Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Rally

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Dorking, Surrey
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: The press release (767/76) was embargoed until 1045. As she usually did at this time, MT made stylistic changes to the speaking text after the press release had been circulated. The printed text of this speech in The Revival of Britain (pp29-39) is drawn from the press release. A section of the speech has been checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 31 July 1976.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3473
Themes: Civil liberties, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Trade, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Labour Party & socialism, Media, Famous statements by MT (discussions of)

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the Helsinki Declaration, the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Signed by thirty-five countries from the East and the West, this Declaration was the product of two years work by some 600 officials who produced, on behalf of their governments, a text of some 30,000 words. [end p1]

The text I take today is very much shorter than that. My text comes from a remarkable interview that reached out of the television screens to grip millions of hearts and minds more compellingly than any other I can remember: Alexander Solzhenitsyn 's “Warning to the Western World” .

It was a testament of experience, courage, conviction and challenge.

It had an intensity, a burning intensity that few of us will ever forget. [end p2]

And his warning to the West?

Let me repeat some of his words.

“I am not a critic of the West …   . for nearly all our lives, we worshipped it …   .”

“I am a critic of the weakness of the West” . [end p3]

“I am a critic of a fact which we can't comprehend … how can one lose one's spiritual strength, one's willpower, and possessing freedom not value it,—not be willing to make sacrifices for it …   .”

Solzhenitsyn's questions are the ones we ought to ask ourselves every waking hour.

They go to the heart of any analysis of the balance between Russia and the West, one year after the Helsinki Declaration. [end p4]

Are we in the West losing our spiritual strength?

How strong is our willpower, in the face of Soviet might?

Do we value our freedom?

Are we, truly, willing to make sacrifices for it?

One of the first requirements of spiritual strength is clarity of thought. [end p5]

That is why, in trying to assess our relations with the Soviet Union, we need to clear our minds of all delusions.

Delusions can be comforting.

But in international affairs, they are dangerous.

We shan't reach a genuine peace on the basis of misunderstandings about what our adversaries are really like. [end p6]

Let us therefore have done with the delusion, much cultivated since Helsinki, that the Soviet system differs from our's only in style and degree; that its leaders, though Marxist in outlook, are basically much the same as the rest of us.

They're not.

Solzhenitsyn's most eloquent warning was that there is a quite fundamental separation between our ideas and ideals and those of the Soviet Union.

Again, I quote his words:— [end p7]

“The most important aspect of detente today is that there is no ideological detente.

“You Western people, you simply can't grasp the power of Soviet propaganda; today you still remain ‘British imperialists’ who wish to strangle the whole earth …

“You are shown up as villains who can be tolerated, well, maybe for one more day” . [end p8]

That part of Solzhenitsyn's message was strangely similar to one given many years ago—1946 to be precise, by Arthur Koestler, printed, in the Tribune' of all placed.

Koestler said:

“The Soviet Government has achieved, for the first time in history, a complete State monopoly not only over the production and distribution of goods, but also over the distribution of ideas, opinions and customs.”

Koestler went on to say that world peace could only become a reality if suspicion is abolished, [end p9] and that suspicion could only be abolished if the Soviet Government could be induced to turn off the masterswitch of their propaganda factory.

Here then is another delusion that we in the West must be rid of. It does not help to pretend that all the world's problems can be solved if only both sides will look at them from the other person's point of view. [end p10]

The trouble about that approach is our Western tendency to assume that other people will apply our standards and values from their vantage point.

When considering international matters, the important thing is not to look at other nations as if we were standing in their shoes, but as if they were standing in their shoes.

We need to make the effort, the intellectual and imaginative effort, to penetrate what Winston Churchill, describing the Soviet Union, called “the riddle wrapped in mystery inside an enigma.” [end p11]

It's no good pretending that the Soviet leaders mean the same things as we do when they use the same words.

They are the products of an entirely different history, and of profoundly different ideas. [end p12]

Their lives have followed a course quite alien to anything we have experienced.

So if we want real detente, as all reasonable people do, we must have a clear grasp of the problem.

The Soviet regime makes no secret of the fact that it is in principle hostile to everything we stand for. That is a fact we must face. [end p13]

Indeed the question of how to change that hostility becomes one of the central problems of foreign affairs.

The most striking measure of Soviet hostility is the war footing on which the Soviet economy is run.

Solzhenitsyn identified this, and it will not be outside this audience's recollection that one or two politicians here have sounded a similar warning. At the time, some of those who preferred comfortable delusion to uncomfortable reality derided those warnings as alarmist. [end p14]

Since then we and they have learned more.

Indeed our own Ministry of Defence has issued to the Atlantic Council a pretty sombre memorandum on the vulnerability of Western defences.

The Warsaw Pact countries have 40%; more front-line troops than NATO. Their tanks, field guns and aircraft outnumber NATO by 5–2. In the Eastern Atlantic, where our sea-lanes converge, NATO is outnumbered 2–1 in surface ships and 3–2 in submarines and aircraft. [end p15]

And whereas we had thought that Russia spends 7%; of her GNP on arms, the Ministery of Defence now acknowledges that the true figure is nearer 11–12%;.

By comparison, the United States figure is 6.7%;, and the NATO average, 4½%;.

It was against this background that on August 1st last year, the UK, the USA, Canada, our European friends and allies with the Soviet Union and its allies, and the neutral states, signed the Helsinki Declaration. [end p16]

In the words of the Final Act, the participating countries declared themselves to be “Motivated by the political will … to improve and intensify their relations and to contribute in Europe to peace, security, justice and co-operation” .

All responsible men are bound to applaud those objectives. [end p17]

Nor can any right-thinking person quarrel with the words in which they are expressed.

If only those words became deeds, a whole new era of peace in Europe would begin.

It is still too soon to judge whether this will happen eventually or not. But twelve months is long enough to make a first assessment. [end p18]

The question we are trying to answer is whether the Soviet Union genuinely wants to relax tension, or whether they are using detente to call the West into a false sense of security, so that we lower our guard and become an easier prey to Soviet expansion or blackmail.

And the test we use to answer this question is how far the Soviet leaders have carried out the letter and the spirit of the Helsinki Accords.

Because if they have carried them out, it would seem they were genuine. If not—well, we would need to make a fresh assessment of the position. [end p19]

So let us look at what has happened.

The first part of the Declaration deals with security in Europe: each State undertook to “refrain from any intervention, direct or indirect … in the internal or external affairs falling within the … jurisdiction of another … State” .

The signatures were hardly dry on the Declaration before the Soviet Union was flagrantly interferring in the internal affairs of Portugal—one of the participating States in the Helsinki Conference. [end p20]

Even more serious was the extension of Soviet activity into Angola including the provision of weapons and advisers.

True, the Russians may claim that they themselves have no actual troops operating in Southern Africa—but what were the Cubans doing?

Would they, could they have invaded Angola except at the instigation of the Russians and with their support? [end p21]

Angola itself was not a participating State in the Helsinki Conference, and therefore strictly speaking was not covered by the Declaration, but the presence of 15,000 regular Cuban troops and the projection of Soviet military power into southern Africa can scarcely be held to be consistent with—what was the phrase?—refraining from “any intervention, direct or indirect” in other people's internal affairs. [end p22]

In another section of the Declaration dealing with co-operation in humanitarian and other fields, the Helsinki signatories agreed “to facilitate the improvement of the dissemination … of newspapers and printed publications, periodical and non-periodical, from the other participating States.” [end p23]

Once again, an admirable sentiment.

Yet still there is no free circulation of Western newspapers or periodicals in the Soviet Union.

If the Russians want news of the West, the only English newspaper they can get it from is that monument to political objectivity—The Morning Star. [end p24]

Similarly at Helsinki there were binding undertakings about human rights and personal freedom.

The Final Act stated flatly that:

“The participating states recognise the universal significance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for which is an essential factor for the peace, justice and well-being necessary to ensure the development of friendly relations and co-operation among themselves as among all States” . [end p25]

To these propositions Mr. Brezhnev “solemnly” —such was the word employed—bound his country.

Well, there's one thing—some of the Olympic athletes seem to know more about the Declaration than their leaders.

But what have the Soviet leaders actually done?

We are not alone in finding it difficult to discern, let alone to monitor, progress.

Nine brave people in the Soviet Union, led by Dr. Yury Orlov, a nuclear physicist, banded themselves together to check how far their Government was honouring the Helsinki Accords. [end p26]

The KGB questioned Dr. Orlov and the group was promptly. advised to desist from what the Soviets called “unconstitutional” activity, on pain of being arrested.

How's that for respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms?

Despite the clear endorsement at Helsinki of freedom of thought and freedom of religion, the persecution of intellectual dissidents, and of religious minorities—Jews and Baptists in particular—continues. [end p27]

It appears to be no easier for people to leave the Soviet Union either permanently or temporarily than it was a year ago.

Many people are even refused permission to be reunited with their families, outside the Soviet Union.

So much for that part of the Declaration which says:

“The participating States will deal in a positive and humanitarian spirit with the applications of persons who wish to be reunited with members of their family.” [end p28]

Mrs. Sakharov, the wife of the Andrei Sakharovscientist who won the Nobel Peace Prize, said a few weeks ago: “Our life is proceeding in such a way that you can't even call it life in the human sense of the word” .

In spite of Helsinki the Soviet Union remains a closed and repressive society.

The significance of this for the West can hardly be overestimated. [end p29]

It means that the men in the Kremlin can, and do, suppress not only unwelcome ideas, but unwelcome facts too.

To them, “freedom of information” consists of their absolute right to tell their subjects what they should believe and what they should hear. [end p30]

There is no free press, no free Parliament, no free courts of law, no free trade unions to insist on respect or even regard for the wishes of the Russian people.

Consequently there is virtually no restraint by an informed public opinion on the actions of the Soviet regime. Remember the warning: “no ideological detente” —the power of the Soviet propaganda machine. We'd do well to heed it. One of the most important undertaking of the Helsinki Declaration was that relating to disarmament. [end p31]

In this the participating States recognised “the interest of all of them in efforts aimed at lessening military confrontation and promoting disarmament” .

Yet far from promoting disarmament and lessening confrontation, the year which has passed has seen the progressive growth of Soviet armed strength which confronts both Western Europe and China. [end p32]

Only yesterday we learnt from the United States that Russia has started to equip her 600 nuclear missiles aimed at Western Europe with multiple warheads (MIRVs). [end p33]

On the oceans of the world we have seen the continued expansion of the Soviet Fleet.

We have seen the first Soviet aircraft carrier, the Kiev, complete her trials in the Black Sea, and pass through the Turkish Straits to the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile two or maybe more sister ships have been laid down. [end p34]

We have learned that the Soviet Union has continued to build up a highly sophisticated civil defence system in its major cities.

She now locates her new industrial plant away from urban areas.

All of this is of great significance, in the interpretation of her nuclear strategy. [end p35]

The question we have to ask ourselves is whether the Soviet Union has concluded that if she implements her full civil defence programme she has the capacity to fight a nuclear war and still survive.

So we have looked at the undertakings and we have tried to see what has been done about them.

The only honest assessment that can be made of the results from the past twelve months since Helsinki is that they have been a profound disappointment.

Whatever we may have hoped, it would seem that the realities of Soviet foreign and military policy have not changed. [end p36]

There is still repression at home.

There is still a powerful thrust to expansion abroad. Let us hope that things will have improved by the time of the review conference in Belgrade next year.

It is one thing to make an assessment of the Helsinki agreement, to conclude that objectives of Soviet foreign policy haven't changed and to identify the dangers to our freedom.

But the important question is—what can we do about it? [end p37]

Of course we must go on striving for a confident and true peace with the Soviet Union.

It is the greatest need and greatest prize of our time.

But wishing won't make it so, and being under any delusions won't help.

There are, however, a number of things that we can do—in politics the cards are never stacked all on one side. [end p38]

I see some encouraging signs of a clearer vision and firmer resolve on the part of the Western Alliance.

Certainly in the last year there has been a new awareness of the military threat posed by the Soviets and a new determination to meet it.

The Americans, without whom the West could have no effective defence, are stepping up their defence expenditure. [end p39]

France is reported to be increasing her defence budget substantially over the next six years.

West Germany too is putting up her defence spending.

But what of Britain?

What is the strategic judgment of the British Labour Government, and what are they doing about it? [end p40]

The Secretary of State for Roy MasonSecretary of State for Defence has admitted that Soviet military expenditure has been growing at the rate of 4%; a year in real terms.

He has acknowledged that the Soviet Union is devoting a much higher share of its resources to defence than any NATO country and that the Soviet Union's military spending is greater than their spending on health and education combined. [end p41]

“The real danger” he told the National Defence College “is that if the military power of the Warsaw Pact was allowed to become overwhelmingly greater than ours in the West, the mere threat of military force might be enough to persuade us to bend our policies in directions desired by the Pact.”

So much for the Government's assessment. [end p42]

But are Mr. Mason and the Labour Government following the example of our friends and allies, and strengthening the British contribution to our own and the West's defences?

Not a bit of it.

They are doing the opposite.

They have cut, cut and cut again.

Already they have cut our defence spending three times in two years. [end p43]

Only last month Mr. Mason was saying: “The question most people are asking themselves is ‘Have we cut too much?’ rather than ‘When are we going to cut some more?’” And he was right to pose the question, because on his own figures he had already cut or planned to cut defence spending by the massive total of £7,400 million.

But he was forgetting his own left wing.

For them even those cuts aren't enough.

So now a further cut of £100 million is to fall on defence expenditure.

But the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party are calling for an additional cut of £1,000 million, which as Mr. Mason has admitted would result “at best in a policy of neutrality” (and at worst it would be surrender). [end p44]

The Conservatives will fight these latest cuts in every way we can.

If necessary we will strengthen our defences when we return to power, because we believe that the first and overriding responsibility of any Government is the security of its own people.

And we regard it as a grave reflection on Britain that we should be cutting our contribution to the Western alliance just when our partners are strengthening theirs. [end p45]

But defence is not the whole of our relationship with the Soviet Union.

We trade with her and on subsidised terms too.

The remarkable thing about the Soviet economy is that after sixty years of Marxist planning it still has to rely significantly on the West for advanced technology, and even for food. [end p46]

In Britain, we have provided large-scale credit facilities to help the Soviets to buy our goods. on terms far more favourable than those at which we could borrow.

The provision of advanced technology and facilities such as these have enabled the Soviets to divert resources from their civil industries to build up their already massive military establishment. [end p47]

Now trade brings great advantages—and Britain lives by trade. [end p48] Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 31 July 1976

If the Kremlin continues to pour such huge resources into armaments directed against the West; if she refuses to act in accordance with the Helsinki agreement, then shouldn't we in the West consider carefully how we can ensure that our commercial relations with the Soviet Union don't damage our own long-term security interests?

Certainly we must see that they do not directly contribute to the capacity of the Soviet Union to sustain a policy of imperialist expansion. [end p49]

Perhaps once again I shall be called the Iron Lady for daring to voice these things. End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 31 July 1976.

Iron? I know not.

But I do know that the one thing that has meant more than anything else in my life, is that my children and their generation have not had to risk everything in war as their fathers did before them. [end p50]

And why?

Because so far we have learned the lesson of weakness and resolved that it must not happen again.

Because we have based our actions not just on hope, but on looking at the facts; on judging other nations not by what they said, but by what they did, and making our decisions accordingly.

We must not fail now. [end p51]

I believe it is only when the Soviet leaders see that the West is militarily prepared, that they will begin to realise that their own massive investment in armaments is leading nowhere.

And then, and only then, will we have a real prospect of mutually agreed disarmament as part of a general movement towards peace and stability in the world. [end p52]

To keep up our defence is vital.

To practise the skills of commerce with foresight and perception is essential.

But these alone are not enough.

In all our dealings, we must demonstrate that we have the will and determination sufficient to guarantee that our way of life will survive; that we shall overcome whatever assault may be made upon it. [end p53]

So much depends on our confidence in ourselves; on our knowledge that liberty and prosperity alike are to be found in our system as in no other; on the steadfastness of our belief in the great traditional values of Western society.

Those who have lived for a time without freedom know its true worth even better than we do. [end p54]

It is part of our birthright …   .

“Dear-bought and clear, a thousand year,
Our fathers' title runs.
Make we likewise their sacrifice,
Defrauding not our sons.”
Press release version ends at this point [end p55]

If that is a romantic vision, then I share it.

I ask you, and all those who long for a new direction and a sense of purpose to share it with me.

Let us re-awaken this country that we love so much.

Let us work without ceasing for what we believe in. [end p56]

Let us appeal for—and let us deserve—the effort, the energy and the commitment of all our people.

And then, together, let us make our vision of a roused, a renewed, and a morally great Britain a reality.