Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech accepting Donovan Award ("The Defence of Freedom")

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Waldorf Hotel, New York
Source: Thatcher Archive: ?press release
Editorial comments: Between 1930 and 2215 local time. MT was addressing veterans of the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the CIA.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2419
Themes: Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU)


Mr. Chairman, this evening what has already been for me a memorable visit draws to a memorable conclusion. I have spent the last three days in the “land of the free” —you will understand if I, as the Prime Minister of Britain, amend that phrase to read “one of the lands of the free” . Tonight, under your flag, I know that I am also in the “home of the brave” . It is deeply reassuring to look round this great room to recall the service which you, the veterans of the OSS, have given; and to be reminded of the talents and qualities on which the United States can call in time of need.

The OSS in the Second World War constituted an arsenal of this nation's intelligence, in every sense of the word. What other enterprise could have counted on the services of David Bruce, Archibald Macleish, Arthur Goldberg, Carleton Coon, William Langer, Arthur Schlesinger and so many more? [end p1] What other than General Donovan's university of courage? Yours is indeed a fortunate country.

The Donovan Award

I am, of course, greatly honoured that you should have chosen me to receive the Donovan Medal. The honour lies partly in receiving a medal commemorating General Donovan, a man whose courage and love of freedom are legendary; and partly in being added to a roll which already includes such names as Eisenhower and Mountbatten. They were men who, like “Wild Bill” Donovan himself, gave their countries and the cause of liberty leadership when the hour was darkest. Resourceful, resolute and clear-headed, they offered hope when despair might have prevailed. [end p2]

The New Administration

These are also days when there is a need for leadership and clarity of purpose. It is therefore a particular pleasure to receive the Donovan Medal only a few weeks after President Reagan 's Inauguration. The election of a man committed to the cause of freedom and the renewal of America's strength has given encouragement to all who love liberty. So also has his devotion to the virtues of plain speaking and less government—virtues in the defence of which I have myself earned some battle scars.

Let me welcome, too, Mr. Chairman, the appointment as Secretary of State of General Alexander Haig. As Supreme Allied Commander in Europe Al Haig gained the respect and admiration of the entire Alliance. I have the impression that last month the Senate Foreign Relations Committee learned why. [end p3]

Finally, what could be more heartening for us in Britain than to have as the new Director of the CIA a man who ran the Secret Intelligence Section of the OSS in London during the last war and who introduced me so so generously a few moments ago? Bill Casey 's latest appointment crowns a splendid career and offers a fresh tough challenge. We know he is equal to it. We are much looking forward to working with him.


Mr. Chairman, there can only be one theme for the recipient of the Donovan Award. That is why I intend this evening to speak about the defence of freedom.

Freedom based on respect for the individual, is an idea whose strength and beauty has remained undimmed down the ages. Other ideas and other words have been twisted and usurped. [end p4] But freedom resists such treatment. It is the great gift of Western culture to mankind. It remains the driving force of the Western democracies today. It is the source of their strength, of their diversity and of their prosperity.

Freedom is the most contagious of ideas and the one most destructive of tyranny. That is why tyrants of every kind have fought—still fight—so hard to destroy it. They will always fail because where freedom is the heritage of centuries, as in your country and mine, it is tenaciously defended: and because where it is newly established, it inspires confidence and hope. Nowhere and never has it been consciously surrendered: we have just seen that confirmed, happily, in Spain where a constitutional monarch has played such a remarkable role. [end p5]

The Threat to Freedom

But freedom, like much else that is worth while, is today under threat. National ambitions and rivalries multiply. Too often leadership falls to the despotic or the merely unbalanced. There is poverty and hunger. There are wars and refugees. There is a pervasive and destructive atmosphere of uncertainty. It casts a shadow, the effects of which none of us, in a shrinking world, can altogether escape. [end p6]

Soviet Ambitions

This time of troubles is a time of opportunity for some. An audience such as this does not need me to describe the threats to freedom: you have spent your lives fighting them—and defeating them. Extremism and fanaticism; the pursuit of power for its own sake; the aggressiveness that is sometimes the mask for a deep sense of insecurity—all these are as old as human society itself. But my generation is having also to deal with a phenomenon of a different kind. We face a group of states whose leaders believe, or profess to believe, that history has predetermined them and us to a relationship of struggle, and preordained that they and not we should be the winners.

This new creed of struggle is backed by the old tools of pressure. The Soviet Union itself spends on military purposes about one sixth of the national wealth it produces. To take some recent figures at random, last year the Soviet Union manufactured 1600 combat aircraft, 3000 tanks and some 1500 missiles of intercontinental of intermediate range. [end p7] Some of this equipment has been sent abroad to swell the Soviet foreign trade—or foreign aid—statistics: but most of it will simply join the already gigantic Soviet arsenals on land, at sea and in the air.

Does this mean that the Government of the Soviet Union, a founder member of the United Nations and a permanent member of the Security Council, is contemplating direct aggression against the West? I do not suggest that, and I do not believe that. I see three other motives:-

Firstly, they seek reassurance for their own fears. Like many whose consciences are uneasy they find it hard to imagine that others do not conspire as they do;

Secondly, they hope that knowledge of their sheer might will be enough to split Europe and Japan from the United States. They calculate that a collapse of will in Western Europe would leave them free to determine its fate, and perhaps that of the world, without resort to war; [end p8]

Thirdly, they want to gain influence outside Europe with the aim of out-flanking the West through the South.

The expansion of Soviet military power has therefore been accompanied by repeated attempts to increase Soviet influence in the Third World, by subversion and by active intervention—directly or through proxies. In Angola, in Somalia, in Ethiopia the Soviet Union or Cuba have intervened by force in African conflicts thousands of miles from their borders. In South East Asia Soviet weapons, training and money have enabled Vietnam to impose its will on both Laos and Cambodia. Fourteen months ago the Soviet Union marched into Afghanistan to rescue a regime tottering under the weight of its own unpopularity. One in ten of the Afghan population have since fled the country. Today that new Anschluss is maintained only by the guns of eighty thousand Soviet troops. [end p9]

In the Caribbean, Cuba is continually trying to export a Marxist system which in that unhappy island itself has had the most catastrophic consequences. The latest target for her activities is El Salvador. I fully agree with President Reagan that Cuban interference in, and arms supplies to that country are totally unacceptable.

The Western Case

This then is the present danger: an unstable world harbouring a super power with a destructive ideology and an expansionist record. But let us not exaggerate the danger: to measure it dispassionately is the first step to meeting it. The Soviet Union has suffered setbacks over the years. For all her efforts, she has made no advances in Europe since 1945. Recent events in Poland have demonstrated the failure of the Soviet system to take root in Eastern Europe. [end p10] The Soviet Union was thrown out of Egypt and has been unable to re-establish herself in any other major Middle Eastern state. Her relations with China are deeply hostile. Here in New York at the United Nations, 111 nations have condemned her invasion of Afghanistan, and have called for her complete withdrawal. [end p11]

As that vote suggested the Soviet Union may have a handful of clients but it has few friends or admirers. Which is not surprising—for what is there in the Soviet system to admire? Material prosperity? It does not produce it. Spiritual satisfaction? It denies it. After an uninterrupted monopoly of absolute power lasting 63 years the controlled society has failed. The economy is run on strange principles: from each according to his instructions, to each according to his party status. The rules of the political system are equally simple: for the few privilege; for the many the part of a studio audience clapping for the cameras. [end p12]

What is to be done?

Recognising this let us set about the defence of our liberties with confidence. Of course we face economic, social and political problems at home and abroad. But who on our side would exchange our problems for theirs? History is not moving, inevitably or otherwise, in favour of Marxism/Leninism. Its disciples know that their ideas run counter to the deepest and strongest instincts of men. They are destined, sooner or later, to fail.

What then needs to be done by us?

First, we must find the resolve to avert the dangers presented by Soviet ambitions and Soviet military power. Firmness and determination must be the order of the day. Lord Castlereagh said of Russia that acquiescence will not keep it back nor opposition accelerate its march. I agree. [end p13]

Secondly, the free nations of the world must work together as never before. This does not mean we must agree on everything. The viewpoints of the European countries neighbouring the Warsaw Pact, and of others historically linked to Eastern Europe, may differ somewhat from those of us who live a little further back. But such variations reflect the liberty which we seek to defend. They do not undermine the case for co-operation. They merely underscore the need to concert our policies. The interests we have in common by far transcend any differences between us. [end p14]


The translation of our common purpose into practical policies demands a clear understanding of our objectives and how they are to be achieved. The Soviet Union has in practice interpreted detente as the pursuit of struggle by all means short of war. Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 0700 1 March 1981:

We've got to bring it home to the Soviet leaders that we are ready to live alongside them but we are not ready to be the passive target of their activities. The supreme task of modern statesmanship is the prevention of war. Therefore we do seek detente. But it must be genuine, two-way, detente based on the recognition of the longing of all peoples for stability, for independence, and for freedom. End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 0700 1 March 1981. [end p15]

Dealing with the Soviet Government

Meanwhile we must continue to deal with the Soviet Government. Let us do so with realism and with consistency. I have looked for example at the speech which President Brezhnev made on Tuesday. There are many things in it which all of us here would utterly reject. But there are also things which need to be explained and explored and turned, if possible, to the benefit of the world.

In particular there are signs of a readiness on the part of the Soviet Union to negotiate. Like President Reagan earlier this week, I welcome that. In this perilous world, negotiation between governments must continue, particularly in the field of arms control—or better still of arms reduction. We need to establish a military balance between East and West and to ensure that that balance holds. [end p16]


The necessary condition of such negotiations, as for every aspect of East/West relations, is that we ourselves should be strong. Our first duty to freedom must be to preserve our own. President Reagan 's Administration has recognised the need to prevent the Soviet Union from out-distancing us militarily. It is recognised too in Europe. The security of Europe is indivisible from that of North America. Both are pillars of an Alliance which is one of the enduring achievements of modern history. Under a resurgent American leadership that Alliance will be revitalised and strengthened. [end p17]

The interests of the Allies do not stop at the boundaries of the Alliance. There is an urgent need for a new defence policy beyond the North Atlantic. We must prevent Soviet encroachment in regions vital to the interests of the members of the Alliance and to the economies of the world. This is true of parts of Africa, it is true of the Gulf. I welcome therefore the new President's determination to tackle this problem without delay. As a loyal ally, Britain will help to the very maximum of her ability. [end p18]

The Developing World

For the Third World too there are choices to be made. The West and the Soviet Union offer the example of their systems—the free or the unfree. We in the West do not demand alignment or displays of fidelity. Our ambition is that the countries of the Third World should be at liberty to solve their own problems in their own way. We are confident that left to themselves most will choose to live in freedom in a free society. We are happy that we and they should exchange resources, human and material, where the exchange benefits us both. If, having assessed the dangers, the nations of the Third World take steps to defend themselves, alone or in regional groups, we in the West are ready to respond. [end p19]


Mr. Chairman, we have long known that the 1980s will be a difficult and dangerous decade. There will be crises and hardships. But I believe the tide is beginning to turn in our favour. The developing world is recognising the realities of Soviet ambitions and of Soviet life. There is new determination in the Western Alliance. There is new leadership in America, which gives confidence and hope to all in the free world.

I pledge my country to work with the United States in a new and greater effort to promote stability, to prevent aggression and to oppose tyranny. I call on free peoples everywhere to join with us. Our way, the way of freedom, will prevail. It will prevail because we are determined that it shall.