Speech at Koenigswinter Conference Annual Dinner
|Document type:||public statement|
|Venue:||St Catherine’s College, Cambridge|
|Source:||Thatcher Archive: press release|
|Editorial comments:||Between 2000 and 2245. Text marked "Please check against delivery". The editors have checked it against MT’s speaking text.|
|Themes:||Foreign policy (Western Europe - non - EU), Foreign policy (USSR and successor states), Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), European Union (general), European Union Budget, Trade|
The Anglo/German Relationship
Most of you will, I am sure, have read Jerome K. Jerome's novel "Three Men in a Boat". Fewer of you perhaps are familiar with the three heroes' disastrous expedition to Germany, touchingly described by Jerome in "Three Men on the Bummel".
I do not in fact intend to devote my speech this evening to an account of the mishaps that can befall the Englishman abroad—tempting though the idea is. I have mentioned Harris and the others because they and their author reflect the view of Germany held by a sympathetic, if condescending, Victorian Englishman at the end of the nineteenth century. Jerome K. Jerome was an enthusiast for Germany and most German ways. The Germans are orderly, disciplined, lovers of animals and children. But they have their weaknesses. "As a trader", the author says, "I am inclined to think the German will, unless his temperament considerably changes, remain a long way behind his Anglo-Saxon competitor, and this by reason of his virtues. To him life is something more important than a mere race for wealth".
The image of the unenthusiastic German trader would be recognised by few British businessmen today. But it reminds us how dangerous is the attempt to pass judgement on a whole nation. For countries' views of one another change, sometimes rapidly.
The Turning Point: The Berlin Airlift
Nowhere has it changed more rapidly than between Britain and Germany since the War. We ended the war in 1945 as enemies: by 1954 we were allies in NATO. How did this very remarkable and wholly beneficial change take place?
My own view is that the turning point was the Berlin blockade of 1948/49. We call it the Berlin blockade, you call it the Berlin airbridge, which again indicates a difference of perspective. For us, it meant overcoming Soviet opposition: for you, it meant bringing food and coal and the necessities of life to 2 million fellow Germans. We and our American and French allies started the blockade as occupying powers. We ended the blockade as protecting powers. For in the process we came to recognise that the Berliners, under their great Mayor Ernst Reuter, cared passionately about the defence of their freedom and were prepared to put up with great hardship to preserve it. It was a passion we shared. So almost overnight, we found ourselves on the same side. Sentiments change and, in this context we can almost say that we have a lot to thank the Russians for.[fo 1]
We in Britain understand your concern for Berlin. By being present in Berlin we demonstrate that we share your concern. Our interests are your interests. They are inseparable.
The Königswinter Conference
One of the most imaginative of all the enterprises launched shortly after the Berlin airlift was the Königswinter Conference. The Conference was born from the vision of Dame Lilo Milchsack in the ruins of post-war Düsseldorf. It was supported by Sir Robert Birley, then educational adviser to the British High Commission in Germany. Both, I am glad to see, are here this evening. Thanks to devoted and unremitting work behind the scenes, and in the continued personal inspiration of Dame Lilo herself, conference has succeeded conference in an almost unbroken sequence for thirty years. It is a marvellous story. Helmut Schmidt and I are here tonight to salute it.
New Demands on Europe
The theme of your conference this year is "The New Demands on Europe". As usual, it is a timely one. For the demands are unremitting, in defence, in politics and in economics.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has reminded us once again that what the Russians mean by "peaceful co-existence" or "detente" is not what we mean by "peaceful co-existence" or "detente". In our easy-going, tolerant democratic societies we so easily forget. Fortunately, we can always rely on the Russians to remind us. They reminded us in 1948 at the time of the Berlin blockade. They reminded us in 1953 in East Berlin, in 1956 in Hungary and in 1968 in Czechoslovakia. Now they have reminded us again in Afghanistan.
They have reminded us that for them peaceful co-existence means the opportunity to alter the balance of power in the world to their advantage without running the risk of nuclear war.
Our German friends, being right in the front-line, understand these things. They know that without defence we shall have nothing left to defend.
You, [ Helmut Schmidt] Mr. Chancellor, as a former Minister of Defence, have always recognised this. You have always argued for parity, for balance of military strength. You are quite right. We can never be sure about Soviet motivation, because we cannot see into their minds. But we can be sure of Soviet capability, because we can count their aircraft and tanks and submarines.[fo 2]
You rightly drew attention to these problems in your Alastair Buchan Memorial Lecture in 1977. And you were quite right to insist coupling TNF modernisation with an arms control offer. We agree with you. We must preserve balance, but we all want to preserve it at the lowest possible level of armaments. So the NATO decisions of December 1979 were the correct ones. Events in Afghanistan two weeks later demonstrated just how correct they were.
If we draw up a balance sheet after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, what does it look like?
On the one hand, the Soviet Union has suppressed the freedom of the Afghan people and occupied their country. And the Red Army has advanced to within 300 miles of the Persian Gulf.
On the other hand, the United States has been released from the trauma of Vietnam and Watergate. America is ready once more to play its indispensible role as the leading power of the West. And American public opinion is right behind the [ Jimmy Carter] President as he shoulders his burden.
And the Soviet Union has antagonised the whole of the Islamic world and indeed the whole of the Third World. The Islamic Conference in Islamabad unanimously condemned the Soviet invasion. A resolution at the United Nations condemned it by 104 votes to 18.
And the Soviet Union hoped to divide the West, to divide Europe within itself and Europe from North America. They have not succeeded and they will not succeed.
We Europeans may have a different perspective of events from the American perspective. We have real interests of our own to defend. Nonetheless, our overriding interests lie in the cohesion of the West. We need that cohesion for our safety and we need it for our prosperity. They are indivisible.
That seems to me to be the political importance of the European concept of a neutral and non-aligned status for Afghanistan. It has many advantages. It offers the Russians a face-saving method of withdrawing from Afghanistan if they choose to take it, since it fully meets what they say are their preoccupations. But equally, if the Russians choose not to take advantage of the way out, it demonstrates that what they say are their preoccupations, are bogus; and that their true purposes are to spread still further their influence in the world and to change the power balance in their favour. But the idea also has a third value, it is something which unites Europe and unites Europe with the United States. Moreover, it is something around which the Third World can rally, as the ASEAN states did recently in Kuala Lumpur.
Our task, it seems to me now, is to minimise the advantages and maximise the disadvantages which Soviet action in Afghanistan has brought to the Soviet Union. We must ensure first the cohesion of Europe; and we must secondly ensure the solidarity of a cohesive Europe with our American partner and with the Alliance as a whole.[fo 3]
But Europe faces other new demands too.
It faces the demands of fresh enlargement: the accession of Greece, Spain and Portugal.
The Europe of the Six prospered for two reasons.
First, because it managed to work out a successful balance of interests between the six founder members; and secondly because it was able to work out that balance of interests in a period of economic growth and rising prosperity.
The Europe of the Nine has not yet succeeded in working out a new equilibrium of interests between the Nine member states; partly because it has been obliged to seek to do so in years of relative economic difficulty and the oil crisis.
The Europe of the Nine will not reach the satisfactory equilibrium which it needs, nor face the fresh tasks of enlargement to Twelve, unless we solve the current problems with which you are all familiar.
The plain face is that it has not done so. We shall not get far until we do believe that. We can and must because I believe in Europe. I want to make it work. I believe that Britain has a lot to offer Europe. And I want to get into a position when Britain's contribution to Europe can be made without distraction.
For we are a real asset to the Community—and I am not talking only in budgetary terms.
We are 55 million people with a passionate belief in freedom. And Britain believes it can best safeguard its freedom in the company of its like-minded partners in the Community.
We are a market of 55 million eager shoppers. Our German partners are taking full advantage of this market. Your exports to Britain went up last year by 25 per cent to over £5 billion. Our industrialists are also taking advantage of the German market. Our exports also went up by nearer 40 per cent, to over £4 billion. I see in the papers today that last month Britain was your largest supplier of oil. Ahead of Saudi Arabia and Libya.
We have a certain view of and a certain knowledge of the world. The European Community is increasingly seen by the rest of the world to be a factor to be reckoned with in world affairs.
We offer a certain practical approach to politics which can perhaps usefully complement the more logical approach of our Continental partners. So I believe that Britain needs the Community and the Community needs Britain. But we also need to feel that the Community welcomes Britain. And for that the touchstone must be that the Community is prepared to give all its members a fair deal, including us.
I believe you recognise that, Mr. Chancellor. I thank you for that recognition and for your efforts on our behalf.
It only remains for me to thank you, Sir Frank Roberts, and[fo 4] the members of the Königswinter Conference for your hospitality to me this evening. My wish for Königswinter is that you succeed this year as in the past in interpreting the minds of Germans to Britons and the minds of Britons to Germans. This is an essential task. I hope you have a good conference.
As Shakespeare said:
"May good digestion wait on appetite And health on both".