Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to International Democrat Union Conference in Tokyo

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Hotel New Otani, Tokyo
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: Morning?
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3189
Themes: Conservatism, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Economic policy - theory and process, Environment, Trade, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Religion & morality, Terrorism


First, can I thank the Japanese Tashiki KaifuPrime Minister for his most excellent opening speech. It is a great privilege to have him as a participant in our meeting.

May I also thank the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party for their hospitality and the marvellous arrangements made for us all. [end p1]

And I congratulate those who have submitted papers for their stimulating contributions. They show that it is the conservative and centre-right parties, the members of the IDU, who have by far the most to contribute in terms of original ideas and policies to the political debate. [end p2]

Some people try to label our beliefs as individualism as though that is all that we stand for.

They are wrong.

It is indeed personal liberty, the right of everyone, which brings enterprise and prosperity by producing the goods and services which people choose to buy.

Capitalism and conservatism can only succeed by pleasing the majority of the people. [end p3]

Others criticise the prosperity our political philosophy brings as somehow wrong. There is nothing wrong in abundance or prosperity: it is what we do with it that counts.

And there the record is outstanding. It has brought not only a higher standard of living to those in work, but higher standards of help and care to those in need, by producing the extra resources. [end p4]

Mr. Chairman, I think we are thoroughly justified in feeling quiet satisfaction with the way political events are moving.

The world economy is doing well, and the reason it is doing well is that our conservative policies—those of maximum freedom for enterprise and initiative within a framework of law, and ever widening ownership—are being followed more and more widely and are demonstrating their success in terms of growth, higher living standards and a better life. [end p5]

Even our opponents are getting the message that our policies work, whilst socialism with its aim of extending the central power of government, and thus limiting the initiative and responsibility of the individual, does not.

As a result, they are trying to give the impression that they would achieve the same results and even implement the same policies without giving up their socialism. [end p6] They want to cover up their real intentions. You cannot apply the policies of freedom and of a free enterprise society unless you genuinely believe in them. What they really want is to have the benefits of our policies while continuing to pursue their own aim of a socialist society. [end p7] That simply will not work.

We can also be well satisfied with international developments.

Democracy is on the move and our vision of liberal democracy based on the rule of law is gaining ground the world over, while communism and socialism are in retreat. They are seen to have little to offer [end p8] which is relevant to today's problems, either in the advanced societies or in developing countries.

Yet despite the good news, this is no time for complacency. When things go right, there is always a tendency for democratic societies to slip back into old ways, to think that having done so well, you can now afford to [end p9] relax and take the easy way out of any problem. We shall need to fight for our beliefs just as tenaciously in the future as in the past. Our opponents will make promises and pledges that people can have everything, without the necessary hard work and financial discipline. We know there is no such thing as effortless prosperity. The great strength of the conservative parties is our reputation for doing what we know is right and what we [end p10] believe in, rather than what wins easy but temporary popularity. We have to remind people constantly that everything we have achieved could be put at risk unless we stick to the policies which have brought us success so far.

That applies in international affairs as well.

Many of you will be familiar with a stimulating article by Francis Fukuyama [end p11] (now in the American State Department). His thesis is that history consists of struggle between competing ideologies, and that liberal democracy has now finally vanquished communism and holds the field unchallenged. The way ahead is thus relatively straightforward, indeed in his word ‘boring’. He poses the question whether we have not reached the “end of history” . [end p12] I am reminded of what H. L. Mencken once said: “For every complicated, complex question, there is an answer that is simple or easy—and wrong” . Even if communism as such seems to be in terminal decline, we cannot overlook the [end p13] fact that Communist States still control immensely powerful military forces. Nor can we dismiss other powerful factors such as nationalism and religious fundamentalism which threaten democracy. And it would be a very rash person indeed who could look round the world and say that authoritarianism no longer constitutes a danger. [end p14] Even though many countries admire what the democratic free enterprise system has achieved, and would like to have it for themselves, one has to ask how many of them—for example in Eastern Europe or Africa—are actually likely to implement freedom under a rule of law in full. So we should not lull ourselves into a false sense of security that history is over and that ‘we’ have won. [end p15]

All experience teaches us that battles have constantly to be re-fought and re-won, and the underlying philosophy restated with vigour.

Moreover the belief that the main East-West differences are at an end would be a very dangerous assumption for our foreign policy. As we look round the world there are still [end p16] enormous problems of conflict, subversion, oppression, poverty and environment—all requiring our attention. [end p17]

World Economy

The fact that our democratic system has shown itself infinitely superior to communism and socialism is really due to two factors. The first is our sure defence, which I shall speak about in a moment. The second is our economic success. [end p18]

That economic success has been enhanced by the policies which have been adopted by the main industrialised countries at the cycle of Economic Summits since 1982.

During that period, we have concentrated on dealing with fundamentals: policies to get inflation down, sound finance, increasing competition and free enterprise, structural reform. [end p19] It is these policies which have produced steady growth, low inflation, higher investment and lower unemployment. We have learned the lesson of the 1970s when countries were tempted to believe that you could buy growth with a little bit of inflation.

Our task now, as conservative parties, is to consolidate that success, in three ways [end p20] in particular: — first, we should continue sound and orthodox financial policies which prevent inflation. It means constraining monetary growth to a rate which can support the real growth in the economy. [end p21] — second, we should continue to free up our economies by pressing on with deregulation, privatisation, removal of subsidies and other structural reforms. These are the policies which have made possible the true revolution of the 1980s: the revival of enterprise and initiative, and leaving the market to do what the market can do best. All experience shows that it's markets which allocate resources efficiently and not central planning. [end p22]

— third, we must continue to reduce and, if possible, eliminate remaining barriers to trade. That is essential if we are to continue to enjoy the prosperity of recent years. If we allow the world trading system to degenerate into a patchwork of unilateral restraints, bilateral threats and [end p23] inward-looking regional trading arrangements, we shall all be worse off. By restricting trade, you restrict growth. The open, multilateral trading system under GATT has served us very well and we should be concentrating on extending that and making a success of the multilateral trade negotiations. It is always easy to find excuses not to open up, or actually to impose new [end p24] barriers. We have to fight that temptation, whether it be Section 301 in the United States, some of the so-called cultural barriers in Japan or the Common Agricultural Policy in Europe. We are all offenders in this area. [end p25]

East/West Relations

When we come to East/West relations, we have to say that the scope and pace of change in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has been far more extensive and far faster than any of us foresaw when we discussed these matters at our meetings in Washington in 1985 and Berlin in 1987. One thinks not just of the Soviet Union itself, but of developments in Poland and [end p26] Hungary. One would not have predicted even a year ago that there would now be a Solidarity Tadeusz MazowieckiPrime Minister in Poland. Or that the Communist Party in Hungary would be preparing itself for the possibility of a spell in opposition. Or that conservative parties in Poland and Hungary would soon be applying for membership of the IDU. [end p27]

But the changes are also bringing to light the enormous economic and social problems of those countries, above all in the Soviet Union, far worse than either we or they realised. We should not expect these problems to be overcome quickly. [end p28] The difficulty is to motivate people who have never known freedom and how a market operates. And, of course, once you give greater freedom, the criticisms and dissatisfaction with the system emerge long before you begin to see the economic benefits. [end p29]

But it is clearly in our interests that change and reform in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe should succeed. We should help any country which is trying [end p30] to move towards political pluralism, free market economies and respect for human rights. That is why we have given support and encouragement to Mr. Gorbachev in the face of the very great difficulties with which he has to contend. In the case of Poland and Hungary, it's practical support that is needed: food: opening our markets: financial aid: debt: [end p31] rescheduling: help with management and so on. The changes in those countries are of historic importance. For the first time since the war, countries are wanting to make the change from full-blown communism to freedom and democracy. We must not let that historic mission fail. [end p32]

But we must not mistake the hope for the deed in our dealings with the Communist world. Change can all too easily be turned back. China showed us how ruthless Communist governments can be when their power is challenged. [end p33] Moreover, times of great change are also times of uncertainty and danger.

I was much struck by something said by James Billingtonthe Librarian of the United States' Congress recently: [end p34] “There is no more insecure time in the life of an Empire than when it is facing the devolution of its power: no more dangerous time in the life of a religion (Communism being after all a secular religion) than when it has lost its inner faith, but retains its outer power” . It is very difficult to predict how these problems will work themselves out in the [end p35] Soviet Union and East and Central Europe. Twice already this century the kaleidoscope has been shaken in Europe. Changes there will be—we must try to ensure that they are in the direction of true liberty.

That means first and foremost that we must keep our defences strong. Change in the communist societies has not [end p36] happened just for idealistic reasons. It has come about because we in the West have been strong to defend our beliefs and thus kept alive the hopes of those behind the iron curtain who longed for and struggled for their basic human rights. They would reproach us if we now let our guard drop now. [end p37]

We have to remember too that democratic countries find it much harder to change direction quickly than totalitarian regimes.

Once we let our defences go, it would take a long time for us to rebuild them, while the return of authoritarian government in the Communist countries could very rapidly restore military strength. [end p38]

That is why I find the trend of public opinion in some of our countries towards the view that there is no longer a military threat very worrying. That is a mistake we have made twice this century. It is our job as conservatives to make people aware of the dangers and the vital importance of keeping our defences strong. Because if we don't do it, no-one else will. [end p39]

Yes, of course, there must also be progress with arms control and we are negotiating on conventional and chemical weapons. But on no account should we in Europe begin to reduce our conventional forces unilaterally in advance of the negotiations.

Moreover, we must at all costs avoid the denuclearisation of Europe. You do not prevent war by destroying defences but by keeping them strong. [end p40]


We have quite rightly chosen to give prominence to environmental issues at this Conference. The environment is going to be one of the major political issues in the years ahead, of great concern to all our countries and particularly to young people. [end p41]

The message we must put over is that conservative parties are best placed to deal with environmental issues, because conserving our heritage for the future is at the heart of our conservative beliefs, and because economic growth and scientific advance have given us the resources and the knowledge to carry out this vital task.

We also have to dispose of the specious argument that economic growth and a good environment are incompatible, and that you [end p42] can somehow turn the clock back so that once again we become simple rural societies. It doesn't make sense and it won't happen. Our message must be that we need growth and that it can be green.

To achieve this, we need to generate the same sort of change in public attitudes on environmental issues that we brought about [end p43] on the subject of economic management in the early 1980s. We have to demonstrate to people that market forces including the wishes of the consumer have a very important part to play in protecting the environment.

The essentials for effective action are first the critical importance of a sound scientific base so that we understand the changes which are taking place. [end p44] Only then will we be able to adopt policies and remedies which are effective. Second, we have to get across to people that there are costs involved in improving the environment and we must all be prepared to meet them. And third, we must get away from the idea that somehow the industrialised countries are uniquely responsible for environmental problems and that we should pay compensation to others. The fact is that the major problems of climatic change will bear particularly [end p45] heavily on tropical zones of the earth which are already experiencing acute problems, whether it be deserts and drought at one extent or floods at another. We are all involved and all affected. And we shall only be able to deal with the problems through a vast, international co-operative effort through the United Nations. [end p46]


We must also put ourselves firmly at the front of the battle against drugs, as President Bush is doing so successfully in the United States. The drug producers and drug traffickers are waging war against the young people of all our countries, and we have to do everything we can to stop this evil trade. [end p47]

That means we must help the governments of countries where drugs are grown to fight the drug barons, by providing training and equipment and other assistance—as many of us are doing in the case of Colombia.

We congratulate President Barco on his determination.

We should also take all possible steps within our own countries to reduce the demand for drugs, because that [end p48] is the surest way to dry up production. We are organising a major conference on this subject in Britain next year, which I hope will provide fresh ideas.

There are those who advocate legalising some drugs. That seems to be typical of the sort of facile solution put forward by people who shy away from facing up to problems. After all, you don't defeat crime by legalising theft. [end p49]

Let us be under no illusion: people in our countries are frightened by the threat posed by drugs, above all to their children. They look to us conservatives, who have traditionally been the party of law and order, to give a lead against drugs and we must not disappoint them. [end p50]


The other subject which we are to cover at this Conference is terrorism. The British delegation has circulated a paper on it which I hope you will all find useful.

Generally speaking Governments are better at adopting declarations about terrorism than [end p51] they are about carrying them out. Cooperation between Governments is improving, as is airline security, but there is still much more that needs to be done. Where the international community as a whole has failed is the lack of sufficient firmness in dealing with those governments which support terrorism and extend their protection to terrorists. [end p52] In Britain's case, we have broken off relations with governments where there is evidence that they are involved in support for terrorism such as Libya and Syria and we have withdrawn our Embassy staff from Iran. If all other members of the international community were to act equally robustly, I think the problem would be less than it is. A country cannot support terrorism and still be treated as a normal member of the international community. [end p53] There is a tendency also to talk about negotiating the release of hostages, forgetting that taking hostages is the very antithesis of civilised behaviour and should never have happened. It should not be a question of negotiating. Any government which has influence over those who hold hostages should be ready as a matter of course to use that influence to bring about their immediate release. We are too ready to make allowances for some countries, as though we [end p54] somehow do not expect them to meet the civilised norms of the rest of us. [end p55]


I have already spoken at some length and there are still many problems which I have not covered: the European Community, Southern Africa, the Middle East, the debt problem,—on which Edward Seaga has produced a very interesting paper—and many others. I am sure others will bring these up. Can I just conclude by saying that, meeting here in Japan, we are all very [end p56] conscious of the tremendous prosperity of the great Pacific Basin and the countries bordering it, a prosperity which has been achieved predominantly by following the free enterprise policies to which all our parties subscribe.

In a way, you prove the point that in the modern world economic power is just as important—if not more so—than military [end p57] power in giving a country influence over world events.

Over the past forty years, the Pacific area has generally speaking been the beneficiary of policies—both for security and prosperity—decided elsewhere: in the United States and Europe. Over the next forty years, much heavier responsibilities are going to fall on you [end p58] for ensuring the continued growth and prosperity of the world economy. There will need to be a shifting of the burden to match the growth in your economic strength. I am not thinking so much in military terms—indeed I think that could be counter-productive—but of aid and other help to developing countries, responsibility for keeping world trade [end p59] open and so on.

This IDU is one group in which we can discuss this changing pattern of world affairs between people and parties who basically think alike and want the same things. As we go into the last ten years of this millenium and then into the future with the twenty-first century, there will be in particular responsibility on the members [end p60] of the IDU to ensure that we hand on the world to our children in good shape—not by taking the easy way but by remaining true to the policies and principles in which we believe.