Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Chelsea Conservative Association (attacking detente)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Chelsea Conservative Headquarters, 1a Chelsea Manor Street, Chelsea
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: The press release (695/75) was embargoed until 1045. Internal evidence suggests that MT made some stylistic changes to the speaking text after the press release had gone out. No changes of any political substance were made. A section of the speaking text has been checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 26 July 1975 (editorial notes in text); the check confirms the supposition that the text as delivered was not identical to the press release.
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 1886
Themes: Civil liberties, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), European Union (general), Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU)

This year, we've seen some dramatic changes in world affairs.

Here in Britain the question of our membership of the European Community has been clearly and dramatically settled.

The policies we have pursued over the past years have been overwhelmingly supported by the British people.

Membership is no longer an issue. [end p1]

The argument is over and we are established as full partners, accepting the comradeship of our fellow Europeans.

Now it is up to us to make our contribution to the new Europe.

But we live in a dangerous world. Freedom has taken a hiding in some parts of the world over the last few months. [end p2]

Close to home in Portugal—there the first faint flickers of democracy are being snuffed out by Communist reaction.

Further East, where the island of Cyprus is torn by communal strife.

Next door Middle Eastern neighbours struggle to achieve a just and lasting settlement. [end p3]

Meanwhile the World's most formidable navy, not America's, not Britain's, but Russia's—relentlessly extends its power from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean.

Only this Spring the Soviet fleets displayed their awesome new potential to strike at the world's shipping lanes in the largest naval manoeuvres ever staged.

Yet this is the moment the Labour Government has chosen to start pulling the Royal Navy out of the Mediterranean.

And to ditch the Simonstown Agreement. [end p4]

In South East Asia the loss of South Vietnam and Cambodia was a major setback for the free world.

We don't know where it will end?

But we do know to stay free we must stay strong and alert.

In purely economic terms a united Western Europe is as powerful as the Soviet Union.

But in military terms we are much weaker. [end p5]

The Soviet Union now spends 20%; more each year than the United States on military research and development. 25%; more on weapons and equipment. 60%; more on strategic nuclear forces.

Then there is the Soviet Navy, now a global force. It has more nuclear submarines than the rest of the world's navies put together.

It has more surface ships than could possibly be needed to protect the Soviet Union's own coast and merchant shipping.

Can anyone truly describe this as a defensive weapon? [end p6]

In the light of these facts, it is clear that the safety of Europe can only be secured within the Western Alliance.

America remains by far the most powerful element in that alliance.

Only two months ago President Ford specially visited Europe to emphasise that America's interest in our security is undiminished.

Perhaps this was the most important declaration of recent months. [end p7]

He renewed American pledges that United States troops would not be reduced in Europe except in response to real concessions by the Warsaw Pact.

Nothing could be more important and nothing will curb Russian opportunism more surely than the knowledge that America stands at Europe's side.

Together we can preserve freedom for us all. [end p8]

But during the past few months freedom has come under heavy attack.

Those who protested against American involvement in Vietnam and Cambodia have since overlooked and even managed to ignore the open savagery of the khmer Rouge.

Where are the protest marchers now?

These events are tragic for the peoples of Vietnam and Cambodia. [end p9]

There was a feeling here in Europe as in Asia that the parties and people of the United States might be falling into a mood of isolationism.

Many feared a withdrawal of the most powerful democracy from the centre stage of world affairs.

Fortunately this has not happened but the less willing and able we Europeans become to carry our share of the common burden, the less willing the Americans will be to man the defences with us. [end p10]

An isolationist Britain would encourage an isolationist America.

The Conservative Party rejects any such course.

We took Britain into Europe—Conservatives more than anyone else kept Britain in Europe during the Referendum.

In joining as full partners in the European Community we did not, and we shall not, turn our back on the Atlantic world. [end p11]

It was one of the greatest Conservative leaders—Winston Churchill—who cemented our alliance with America.

It is just as much our duty to help keep America in Europe as it is to help Europe maintain its close links with America.

The Atlantic Alliance is the formal expression of the common interest of the nations of Free Europe and North America. [end p12]

NATO, a part of it, was formed and is maintained to counter any threat of Soviet expansion.

Of course, we want a world in which our relations with the Soviet Union are based upon peace and trust—as they ought to be with every country.

But if we have not yet got that world—and plainly we have not—then merely saying so, merely pretending that we have, is as foolish as it is dangerous. [end p13]

This is the background to the Summit Conference on European Security and Co-operation which meets at Helsinki next week.

Detente sounds a fine word. And, to the extent that there really has been a relaxation in international tension, it is a fine thing.

But the fact remains that throughout this decade of detente, the armed forces of the Soviet Union have increased, are increasing, and show no signs of diminishing. [end p14]

Mr Brezhnev, in a speech in June 1972, made a statement on detente which is quoted in virtually every Soviet speech or article on the subject.

He said that peaceful co-existence “in no way implies the possibility of relaxing the ideological struggle. On the contrary we must be prepared for this struggle to be intensified and become an even sharper form of confrontation between the systems” . [end p15]

Within the last month the two Soviet leaders specially concerned with Communism in the West, Messrs Suslov and Ponomarev, have reasserted the same point, if anything even more strongly.

There can be little doubt that if a leading Western statesman made an equivalent statement he would be bitterly condemned by the Soviets as an enemy of detente in Europe.

On our side we long for a real detente. [end p16]

We demand only that it is a reality.

A reality which Russia supports in actions as well as words.

In this country we allow full and free expression for the point of view of the Soviet Union and its supporters here. [end p17]

But they have ruthlessly trampled on the ideals of the West in every country where it is in their power to do so.

In 1968, Czechoslovakia showed that the Soviets are prepared not only to destroy liberty, but also to crush systematically any brand of Communism which differs from their own.

They are arrayed against every principle for which we stand. [end p18]

So when the Soviet leaders jail a writer, or a priest, or a doctor or a worker, for the crime of speaking freely, it is not only for humanitarian reasons that we should be concerned.

For these acts reveal a regime that is afraid of truth and liberty; it dare not allow its people to enjoy the freedoms we take for granted, and a nation that denies those freedoms to its own people will have few scruples in denying them to others. [end p19]

If detente is to progress then it ought to mean that the Soviet authorities relax their ruthless opposition to all forms and expressions of dissent.

And as we talk of these things we naturally think of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and the other writers, thinkers and scientists who have fearlessly expressed their belief in freedom.

They are not politicians or diplomats. [end p20]

But they have gained a deep understanding of the real attitudes and intentions of the Soviet ruling clique.

And that understanding has taught them that the only way to obtain real concessions is by standing firm. [end p21]

Indeed the whole history of negotiation with the Soviet Union teaches us that if you do something they want without insisting on something in return, the Soviets do not regard it as a kindness to be reciprocated, but as a weakness to be exploited.

There is a lot of fashionable nonsense talked about how we misunderstand Communism, misrepresent Communism, see Communists under every bed. [end p22]

An attempt is being made, it seems, to create an atmosphere where truth and commonsense on these matters is actively discouraged.

I believe the people of this country understand better the truth of the matter than those who try to mislead them. Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 27 July 1975

We must work for a real relaxation of tension, but in our negotiations with the Eastern bloc we must not accept words or gestures as a substitute for genuine detente. (Hear, hear. Applause.) [end p23]

No flood of words emanating from a summit conference will mean anything unless it is accompanied by some positive action by which the Soviet leaders show that their ingrained attitudes are really beginning to change.

That is why we so strongly support all those European and American spokesmen, who have insisted that no serious advance towards a stable peace can be made unless some progress is seen in the free movement of people and of ideas. (Applause.) End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 26 July 1975. [end p24]

We in Europe have always been specially concerned that an accord with the Soviets should involve some progress in this direction. [end p25]

We would like them to read our books and newspapers just as we can read theirs. We would like them to visit our countries just as we can go to theirs.

We will be alert not to miss the moment when the Soviets turn to genuine detente. [end p26]

But until that is achieved we must quietly determine to maintain Western military strength at a level adequate to deter any aggression.

At this very moment we are all watching with apprehension the events in Portugal where a Communist clique is trying to manoeuvre its way to power. Indeed recent Press reports suggest that the Portugese Communist Party which seems to regard 12 per cent of the popular vote as an entitlement to absolute power is being subsidised by the Soviet Union. [end p27]

We must hope and work for the triumph of those moderate elements which yet survive in Portuguese politics.

A democracy in which only left wing parties are allowed is not a democracy at all.

How then should we approach the urgent need to relax tension in the world? [end p28]

We must be firm in our desire for real detente—provided it is real.

We must work hard for disarmament provided it is genuine and balanced.

But let us accept no proposals which would tip the balance of power still further against the West.

The power of NATO is already as its lowest safe limit. [end p29]

And it is worth drawing the attention of some of our more gullible disarmers to the fact that if we reduce our conventional forces further, then should hostilities break out, there would be no effective middle course between surrender or the early use of nuclear weapons.

We should of course be prepared to give and take but not to give something for nothing.

We want neither confrontation nor unilateral concessions. [end p30]

Serious and solid negotiation is the only way to real detente and lasting peace.

In this dangerous world we must never allow the momentum of reconciliation to slacken. [end p31]

Let us recognise that we in the West have a common interest and a common purpose.

The pursuit and preservation of liberty.

That is the basis of our unity and determination.

Without that unity we should be weak; with it we can be strong. Strong to preserve a peace that will endure.