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1982 May 26 We
Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Women’s Conference

Document type:public statement
Document kind:Speech
Venue:Royal Festival Hall, South Bank, central London
Source:Thatcher Archive: CCOPR 405/82
Journalist:-
Editorial comments:Embargoed until 1445. The Thatcher Archive contains a copy of the press release checked against delivery: the corrected text is reproduced here.
Importance ranking:Major
Word count:1639
Themes:Defence (Falklands War 1982), Foreign policy (general discussions)

Madam Chairman.

Our Conference takes place at a time when great and grave issues face our country. Our hearts and minds are focused on the South Atlantic. You have been debating defence policy at a time when our fighting men are engaged in one of the most remarkable military operations in modern times.

We have sent an immensely powerful task force, more than 100 ships, and 27,000 sailors, marines, soldiers and airmen, some, 8,000 miles away in the South Atlantic.

In a series of measured and progressive steps, over the past weeks, our forces have tightened their grip of the Falkland Islands. They have re-taken South Georgia. Gradually they have denied fresh supplies to the Argentine garrison.

Finally, by the successful landing at San Carlos Bay in the early hours of Friday morning, they have placed themselves in a position to retake the islands and reverse the illegal invasion by Argentina.

By the skill of our pilots, our sailors and those manning the Rapier missile on shore they have inflicted heavy losses on the Argentine Air Force—over 50 aircraft have been destroyed.

There have, of course, been tragic losses and you will have heard of the further attacks on our Task Force. HMS Coventry came under repeated air attack yesterday evening and later sank. One of our Merchant ships supporting the Task Force, the Atlantic Conveyor, was also damaged and had to be abandoned. We do not yet know the number of casualties but our hearts go out to all those families who had men in these ships.

Despite these grievous losses, neither our resolve nor our confidence is weakened.[fo 1]

We in Britain know the reality of war. We know its hazards and its dangers. We know the task that faces our fighting men.

They are now established on the Falkland Islands with all the necessary supplies. Although they still face formidable problems in difficult terrain with a hostile climate, their morale is high.

We must expect fresh attacks upon them, and there can be no question of pressing the [Major-General Sir Jeremy Moore /Brigadier Julian Thompson] Force Commander to move forward prematurely—the judgement about timing must be his and his alone, and we have confidence in his judgement.

Madam Chairman, the theme of this Conference is "Living with our Neighbours" and it may seem inappropriate to be debating such a thing when there was open conflict between Britain and Argentina, and the lives of young men on both sides are being lost. But the whole basis of our foreign and defence policy, and indeed of the international political order depends on the friendship of neighbours, co-operating with them and abiding by the rule of law.

These are the very things which the illegal invasion of the Falkland Islands had it gone unchallenged would have subverted and destroyed. The Falkland Islands are British. The Falkland Islanders are British. They don't want to be ruled by Argentina, as those pictures of the welcome given to British marines and soldiers showed more clearly than a thousand words.

The phlegmatic matter of fact welcome to our troops by the Falkland Islanders: "We were expecting you. We only wondered why you didn't get here sooner". That is entirely characteristic of British people wherever they may be.

There is another wider aspect of neighbourliness which has been revealed by this crisis. It is the strength of our links with our friends and allies in the Commonwealth and NATO, and we are most grateful for their support. No nation these days can stand completely alone.[fo 2]

HOW AND WHY WE CAME TO USE FORCE

It was eight weeks ago today Wednesday, that information reached us that the Argentine Fleet was sailing towards the Falklands.

8,000 miles away from home. At that stage there were only two ways of trying to stop it—through President Reagan—whose appeal to Argentina was rebuffed, and the United Nations, whose plea was also rejected.

Now there were those who said we should have accepted the Argentine invasion as a fait accompli. But Madam Chairman whenever the rule of force rather than the rule of law is seen to succeed, the world moves a step closer to anarchy.

The older generation in our country, and generations before them, have made sacrifices so that we could be a free society and belong to a community of nations which seeks to resolve disputes by civilised means.

Today it falls to us to bear the same responsibility, we shall not shirk it. What has happened since that day, eight weeks ago, is a matter of history—the history of a nation which rose instinctively to the needs of the occasion.

For decades, the peoples of the Falkland Islands had enjoyed peace—with freedom,—peace with justice, peace with democracy. They are our people and let no one doubt our profound longing for peace. But that peace was shattered by a wanton act of armed aggression by Argentina in blatant violation of international law. And everything that has happened since has stemmed from the invasion by the military dictatorship of Argentina. And sometimes I feel people need reminding of that fact more often. We want peace restored. But we want it with the same freedom, justice and democracy that the Islanders previously enjoyed.

For seven weeks we sought peace by diplomatic means; through the good offices of our close friend and ally, the United States; through the unremitting efforts of the [ Perez de Cuellar] Secretary General of the United Nations.

We studied seven sets of proposals and finally we drew up our own. Without compromising fundamental principles, we made a variety of reasonable and practical suggestions in a supreme effort to avoid conflict and loss of life.

We worked tirelessly for a peaceful solution. But when there is no response of substance from the other side, there comes a point when it is no longer possible to trust the good faith of those with whom one is negotiating.

Playing for time is not working for a peaceful solution. Wasting time is not willing a peaceful solution. It is simply leaving the aggressor with the fruits of his aggression.[fo 3]

It would be a betrayal of our fighting men and of the Islanders if we had continued merely to talk, when talk alone was getting nowhere.

And so, seven weeks to the day after the invasion, we moved to recover by force what was taken from us by force. It cannot be said too often: We are the victims; they are the aggressors.

We came to military action reluctantly.

But when territory which has been British for almost 150 years is seized and occupied; when not only British land, but British citizens, are in the power of an aggressor; then we have to restore our rights and the rights of the Falkland Islanders.

REPLY TO THE CRITICS

There have been a handful of questioning voices raised here at home. I would like to answer them. It has been suggested that the size of the Falkland Islands and the comparatively small number of its inhabitants—some 1,800 men, women and children—should somehow affect our reaction to what has happened to them.

To those–not many–who speak lightly of a few Islanders beyond the seas and who ask the question: "Are the few worth fighting for?" Let me say this:- Right and wrong are not measured by a head-count of those to whom that wrong has been done. That would not be principle but expediency.

And the Falklanders, remember, are not strangers. They are our own people. As the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Rob Muldoon and what a marvellous friend he is. He went to the heart of the matter in his usual straightforward way. "With the Falkland Islanders", he said "it is family".

When their land was invaded and their homes were overrun, they naturally turned to us for help, and we, their fellow citizens, 8,000 miles away in our own much larger island, could not and did not beg to be excused.

We sent our men and our ships with all speed, hoping against hope that we would not have to use them in battle but prepared to do so if all attempts at a peaceful solution failed. When those attempts did fail, we could not sail by on the other side.

And let me add this. If we, the British, were to shrug our shoulders at what had happened in the South Atlantic and to acquiesce in the illegal seizure of those far-away islands, it would be a clear signal to those with similar designs on the territory of others to follow in the footsteps of aggression.

Surely we, of all people, have learned the lesson of history: that to appease an aggress is to invite aggression elsewhere, and on an ever-increasing scale?[fo 4]

Other voices—again only a few—have accused us of clinging to colonialism or even imperialism. Let us remind those who advance that argument that we British have a record second to none of leading colony after colony to freedom and independence. We cling not to colonialism but to self-determination of peoples everywhere.

Still others—again only a few—say we must not put at risk our investments and interests in Latin America; that trade and commerce are too important to us to put in jeopardy some of the valuable markets of the world.

What would the Islanders, under the heel of the invader, say to that?

What kind of people would we be if, enjoying the birthright of freedom ourselves, we were to abandon British Citizens for the sake of commercial gain? We would never do it.

Now we are present in strength on the Falkland Islands.

Our purpose is to re-possess them and we shall persevere until that purpose is accomplished.

When the invader has left, there will be much to do rebuilding, restoring homes and farms, and above all renewing the confidence of the people in their future.

Their wishes will need time to crystalise and of course they will depend in some measure on what we and others are prepared to do, to develop untapped resources and to safeguard the Islands' future.

Madam Chairman, our cause is just.

It is the cause of freedom and the rule of law.

It is the cause of support for the weak against aggression by the strong.

Let us then draw together in the name, not of jingoism, but of justice.

Finally, let our nation, as it has so often in the past, remind itself—and the world:- "Nought shall make us rue, If England to herself do rest but true"