep inflation down is by monetary policy, and if you start to spend too much you will soon be in difficulty because you will borrow too much. He had done that.
Now there was another difference twixt he and myself as I remember it on the financial side. I remember Ron Reagan saying to me that in the past: “I believe we have got to get down the proportion that government spends of the national income”, I likewise too. He was doing it in California and then he came into power and he wanted to get it down and I wanted to get mine down. [end p28]
Now there was one difference. I said, when we could not get ours down, as First Lord of the Treasury and the arguments we used to have in here and downstairs, and we were actually at one, if we could not get our expenditure down as a proportion of national income as fast as we wanted to, and we could not because in a recession, and remember we had the oil price doubling with Iran, your government expenditure goes on and your income falls and you cannot make adjustments quickly enough, then we were not going to increase the borrowing, we were going to cover the financing what I called honestly.
Summary of Question[You differed about government deficits?]
That is right, that is right. If we could not do it then we were not going to have too much borrowing. Maybe that is a difference in origin. To me I still have a horror of borrowing more than I can repay.
Then we were going to do it and it was the middle of a recession and we were told we were mad, etc., but we covered it honestly and thank goodness we did and we started to recover from that. [end p29]
Ronald ReaganHe did not and so they still have a problem to cope with and we have not got that problem.
Summary of Question[You built up defences, then moved on to dialogue with the Soviets? How?]
A lot happened before that because I went over fairly early in his Presidency.
Summary of Question[February 1981.]
Yes, it was before the Cancún Conference on Mexico when Ronald Reaganhe had not quite made up his mind and I said: “Well look, I think it is a very bad thing not go to a conference” and he did go and I was very supportive of him then. [end p30]
I have always been supportive, as I have said, we were so at one on the fundamental beliefs. And also I was supportive of him right from the beginning because I remember the questions the commentators asked me on that tour, they were all on the side of some of the guerrillas in El Salvador.
Now Napoleon Duarte had actually been elected but not able to take his seat and they were very critical of President Reagan on El Salvador at that time. I was sticking up for him because frankly it is his backyard. I only say that, I was sticking up for him at that time.
Now you asked me a question, we started both to have the same view on the Soviet Union. It was Brezhnev at that time and it was very much a distant thing. Ronald ReaganRon came in 1980.
Summary of Question[He became President in January 1981.]
I am sorry, 1981. We were getting up our military expenditure because it had gone right down. It was the Brezhnev period and so we were not having any rapprochement. [end p31]
Summary of Question[Your first move towards dialogue was at Conservative Conference, 1983.]
It was certainly after the election because soon after the election I decided that we simply must re-think our strategy towards the East European countries, Brezhnev was not going to last …
Mr. InghamThe Churchill Awards Speech in Washington … .
The Churchill Awards Speech in Washington, we were going to rethink our strategy towards them and we set out then the battle of ideas, etc., and we had the seminar about it and we decided that we would go, first we would get closer to the countries of Eastern Europe, not embarrassing them in any way by suggesting that they might free themselves from the Warsaw Pact because as the view was at that time, the Soviet Union would not have allowed them to do so and would have tightened up. [end p32]
But just to make it certain that we still wanted, there was an older friendship and we wanted to revive that, to keep the trade and the cultural contacts so that they could, through contacts with us, keep, get a closer relationship with the West, not close but they knew that someone else was interested in them and we could legitimately do things.
And so I went to Hungary and then later I went to Poland. But that was the first kind of rapprochement. We went to Hungary and we started with those.
And then of course Brezhnev died.
Summary of Question[Then Andropov and Chernenko.]
Yes, we got the strategy, I went to Hungary after Brezhnev had died. Brezhnev had died and Andropov was coming in and the first big decision I made then actually was to go to the Brezhnev funeral, or was it Andropov 's funeral?
Mr. Ingham(Inaudible). [end p33]
I am sorry, I did not go to Brezhnev 's funeral, you are quite right, I sent Francis Pym to Brezhnev 's funeral, quite right.
I had gone to Hungary before and I had talked about Andropov with Kádár and Andropov was already ill by that time and we had started to talk to them about our ideas and talk to them about more trade and more culture. We had started just to stretch out a hand and then I did decide to go to Andropov 's funeral.
Now I must tell you, if it is possible to get a welcome at a funeral, I did because they realised that it was quite something for me to go. I think George Bush must have gone.
And then of course we were all at it in the Chernenko one again. But after Andropov we had already started to look and say that this will not go on forever, that we must start to look and see if we can get as part of our stretching out a hand, not leaving things perpetually, but the battle of ideas, and we thought that Mr. Gorbachev or possibly Mr. Romanov were the two, but we thought of the two that Mr. Gorbachev might be the most likely. So he came over here remember on the Inter-Parliamentary Union and that really was how that started. [end p34]
But I give you another example of the relationship. I knew by that time that the Soviet Union was doing everything it could to stop the United States going ahead with SDI, everything it could. I knew that Ron Reagan would never give it up, I knew they would come and say: “Please, everything in the garden would be lovely if only they would stop SDI”.
I remember saying to Mr. Gorbachev when he came, because we got on very well right from the beginning: “Now look, please, you must understand that we and the United States are friends and traditional allies. I am not in any way the person in between the Soviet Union and the United States, I am an ally of the United States, we believe the same things, we believe passionately in the same battle of ideas, we will defend them to the hilt, never try to separate me from them and please, above all, do not waste any time on trying to persuade me to say to the President of the United States, to say to Ron Reagan, do not go ahead with SDI, it will get nowhere. But let me say this to you immediately, I do not like your system of government—communism—to me it is inhuman, it has too little regard for human dignity, it gives you neither prosperity nor freedom. But one thing I do recognise, you are as much entitled to defend your way of life as we are to defend ours and you are as much [end p35] entitled to have your security within your borders as we are. NATO is only a defensive policy, has always been only a defensive policy, it is set out in our constitution, we have repeated it again and again and you are entitled to do the same and where we can work together is we are coming to the end of the generations which remember the last War.” And I said to him, “I am a little bit older than you and you probably will not,” and he said “Oh I do.”
I said: “I reckon our generation has one great duty to the next, it is so to arrange our defences there will never again be conflict or war. And the people most likely to realise the importance of that are those who actually experienced the privations of the last war. Now let us start to talk about that and then we are going to have a peace and let us start to talk about how we deal with it and then bearing in mind that the objective of both of us is a peace, but do not forget it was you who went into Afghanistan, then we can start to talk about how to live the peace.” [end p36]
Now he took it absolutely, Mr. Gorbachev, and he came back I think equally frankly but he understood and we got really on the right basis. He was quite different from any other person and we had a long time, he came at about 12.30 and he went shortly I think before 6.00.
And we went through almost everything in almost the same way as I am talking to you and he did not have whole lots of notes. But we got on to the right sort of basis and I will tell you what he, years later, said to me: “At least you were prepared to have respect for the Soviet Union, mutual respect, these are my rights and these are yours and we deal with one another on the basis of mutual respect”. But I am not a go-between. [end p37]
And then people asked me and I said straight away: “This is a man I can do business with,” because we laid out the ground rules immediately and he knew where I stood.
I cannot remember how long after that Reykjavik came. You see they were playing fast balls.
Summary of Question[That was two years later.]
Yes it was. They were playing fast balls and the only time when I really have felt the ground shake under my feet politically was when, you know it was like an earthquake, there was no place where you could put your feet, your political feet, where you were certain that you could stand, was when for one moment it looked as if they had agreed to surrender all nuclear weapons and then there is always a fatal flaw, Thank God there is a fatal flaw—”This we offer you, provided you will give up, not your soul, but SDI”.
And Ron Reagan, true to everything: “Certainly not, finish, out”. [end p38]
Summary of Question[SDI’s greatest contribution.]
And the greatest fundamental contribution than that, did not hesitate, no, he knew the point on which he would not compromise—a fundamental thing in politics.
Summary of Question[You did not view yourself as a go-between.]
Well a go-between is a sort of honest broker, as it were. It may be that I can speak more easily.
Summary of QuestionThis is what I was going to come to. I take it entirely when you were saying you were not a go-between.
I was not a neutral between two sides, that is what I am saying. [end p39]
Summary of Question[But your role to bring about talking between them?]
Once we got on to the basis when I saw that there could be an effective dialogue on everything in which I believed in, but which I was prepared to concede you must be prepared to respect his right to defend himself, yes then I was prepared to use such talents as I have for getting to grips with issues. My style, they call it, my style.
Summary of Question[You were bringing them together?]
Yes, to some extent because everyone wanted to know what was Mikhail Gorbachevhe like and I was able to say, and I was also able to give them, from a lot of talking, some views, some idea that they could then talk to this person.
Summary of Question[How done? You told Reagan you could do business with Gorbachev?] [end p40]
No, I was saying to Ron Reagan: “This is a man that I can do business with and because I believe the same things as you do, this is a man you can do business with without compromising any of your beliefs”.
Because frankly, I have always believed that if you are a soft soppy thing no-one will ever do business with you. You will do far better on negotiations if you are firm, you know where you stand, you know how far you can go and you will not go beyond that. You then both command respect, if it is a hard tough negotiation and you are much more likely to get somewhere.
You do not have any respect for someone who is a proper softy.
Summary of Question[You used your influence? How did this historic triangular relationship work?] [end p41]
I was only trying to use my influence to further something which could be properly furthered in accordance with my beliefs and the situation which I had outlined to Mr. Gorbachev and which Ron Reagan also believed in.
I was prepared to use such talents and abilities I possess to do the utmost that I could to further what I believed in and one of the great coincidences of history is that Ron, and it was a valuable coincidence of history, was that Ron Reagan and I were in power at the same time, believing the same things, having both to some extent the same political, tactical approach as well as the same beliefs. Namely, that there were certain things we would never compromise on. So it was the same tactical approach, the same strategy if you like, as well as the same fundamental beliefs.
We never compromised on certain things and once I realised we could do business on that basis then it seemed to me that certain things swam into the realm of possibility that hitherto had not been within that aquarium at all.
Summary of Question[Would dialogue with Soviets have developed as rapidly if you hadn't both been in office? [end p42] ]
I do not think it would have gone anything like as well as it did, anything like as well as it did. Do not forget again that was followed up later when I went and had a very successful visit to Moscow really very much in Western style and was really the first person to have done it in Western style and that was successful and then perhaps paved the way for the others.
But do not forget equally, none of this could have happened without Mr. Gorbachev. Do not let us take credit without also giving the massive amount of visionary credit and courage to him.
Summary of Question[You mean because you were encouraging the dialogue, not bringing about internal reform?] [end p43]
Yes developing the dialogue and making it a constructive dialogue.
Mr. InghamMaking him feel that you were not going to take advantage of him.
I have never done that. I did say right at the beginning: “Now look we will agree what we are going to say to the press at the end and you must say that if there are certain things you say to me that are absolutely confidential, that will be respected. Now you will have to learn that you can trust me and I do not expect you to take it at once”.
But we did learn to build up a trust because that again is the way I prefer to work.
Summary of Question[When you first met Gorbachev did you see the chance to create dialogue between him and Reagan?] [end p44]
Do not forget Mr. Chernenko was still in power then, was still alive and we did not know Mr. Gorbachev would come … and Mr. Gorbachev was very correct you know: “Mr. Chernenko 's policies are, etc.”
Oh yes, of course I knew that I would get in touch with Ron Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev expected me to.
Summary of Question[You told Reagan the nature of your talks with Gorbachev …]
Well I said to Mr. Gorbachev: “Yes of course, and I will of course be in touch with Mr. Reagan“. Oh yes, it would have been dishonest to have done anything …
Summary of Question[You first met Gorbachev almost a year before the first US-Soviet summit of Reagan’s presidency at Geneva in Nov 1985. Did you from the first think of fostering such a thing?] [end p45]
No, not in Summit terms then, no. Do not forget we did not know how much longer Mr. Chernenko was going to live and it would not have done Mr. Gorbachev any good had I presumed.
Summary of Question[But was it in your thoughts?]
Do not forget what I was trying to do was to keep our defences sure so that freedom and justice were sure, get it at a lower level of weaponry and with human rights always at the back of my mind, trying to enlarge the relationship from one of negotiations on defence and the odd cultural agreement to a much larger and wider relationship altogether.
And therefore all kinds of possibilities were opening up, as I said I had been to Hungary, it was a very successful visit, I would say to have more contact with them, to widen the relationship over and above an arms control relationship and over and above just the odd cultural agreement and a few bits of trading relationship, to see if it was possible, but never, never, never once to compromise the defence of liberty and justice. [end p46]
And I believed, as I believe now, that it was the firmness over the Cruise and Pershing and the firmness over SDI that actually helped to bring about the reductions that are now happening.
Summary of Question[How did Americans react when you said you could do business with Gorbachev? That statement greatly shocked many people in Washington.]
Perhaps a little bit sceptical, they were perhaps a little bit sceptical. I think it took them quite some time to realise one's judgment had been correct.
Summary of Question[How did Reagan himself respond to the remark?]
I think they had perhaps just got a hint of it because they had seen how Mikhail Gorbachevhe conducted himself over here, again quite different from any other Soviet leader. [end p47]
They were not convinced but they became convinced when he came to power then very quickly and the way in which he took over and the way in which he met everyone at the funeral. It was fantastic the number of people he saw and he saw George Bush.
But also do not forget Ron Reagan knew that in anything I said to Mr. Gorbachev I would never let Ron Reagan down, do not forget he always knew that, I would never let America down.
Summary of Question[Did you encourage the Geneva Summit?]
I cannot remember. I think that if it was ever mentioned to me I would say: “Yes, a very good idea” because after I had done mine, Geneva was 1985, my visit was 1987, yes because I cannot remember how visible a part I played but I was really rather anxious to have my judgment sort of confirmed, because I knew it would be.
So I was certainly very encouraging, I certainly did not initiate it. I think that Ron Reagan wanted to do it, really wanted to do it. [end p48]
Summary of Question[Did you say to Reagan, I've met Gorbachev and can do business, I think you should meet him too?]
I cannot remember saying those precise words. Bernard InghamBernard, we went to the United Nations, was it for the 40th anniversary, and all the Heads of Government then had a meeting in New York with Ron Reagan.
Mr. InghamWas that 1987?
At the back of my mind is something stirring. At the back of my mind, which came to the front of my mind, was the thought that hitherto the Soviet Union had always been for a long time able to know that there was something like a balance of weaponry in broad terms, they actually had more than we had, not merely a balance but they actually were in the ascendancy. [end p49]
I recognised full well and said so that their worry was with SDI that there was a possibility of a total new level of technology which they did not have and this was bound to be disturbing and therefore what they would want was some kind of predictability that there was not going to be a sudden change. In other words that there would be quite a gap between the research and the testing and the deployment which is why we had said when we went to Camp David for the first time after my Chinese visit to sign the Hong Kong Agreement, which was before Reykjavik, 1984, why I had said that deployment must be negotiated. It had to be negotiated under the ABM Treaty. There is room for latitude about how far testing can go in development but deployment had to be within the Treaty and therefore I know and was talking about the fact that the Russians, they would want some degree of predictability. And as you know there was quite a long negotiation about should you increase the period under the ABM Treaty from six months to five years then seven years, etc.
Summary of Question[I.e., the points made by Paul Nitze] [end p50]
Yes. So all of this was working up to the fact that really I think SDI played an enormous part in actually getting the negotiations going, that there would soon have to be some kind of dialogue, but I think it was probably Ron Reagan 's own idea and I think certainly it met with a great deal of …
Summary of Question[SDI played enormous role by making Soviets realise they had to negotiate?]
Well I think so, I think it did when they could not move him on it.
Summary of Question[Question on Bruges speech: part of its purpose to encourage a Europe loose enough to allow the special relationship with US to be maintained?] [end p51]
Look, it never occurs to me that there will be anything other than a very close relationship between the United States and this country and with Europe as a whole. Europe would not today be free but for the United States and for that reason to me the centre of freedom is the Atlantic community.
Certainly the ideals came from Europe but that was not the special relationship but it was really trying to highlight our position in defence of freedom.
No it was not foremost in my mind, it was not the foremost reason because that was so much part of my thinking that it did not have to be a foremost reason.
Summary of Question[Not foremost, but part of your thinking that Europe should allow individual nations to have special relationships with outside nations?]
That was not the reason. The reason is that I believe that you will get a better cooperation between nation states freely negotiating. The idea that nationhood, that pride in country, that nationhood is a thing of the past is really just not right. [end p52]
It is not right, look at Germany now, look at France, the Bicentennial. Look at us, it is because we were British and the last bastion of liberty that we stood and so it was deep in my psyche but equally deep in my psyche that we have been part of Europe's history, generation after generation, and also part of developing its fundamental beliefs.
But really what is now regarded as civilisation the world over is what is being created by the various nations in Europe.
But I do say that as far as I am concerned, if France has other countries who are her special friends, I am not jealous, that is to my advantage, that my friend has other friends, that Spain has other friends, that is to my advantage that my friend has other friends. Do not let friendship get exclusive.