Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1990 Aug 5 Su
Margaret Thatcher

Speech to the Aspen Institute ("Shaping a New Global Community")

Document type:public statement
Document kind:Speech
Venue:Aspen Institute, Aspen, Colorado
Source:Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist:-
Editorial comments:Between 1000 and 1100.
Importance ranking:Key
Word count:3868
Themes:Civil liberties, Defence (general), Trade, Environment, European Union (general), Economic, monetary and political union, European Union Single Market, Foreign policy (general discussions), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Central and Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR and successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non - EU), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (International organisations), Law and order, Society, Terrorism

Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen.

First, thank you [ Henry Catto] Henry for your very kind words and for the honour of being invited to address this 40th Anniversary Conference. It must be rare for an American President and a British Prime Minister to address the same Conference of a private institute. It is a great tribute to the Aspen Institute's prestige and of course has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the climate and the beauty of Aspen at this time of year—they are purely coincidental.

We are extremely fortunate to have Henry Catto as Ambassador to Britain and he and [ Jessica Catto] Jessica do an outstanding job.

Of course, diplomacy has changed a bit since the first American Ambassador came to London just over two hundred years ago. I am told that a memorandum survives from President Jefferson to his Secretary of State. The President wrote:

"We have not heard anything from our Ambassador to France for three years. If we do not hear from him this year—let us write him a letter."

I am sure American Ambassadors are much more communicative these days.[fo 1]

Mr Chairman, it is a great honour to receive the Aspen Institute's Statesman Award, and I am most grateful to Mr Phelan for what he said about me in presenting it.

The only two previous recipients have been men of the highest distinction, both associated with different aspects of Europe: — Jean Monnet with the founding of the European Community; and

— Willy Brandt with Germany's reconciliation with its Eastern neighbours, which reached its fulfilment with Chancellor Helmut Kohl's recent visit to the Soviet Union.

As a European and a passionate admirer of all that the nations of Europe have given to the world—in art, in literature, in political ideas—it is a privilege to be in such company.

Britain's destiny lies in Europe as a full member of the Community. We shall not be standing on the side-lines or, as you would say, watching from the bleachers. On the contrary, we shall bring to it our own distinctive point of view—practical and down to earth. We fight hard for what we believe in, namely: — a Europe based on willing cooperation between independent sovereign states; — a Europe which is an expression of economic freedom, without which political freedom could not long endure; — a Europe which rejects central control and its associated bureaucracy; — a Europe which does not resort to protectionism but remains open to the outside world; — and—of supreme importance for Britain—a Europe which always seeks the closest possible partnership with the United States.[fo 2]

Mr Chairman, you have chosen for this Conference the theme "Shaping a New Global Community". That theme reflects the boldness, energy and vision of this remarkable country which has led the free world for over four decades. The willingness to think ahead on a world scale, when many countries are self-absorbed, preoccupied, even obsessed with their regional problems, is very refreshing and very necessary.

[ George Bush] The President gave you his vision of the way ahead in a marvellous speech on Thursday. Anyone who had doubts—and I certainly had none—about America's willingness to continue to give leadership to the world will realise how wrong they were.

I am an undiluted admirer of American values and the American dream and I believe they will continue to inspire not just the people of the United States but millions upon millions across the face of the globe.

Your theme is also very timely, because it has been given to us, in the last decade of this century, to fashion a new global community. For today we are coming to realise that an epoch in history is over, an epoch which began in 1946 when an [ Harry Truman] American President and a former [ Winston Churchill] British Prime Minister shared a platform here in the United States at Fulton, Missouri.

They saw with foreboding what Winston Churchill famously called an Iron Curtain coming down across Europe. And they forged the great Western Alliance which bound us together through a common sense of danger to the lives of free peoples.

For more than forty years that Iron Curtain remained in place. Few of us expected to see it lifted in our life-time. Yet with great suddenness the impossible has happened. Communism is broken, utterly broken.[fo 3]

And Soviet citizens are talking democracy. The Mayors of Moscow and Leningrad discuss Milton Friedman—I have heard them. And anyone who talks to Mr Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders recognises a complete change in the nature of their aspirations.

We do not see this new Soviet Union as an enemy, but as a country groping its way towards freedom. We no longer have to view the world through a prism of East-West relations. The Cold War is over.

As the Iron Curtain goes up, a new drama unfolds before us, and one in which we are both the authors and the players. Our freedom of action is enlarged and our horizons broaden. The unity and strength which we in the West have found from joining together in defence can now be turned to serve more positive and ambitious purposes.

The first and most exalted of these is to create a world in which true democracy and the rule of law are extended far and wide.

In its heyday, Communism believed that it would inevitably dominate the world, subsuming all national feeling and everything which gives life its infinite variety, replacing it with what was alleged to be a scientific system of conformity and uniformity. The very inhumanity and arrogance of the proposition makes one wonder how anyone could ever have believed in it for Communism is so plainly contrary to the human spirit.

Not that there is anything inevitable about the spread of democracy. If anything, the difficulties of sustaining it are greatly under-estimated. The heady sense of freedom which comes from throwing off totalitarian rule is short-lived. Building a true democracy is a lengthy and painstaking task.[fo 4]

It is easy enough to transfer the institutions of democracy from one country to another, as Britain did to much of Africa in the 1960s. But it soon becomes apparent that is no guarantee that democracy as we know it will be practised. The one-party state in which there is no possibility of choosing an alternative government is hardly what we mean by democracy.

Mr Chairman, what are the fundamental tenets of true democracy? For me they are these: —first, a sense of personal responsibility. People need to realise that they are not just pawns on a chessboard, to be moved around at the whim of politicians. They can influence their destiny by their own efforts;

— and second, democracy means limitation of the powers of government and giving people the greatest possible freedom. In the end the strength of a society depends not on the big battalions but on the foot-soldiers, on the willingness of ordinary men and women who do not seek fame or glory or high office, to play an active part in their community, not as conscripts but as volunteers; — and third, democracy and freedom are about more than the ballot and universal suffrage. At the beginning of this tumultuous century, Britain rightly believed herself a free country. Yet we went into the First World War with only a thirty per cent franchise. A strong rule of law is the essential underpinning of democracy. The steady growth of the common law over centuries, the process by which statute law is passed by an elected Parliament or Congress, the independence of the judiciary, these are as much the pillars of democracy as its parliamentary institutions;[fo 5]

— and the fourth essential, Mr Chairman, is an economy based on market principles and a right to private property. Wealth is not created by regulation and instruction, but by ordinary enterprising people. It is hard for those who have only experienced life in totalitarian societies to think in these terms because it is outside anything they have ever known. That is why one sometimes wonders whether some of the countries trying to introduce economic reform have yet understood what a market economy is really about.

So the challenge of spreading democracy and the rule of law is an awesome one. But we must not be pessimistic. One can point to countries—for example, Spain, Portugal, Chile, Nicaragua—where the transition from authoritarian rule to democracy has succeeded. And to those who suggest that some countries are perhaps too large for democracy, there is the remarkable example of India with its 700 million people, where democracy is well established.

Mr Chairman, it will take the united efforts of the West to shape a new global community based on democracy, the rule of law and market principles. And we need a plan of campaign and I suggest that these should be its main elements.

At the East-West Summit of thirty-five nations to be held in the autumn I propose that we should agree on a European Magna Carta to entrench for every European citizen, including those of the Soviet Union, the basic rights which we in the West take for granted. We must enshrine certain freedoms for every individual:[fo 6] — freedom

— of speech

— of worship

— of access to the law

—and of the market place; — freedom

— to participate in genuinely democratic elections

— to own property

— to maintain nationhood; and last — freedom

— from fear of an over-mighty state.

Next we must bring the new democracies of Eastern Europe into closer association with the institutions of Western Europe. And I propose that the Community should declare unequivocally that it is ready to accept all the countries of Eastern Europe as members if they want to join, provided that democracy has taken root and that their economies are capable of sustaining membership. We cannot say in one breath that they are part of Europe and in the next our European Community Club is so exclusive that we will not admit them.

Of course it will be some time before they are ready for membership, so we are offering them intermediate steps such as Association Agreements. But the option of eventual membership should be clearly, openly and generously on the table. The European Community has reconciled antagonisms within Western Europe; it should now help to overcome divisions between East and West in Europe.

This does not mean that the further development of the existing Community has to be put on ice. Far from it. The completion of the Single Market by 1992 will be an enormous change,[fo 7] one of the biggest since the Community began in 1957. It should herald a fair and open Europe and one which should be immensely attractive to the newly free peoples of Eastern Europe. And the same is true of closer cooperation in foreign policy.

But if instead we set off down the path of giving more and more powers to highly centralised institutions, which are not democratically accountable, then we should be making it harder for the Eastern Europeans to join.

They have not thrown off central command and control in their own countries only to find them reincarnated in the European Community. With their new freedom, their feelings of patriotism and national identity flooding out again, their newly restored Parliaments are full of vitality. We must find a structure for the Community which accommodates their diversity and preserves their traditions, their institutions and their nationhood.

And we need to do this without introducing the concept of first and second-class membership of the Community, which would be divisive and defeat much of the purpose of bringing their countries into Europe.

Mr Chairman, all the messages we are getting indicate that the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe desperately want to have the policies of economic freedom but they just do not know how to acquire them.

Many of us are providing practical assistance through Know-How Funds and joint ventures. But such is the scale of the problem that we shall need to devise new and more imaginative ways to help.[fo 8]

For example, we might identify a whole sector of the Soviet economy such as transport and distribution or food processing or oil exploration or the banking system, and offer to help run it on market principles to demonstrate what can be achieved.

After all, the Soviet Union has natural wealth in abundance. It is not resources it lacks, but the ability to turn them to advantage. One day the Soviet Union will be a highly prosperous country—and so will China—and it is not too soon to be thinking how to bring them into the world economy.

But the most difficult step is for governments which have been accustomed to running a regimented economy to think in a different way.

If we can begin to associate them with the international institutions which have done so much to help ensure our own prosperity, in particular the GATT and the IMF, that could make it easier for them.

We might also bring the Soviet Union gradually into closer association with the Economic Summit. Britain will be hosting next year's Economic Summit in London, and if my colleagues agree, I would not be averse to taking a first step along that road on that occasion.

So there are three points in our plan of campaign: — a European Magna Carta; — closer association of East and West in Europe; — and eventually bringing the Soviet Union into the Economic Summit and the Western economy.[fo 9]

But there is a further crucial point. None of this could be contemplated unless we in the West had been resolute to maintain a secure defence. The fact that our peoples were willing to bear the burdens, sustain the expense and brave the dangers of defence for over forty years, is a proof of how much they value liberty and justice.

We failed to do this after the First World War. Instead, armies were disbanded, weapons were laid aside, and American forces went home. The result was once again World War—war in Europe and war in the Pacific—and a whole generation paid a terrible price.

After the Second World War we were wiser. We threatened no-one but we kept up our defences. We halted the great expansion of Communism. Today, nations and peoples are free who would otherwise be in bondage were it not for our perseverance and above all that of the United States.

But now, in the moment of success, it is wise to be cautious. History has seen too many false springs. The Soviet Union, as [ George Bush] the President said, remains a formidable military power. Even the Russian Republic—on its own—would be the largest country in the world, stretching from the Baltic to the Pacific across eleven time zones.

Moreover, with the spread of ballistic missiles and chemical weapons, it is all too likely that we shall face ugly situations in other parts of the world, as we are seeing now.

We shall continue to need NATO. And that means we shall continue to need American forces in Europe—in your own interests as well as in ours.[fo 10]

Do you remember some of the lines from T. S. Eliot's "Chorus on the Rock"? He said this:

"It is hard for those who live near a police station to believe in the triumph of violence.

Do you think that the faith has conquered the world and that lions no longer need keepers?
Do you need to be told that whatever has been, can still be?"
What a pity more poets were not also politicians. That is marvellous language and its meaning so wonderfully clear.

Mr Chairman, as we look to the future, there are other issues which call for a much higher level of international cooperation, more intensive than anything we have achieved so far: the spread of drugs, terrorism and intimidation, a decaying environment. No country is immune from them.

Our ability to come together to stop or limit damage to the world's environment will be the greatest test of how far we can act as a world community.

Science is still feeling its way and some uncertainties remain. But we know that very high population growth is putting an enormous pressure on the earth's resources. Primitive methods of agriculture are extending deserts and destroying tropical forests and as they disappear, nature's capacity to correct its own imbalance is seriously affected.

We know, too, that our industries and way of life have done severe damage to the ozone layer. And we know that within the lifetime of our grandchildren, the surface temperature of the earth will be higher than at any time for 150,000 years; the rate of change of temperature will be higher than in the last 10,000 years; and[fo 11] the sea level will rise six times faster than has been seen in the last century.

Mr Chairman, the costs of doing nothing, of a policy of wait and see, would be much higher than those of taking preventive action now to stop the damage getting worse. And the damage will be counted not only in dollars, but in human misery as well. Spending on the environment is like spending on defence—if you do not do it in time, it may be too late.

Most of us have been brought up to give praise and thanks for the miracles of creation. But we cannot give thanks with our words if our deeds undermine the beauty of the world to which we are born.

The same lessons apply to the evil of drugs. We must warn all, by all means, we must use every means to warn young people of the blandishments which will be used to entice them into drug addiction. We must ram home that to succumb would utterly ruin their lives and devastate their families. The contemptible and callous men who prey upon the young for their own material gain must be hunted ruthlessly until they are brought to justice.

This problem is not limited to a handful of countries. There are now 40 million addicts worldwide and the number continues to rise. We have to grapple with every aspect of the problem: cutting the demand, the production, the money-laundering and the international networks.

Hard as we have tried, we are still far from success. And there is only one way to attack the problem, wherever it occurs, and that is by bringing together all the resources and knowledge of every country to slay this dragon.[fo 12]

That goes for terrorism and intimidation too. The terrorists fight with the weapons of war. We respond with the rule of law. The dice are loaded against the law-abiding and the innocent. Terrorism will only be beaten when all civilised governments resolve that they will never harbour or give safe haven to terrorists. Anything less than a proven total dedication to hunting down the terrorists within, should make those countries the outcasts of the world.

Let it be plain—we shall never surrender to terrorism.

Mr Chairman, intensified economic international cooperation is needed just as much on more familiar problems. A world which formed itself into inward-looking blocs of nations would be taking a sad step backwards.

Yet I see a real danger of that: a European bloc based on the European Community's proposed economic and monetary union; a Western-hemisphere bloc based on a United States-Canada-Latin American free trade area; and then a Pacific bloc with Japan and some of the East and North East Asia countries.

Such an arrangement would encourage protectionism and stifle trade at the very time we need to be driving forward to a positive outcome for the Uruguay Round of world trade negotiations. That means we shall all need to make concessions, particularly on agriculture, where we are all far from perfect. To slide back into protectionism would be damaging for every one of us, and none more than the developing countries who, as well as aid, need trade.

Of course they need help, particularly the poorest, and they all seek investment. But there is going to be unprecedented demand for the world's savings over the next decade.[fo 13]

When you look at the problems of developing countries, you frequently find it is the politics which have led the economics astray.

These problems do not always stem from lack of resources or natural wealth or some other similar handicap. Quite often they are the result of bad government, corruption, and the breakdown of law and order, or cynical promises which could never be kept. And that is not a view which I have invented, in case you thought it sounded like me, it comes from an excellent report by the World Bank. The problems will not be solved by abstractions such as a new international economic order, nor by the verbose vocabulary of the North/South dialogue.

The developing countries need sustained help. But they also need democracy, good government, and sensible economic policies which attract foreign investment. That investment will go to the countries which offer the best prospect of stability, which welcome enterprise, and give a fair rate of return, with the right to repatriate a reasonable proportion of the profits. Investment will not come into a country unless it can also get out.

All these problems underline the need for an effective global institution where we can agree on certain basic standards, resolve disputes and keep the peace. We thought we had created that at San Francisco in 1946 when we founded the United Nations. Sadly, it has not quite worked out that way.

Iraq's invasion of Kuwait defies every principle for which the United Nations stands. If we let it succeed, no small country can ever feel safe again. The law of the jungle would take over from the rule of law.[fo 14]

The United Nations must assert its authority and apply a total economic embargo unless Iraq withdraws without delay. The United States and Europe both support this. But to be fully effective it will need the collective support of all the United Nations' members. They must stand up and be counted because a vital principle is at stake: an aggressor must never be allowed to get his way.

As East/West confrontation diminishes, as problems which have long dominated the United Nations' agenda, such as apartheid in South Africa, are being resolved, we have an opportunity to rediscover the determination that attended the founding of the United Nations. And the best time is now, with our present very able and widely respected [ Javier Perez de Cuellar] Secretary-General.

It was never realistic to think of the United Nations as a world government. But we can make it a place where truth is told and objective standards prevail. The Five Permanent Members of the Security Council have acquired authority in recent times by working together. Not enough, but a basis on which to build.

Some would say all this is a triumph of hope over experience. But let us not be hypnotized by the past, otherwise we shall always shrug our shoulders and walk away. Shakespeare reminded us:

"Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good we oft might win,
By fearing to attempt."

Mr Chairman, may I thank you most warmly for giving me this occasion to explain how I believe we can shape the future as we move into the third millennium. If we are to do better than our best, Europe and the United States must continue to make common cause, attracting others as we go, but remaining faithful to the principles[fo 15] which have brought us so far.

Winston Churchill expressed so well the positive approach we shall need. In his description of the Journey of Life he said this:

"Let us be contented with what has happened to us and thankful for all we have been spared.

Let us treasure our joys but not bewail our sorrows.
The glory of light cannot exist without its shadows.
Life is a whole, and good and ill must be accepted together."

We must work together for more joy and less sorrow, to ensure more light and less shadow. If we achieve that, we shall have done well. I wish you well in all your endeavours.