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1991 Jun 17 Mo
Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Foreign Relations Council of Chicago

Document type:public statement
Document kind:Speech
Venue:Chicago
Source:Thatcher Archive: press release
Journalist:-
Editorial comments:Embargoed until 1130 GMT, 1730 CST.
Importance ranking:Major
Word count:2964
Themes:Foreign policy (general discussions), Foreign policy (USSR and successor states), Foreign policy (USA), Defence (general), Terrorism, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Middle East), Law and order, Foreign policy (International organisations), Defence (arms control), Defence (Falklands War 1982), Trade, Economy (general discussions), European Union (general), Economic, monetary and political union, Pay, European Union Single Market

The past year has seen the euphoria about a new world order to follow the Cold War brought down to earth with a bump. I am glad of that, because the sooner governments concentrate on realities rather than pious hopes the better.

Happy days are here again .....

A lot of people, including a lot of governments, thought that the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the old Soviet Union meant that there would no longer be any serious threat to our security in the West. They thought that liberty, democracy and the rule of law would spread effortlessly throughout the world, chasing out the last vestiges of Communism. And they believed that the United Nations would take on the burden of keeping the peace and making peace, which previously the United States and NATO — but above all the United States — had carried for over 40 years.

Of course much good has flowed from the defeat of Communism. The unrelenting mortal threat to the United States and Western Europe from the former Soviet Union's massive nuclear and chemical armoury has been reduced, although it is not eliminated: there are still many thousands of nuclear weapons and missiles in Russia and the Ukraine. Eastern Europe has been transformed with most of its governments free and democratic. Indeed democracy, free markets and privatisation are spreading more widely through the world than ever before. That's all good.

With the rivalry between two great super-powers over, it has also become much harder for governments or indeed terrorist movements to exploit East-West competition for their own ends. That was surely the main reason compelling Arafat and the PLO to reach accommodation with Israel: they could no longer rely on weapons and training from their old Communist paymasters. It also explains why outside powers have very little political interest left in what happens in Africa, although we are all naturally concerned about the humanitarian problems. Without East/West rivalry, Africa — outside South Africa — has no real strategic importance.

..... but it's still a funny old world and more dangerous than before

So there have been great changes. But for all that it is still a very dangerous world, indeed probably more dangerous than before. During the Cold War we knew where we stood, there were limits on how far the great powers could become involved in local conflicts, there was a de facto acceptance of zones of influence based ultimately on nuclear deterrence. Now those constraints have been knocked away and the uncertainties are much greater. And uncertainty in international relations can be very dangerous.

Democracy is far from securely established .....

If Kerensky had moved as decisively against the Bolsheviks in 1917 as Yeltsin did against the opponents of democracy, the whole history of this century would have been different.

China is still a long way from democracy, despite the huge advances towards a market system, and seems intent on denying even a modest amount of it to Hong Kong. North Korea remains an unspeakably unpleasant regime, as does Cuba with its crumbling dictator. Serbia is an example of a ruthless dictatorship trampling on the rights of others in the very heart of Europe. Many of Islam's ideals are not compatible with democracy, and that could be a great factor for instability and conflict in future. So don't conclude that the world is safe for democracy, it isn't. One of Thatcher's golden rules is that, in politics, battles are never over, they have to be won time and time again.

..... and peace can all too easily go to pieces .....

The same applies to peace. You only have to look around you to see that peace has not broken out. There are still dictators. There are still terrorists. There are bloody battles over boundaries, over religion, over ethnic minorities. The war in the former Yugoslavia is the worst example, but it will not be the last — unless the democracies show the will-power to act against tyrants and dictators.

The fact that world war is less likely unfortunately does not mean that of world peace is automatically more likely. If anything the culture of violence is more widespread than ever, starting from the breakdown of discipline within our societies. So is the technology for practising violence. Sophisticated weapons from the former Soviet Union are being dumped into areas of conflict. North Korea and China are selling their weapons into areas of high tension. There is the spectre of 'loose' nuclear weapons finding their way out of the huge inventories of the former Soviet Union — falling off the back of lorries so to speak. Aggressive and irresponsible governments are dangerously close to building nuclear weapons of their own. Faced with this, we have to strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency so that it is better able to carry out its inspection powers effectively. But we have to go further and ask ourselves whether we can afford to allow nuclear weapons to get into the hands of those who fundamentally disagree with the democracies' view of the world. If they will not abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and permit inspections, we shall have to be ready to use force in the last resort to squelch their nuclear ambitions — and I am thinking primarily of North Korea.

Don't rely on the great illusion factory in New York .....

In the face of these dangers, it would be churlish not to give the UN credit for what it has achieved, particularly during the Gulf War and in Cambodia. Where it has been given strong leadership, it has been effective. But we delude ourselves if we think that it will be capable of moving with the speed, the will and the determination needed to keep the peace without such a lead. Talk of giving the United Nations its own forces, a sort of UN Foreign Legion, is beside the point. The UN depends on consensus and that is simply not an adequate basis for action or for readiness to take combat risks. If we attempt to rely solely on the United Nations, we shall rapidly come to see it is as an illusion factory, where copious resolutions become a substitute for effective action.

It's still up to the good old US of A to lead the world

So, if not to the United Nations, where do we look for leadership? There is only one answer and that is the United States supported by like-minded countries. People sometimes talk about this disparagingly as an international sheriff's posse, but those are just the scornful words of those who disdain action.

There are lessons to be learned from nineteenth century balance of power politics and from pax Britannica. You need a country, a nation-state, which is willing to act resolutely when internationally-accepted rules of conduct are broken, because that is the only real deterrent to violence and aggression. No system of collective security has ever proved effective on its own, as Henry Kissinger has pointed out. In the modern world, only the United States has the capacity and the generosity of spirit to lead. We must hope that it has the will to do so. George Kennan said of Britain that it had lost an Empire but not yet found a role. He wasn't right then. But one could alter his words and say of the United States now that it has lost an enemy with the end of the Cold War and has yet to define a new role.

With help from its special friends .....

If it is to do so, it is vital that like-minded countries should be ready to stand alongside the United States in international crises, countries on which America can rely. It is my pride that the United Kingdom has always been ready to do that, and I hope that it will continue. Whatever people say, the special relationship does exist, it does count and it must continue, because the United States needs friends in the lonely task of world leadership. More than any other country, Britain shares America's passionate commitment to democracy and willingness to stand and fight for it. You can cut through all the verbiage and obfuscation. It's really as simple as that.

..... and from Europe

In truth much of the fundamental goodwill in the transatlantic relationship between Europe and the US has been eroded in recent years by Europe's selfishness on trade issues, its institutional obsessions, its growing isolationism and its unwillingness to commit itself against violence and tyranny in Yugoslavia. Unless we can correct that, I would be fearful whether the United States would maintain its commitment to Europe's defence and go on keeping forces in Europe. That would be a tragedy, because fundamentally the US and Europe share interests and beliefs as do no other two parts of the world and the highest priority must be to make active partnership between them work. Britain will always have a vital role in that. If it's called being a Trojan Horse, then I would rather be a Trojan than a Greek any day!

That means keeping the necessary defence .....

This means that both Europe and the US must keep a safe level of defence and inject new life into tried and trusted institutions like NATO. The United States is the world's leading military power and should stay that way. You need the strength and the weapons always to be prepared for the unknown and to provide the backbone for the world's response to threats to peace.

That means keeping sufficient nuclear weapons and making sure that they are up-to-date. I am not one of those who believes that a total ban on nuclear testing is sensible, nor would I criticise China for continuing its nuclear tests under proper safeguards. Weapons need to be tested if we are to be sure of their effectiveness. It worries me that Britain will soon have a nuclear deterrent whose warhead is wholly untested.

..... being ready to use military force

But America is entitled to expect Europe to give support and to have the forces and the will to do so. There is no point in having military forces unless you are prepared to use them and take the risks of casualties. We would never have prevailed in the Falklands unless we had been prepared to take this risk, and indeed we suffered some grievous losses. What infuriates me is to hear arguments about the indispensable need for this or that expensive weapons system and then, when it comes to a conflict where the moral case for intervening despite the risks is unanswerable, as it is in Bosnia, we are not ready to go in: the risks are said to be too high. Military forces exist to be used when peaceful dissuasion has failed. That is what their members are trained for, that is what they expect. Their honour and their willingness to fight for a just cause should not be sacrificed to the tremulous concerns of politicians who fail to provide leadership.

..... and expanding NATO's membership and tasks

We must maintain NATO. We need it to deter the emergence of a new military threat to the East or any attempt to re-establish the Soviet Empire. It is not by any means beyond the bounds of possibility that Russia will turn anti-democratic and imperialist. Of course we should do everything we can to prevent that outcome, by supporting President Yeltsin and treating Russia as a major world power not some sort of gigantic reclamation project.

We should also extend NATO to bring in new members from Eastern Europe. Provided they are democratic, adhere to a rule of law and have no territorial claims — and provided they want to join, which several of them have made clear they do — we should offer them the shelter and stability of NATO. After all they are part of Europe and its history, just as much as Belgium or Italy. That is not a threat to Russia, unless Russia itself has designs upon its neighbours. Indeed it should provide reassurance by guaranteeing stability round Russia's borders. It is in no-one's interest to have a zone of instability between Western Europe and Russia.

Like all institutions, NATO needs to have its tasks updated and that includes particularly its capacity to act out of area. Because that is where the conflict and the threats to security will arise. It's no use having a strategy, a deployment, a force structure and equipment suitable for the North German plain when in reality forces are going to be needed in Somalia or Haiti.

Europe must stop its anti-liberalisation campaign

But there is a much broader dimension to the pivotal relationship between America and Europe than just NATO, important as it is. I don't find it difficult to sympathise with some of the criticisms of Europe which one hears over here. There are a lot of things about it which cause me to steam as well. The most pernicious of all is the attempt to erect a philosophical barrier between the two sides of the Atlantic, to present everything connected with liberalisation of trade, of finance, of every aspect of economic life as American and therefore alien to Europe. It's at its worst in the argument over the GATT where you see some governments — particularly France — trying to make out that the GATT is just a tool of American foreign policy. But it's there in other ways too, such as the growing number of voices calling for re-establishment of capital controls. This is not coming from business, which knows very well that Europe and America have to be together, but from governments in mainland Europe.

..... and get on and complete the GATT negotiations, without France if needs be

First of all there is nothing alien about liberalisation in Europe. After all the European nations were already great traders before the United States even existed, exporting their goods all round the world. Europe's prosperity was built on trade and it is quite contrary to Europe's traditions and history now to try to restrict free trade, whether it is by undermining the GATT or by maintaining trade barriers against the newly democratic nations of Eastern Europe. The traditional multilateral approach to trade through the GATT has served us well and we should stick to it. We simply must bring the GATT talks to a successful conclusion, otherwise we shall see the world divide into a number of mercantilist trade blocs, and that will stifle trade and smother economic growth. The way to deal with increased competition is constantly to increase efficiency and make your economy more competitive, not erect new barriers or talk of managed trade. If necessary, the European Community should simply be ready to go ahead in the GATT without France and reach an agreement. You cannot allow one country to hold up such a crucial negotiation of benefit to the whole world. The French will have to be told that they cannot both hold up the GATT and be regarded as loyal members of the European Community. They will have to choose.

Beyond that I would like to see the United States and an enlarged European Community establish a free trade area between them, although I am afraid hopes of that will inevitably be sent back by the new challenges to the North American Free Trade Area, both from within the United States and from the new Canadian government. I must say how a 'liberal' government can be against a free trade area is something which entirely escapes me.

Otherwise Europe will become side-lined

Unless Europe is able to shake free of the tentacles of protectionism and reaffirm the original values of the European Community embodied in the Treaty of Rome with its commitment to free economies, then it will become increasingly side-lined. Already more people and even governments — who generally lag behind in these matters — acknowledge that monetary union and a single currency are not going to be achieved this century. But I sometimes wonder whether people on this side of the Atlantic understand how absurd the whole concept is. Can you imagine what you would feel like if NAFTA entailed not only free trade but a common currency with Canada and Mexico, a common foreign and defence policy and the abandonment of many of the rights and liberties of the American citizen to unelected bankers, bureaucrats and judges luxuriously ensconced in Acapulco? I am sure you would not relish it at all.

Even more of a problem in the immediate future is the way in which the European economies are burdening themselves with costs and regulations under the Social Charter which make them uncompetitive and destroy jobs. The truth is that real wages in Europe are now far too high and they are going to have to fall with profound social and perhaps political consequences. Indeed Europe is rapidly becoming an accident black spot, with the worst current economic performance in the world. The contrast with Asia could not be stronger. Asia is not saddled with planning, welfare or high taxes. It is doing very well without cohesion funds, social chapters, harmonisation and so on. Instead it is producing a wave of prosperity by following values very reminiscent of the Protestant ethic on which Anglo-Saxon wealth was built, but which we in Europe now seem to be in danger of losing.

But we can still win Europe's future

Yet it should not be beyond our power to correct this and to stop the bureaucratic juggernaut. It is every day clearer that the great majority of people in Europe do not want to become submerged into a stateless institution. They want a Europe in which trade and commerce can flourish freely, in which directives would be replaced by voluntary cooperation, in which Europe's so-called democratic deficit would automatically disappear as national democracies resume their influence. That sort of Europe would be a much stronger partner and companion for the United States than a sour, inward-looking, protectionist Europe which is my fear at the moment.

Gaudeamus Igitur

There is much which I have not had the time to cover, in particular the tremendous changes taking place in the Pacific, with the steady shift of the economic centre of gravity to that part of the world: the challenge ahead in South Africa: the future of Hong Kong after 1997: India's growing commitment to free market policies to bolster its remarkable democracy. All that and more. Because along with the threats and the dangers have come exciting opportunities. If we can get the policies right, then the future is bright indeed. Ronald Reagan, George Bush and I fought alongside each in many battles in the Eighties for freedom and democracy and the defeat of Communism, and the results were not bad, not bad at all. My most passionate wish now is to see that inheritance used to create a world in which our ideals triumph in peace and prosperity.