Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Commonwealth Summit (global trends and prospects)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Carcosa Conference Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking notes
Editorial comments: Between 1120 and 1200?
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3433
Themes: Civil liberties, Commonwealth (general), Commonwealth (South Africa), Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Economic policy - theory and process, Environment, Trade, European Union Single Market, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Law & order, Terrorism


— Thanks to Malaysian Government for hosting CHOGM.

— Welcome for Pakistan's return to the Commonwealth.

— We have a full agenda covering not just ‘traditional’ debates on world political [end p1] and economic outlook, but ‘new’ subjects such as global environment and drugs. Agree with Dr. Mahathir on importance of giving adequate time and attention to these latter issues.


— Don't want to conduct a Cook's tour of international problems; [end p2]

— Propose instead to deal with four broad themes:

(i) the crisis of Communism and its implications;

(ii) prospects for resolving international conflicts;

(iii) the importance of the right economic [end p3] and trade policies if our hopes for a better life for our people are to be realised;

(iv) the need for much greater international cooperation on global environmental problems and drugs—bearing in mind that there are more trans-boundary problems in the world than ever before; [end p4]

— Assume that Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew will cover events in Asia and in particular China: and that President Vassiliou will deal with the Mediterranean and the Middle East. I shall touch on these only very briefly. [end p5]


— Spoke at Vancouver CHOGM about the climate for change in the Soviet Union and the contrast between the stagnation of the Communist countries and the dynamic development of countries which have freedom of expression and free enterprise. [(Marginal note by MT: Glasnost and Perestroika had just become international vocabulary.)] Well, the change has gone much further and faster, both in the Soviet Union and in [end p6] Eastern Europe, than we all expected.

— Significance of events in Poland and Hungary: the first countries to emerge from Communism towards democracy and a free market economy. They must be supported.

— Two meetings with Gorbachev this year in which he was very frank about the scope [end p7] and scale of the problems facing him: the economy and the nationalities. Economic problems far worse than either we or they realised. His difficulty is to motivate people who have never known freedom or how a market operates. With the nationalities, his problem is to find a way to give them greater autonomy without leading to the break-up of the [end p8] Soviet Empire;

— In general, glasnost has gone much faster than perestroika, with the result that all the criticisms are coming out before there are any concrete results to show for reform. But we should acknowledge fully how much Gorbachev has already done, and the genuine improvements in the human rights [end p9] situation—although there is still some way to go.

— No doubting his determination. But the really difficult economic decisions, e.g., on prices and subsidies have not yet been taken. [Note by MT: Can't restructure Communism—have to build a different system.)] Evidence is that the economy in the Soviet [end p10] Union is still deteriorating with shortages, power-cuts and they are talking about the possibility of rationing. This could, if combined with further serious trouble with the nationalities, bring opposition to him into the open. There are many people in the Soviet Union who prefer the certainties of old-style Communism; [end p11]

— Don't forget how far behind the Soviet Union still is. Heavy concentration on space and military spending has created huge problems elsewhere. Recent speech by Soviet Health Minister showed Soviet Union 75th in the world in share of GNP devoted to health: and declining from 9th to 26th place in proportion of students in higher [end p12] education.

— But is there really an alternative to Gorbachev 's policies if the Soviet Union is to keep pace with the West rather than drop further behind? This could be his strongest card—the lack of a convincing alternative. [end p13]


— First that Communism as a creed has failed and is discredited. It can no longer claim to represent a different and higher form of human society—a claim that was never convincing anyway. What is emerging, while certainly not capitalism, is far removed from the [end p14] teachings of Marx and Lenin. In that sense, an era of history seems to be over;

— Second it must be right to express support for what Mr. Gorbachev is doing in the Soviet Union, and to support the changes in Eastern Europe. We cannot resolve the huge problems of the Soviet economy from outside, and it is not a case of giving Marshall Aid as some [end p15] suggest. But the West will provide substantial help for Poland and Hungary which are moving much more rapidly towards free market democracy. We must not let their historic mission fail.

— Third, we must realise that changes on this scale bring with them new uncertainties [end p16] and new dangers. This was very well expressed by the US Librarian of Congress [James Billington]: “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” . [end p17] These dangers and uncertainties mean that we must keep our defence sure;

— Fourth, there is always the risk that the clock will be put back again. The events in Tiananmen Square are a reminder that Communism will not necessarily lie down and die quietly. One sees continuing political repression in East Germany and a Stalinist regime in [end p18] North Korea. The Communist states will continue to control immensely powerful military forces. We in Western Europe have to remain very watchful about these. [end p19]


— The obverse of Communism's decline has been the advance of democracy and freedom in the world—and 1989 has been a truly remarkable year for that. This is excellent news for the Commonwealth: freedom and democracy are absolutely central for us. [end p20]

— But we have to guard against euphoria. [Note by MT: Not plain sailing. ] There is a tendency to assume—as in the article by Francis Fukuyama which has caused such a stir—that liberal democracy has comprehensively defeated Marxism-Leninism and there will in future be no other ideological challenge to it. That would be a very rash assumption when one considers the continuing power of nationalist, authoritarian and extreme [end p21] religious fundamentalist ideas. Fukuyama 's article is rashly titled: The End of History—although he does at least put a question mark after it. I think there is no doubt we can look forward to a lot more history yet;

— But it is a very important part of our beliefs that the spread of democracy and free enterprise will reduce the risk of [end p22] conflict in the world, because democracy threatens no one and does not seek to impose itself.

We can look therefore to improved East/West relations, though we have to be hard-headed about the reasons for this. It is not coming about because of some conversion on the part of the Soviet Union on the road to Damascus: it is happening because the West remained absolutely firm [end p23] in defence through NATO. That must continue, although we hope that it will be at lower levels of armaments.

— The reduction in East/West tension should manifest itself in two principal ways.

— First, we should achieve substantial progress on arms control over the next two years. I think there are now reasonable prospects [end p24] of achieving agreements both in the talks on strategic nuclear weapons, between the United States and the Soviet Union, in the negotiations for Conventional Force Reductions in Europe and in the chemical weapons reductions in Geneva—provided that in all three cases we can devise satisfactory means of verification. An arms control agreement without adequate verification is not worth having—and [end p25] such verification is very difficult to achieve, especially for chemical weapons. But it is reasonable to expect agreements on strategic nuclear and on conventional forces by the end of next year.

— But let me emphasise that we are not talking about a nuclear free world. What has prevented large-scale conflict in the world has been the existence of [end p26] nuclear weapons: and the needs of our defence and of stability in time of uncertainty and danger will require each side to continue to maintain sufficient nuclear weapons to act as an effective deterrent.

— Second, we can look forward to a settlement of those conflicts which have stemmed from the aggressive nature of Communism. [end p27] It is too early to speak of the end of the Cold War in Europe. [end p28]

— We should not have exaggerated expectations. However Mr. Gorbachev has made quite clear that he cannot envisage any of the East European countries leaving the Warsaw Pact, so the basic division of Europe will remain. There will also be dangers of instability, particularly from unrest in East Germany and if the question of German re-unification once again becomes a live [end p29] issue. The ground on which the security of Europe has been based for half a century is beginning to shift beneath our feet, and it will call for very careful management if we are to avoid repetition of the upheavals and conflicts we have experienced twice this century; [end p30]

— We can also look to progress in conflicts elsewhere in the world whose basic cause has been Communist subversion or expansion. We have had the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and Vietnam's withdrawal from Cambodia—although that is by no means the end of the matter. Cuba is withdrawing its forces from Angola. [end p31]

But we should not assume an invariable pattern of pulling back by the Soviet Union: there are still substantial arms supplies going from Communist governments to sustain conflict in Central America; [Note by MT: Dan Quayle.] and we see continuing strong intelligence activity by the KGB world-wide, indeed the evidence is that such activity has increased. [end p32]

— Another encouraging feature is a greater willingness to make use of the United Nations, not as a forum for propaganda but as a source of positive action to resolve disputes. [Notes by MT: Iran-Iraq. No help Cambodia. Should not assume that all problems are soluble.]

— Turning to other areas of conflict, the situation in Southern Africa deserves special mention, although I will not speak at length on it now, because we have a [end p33] separate debate later. But I hope no one will contest the fact that there is a much more hopeful atmosphere and that we should build on this, whether in South Africa itself, in Namibia, in Angola and in Mozambique. In all our four countries, we are entering on a phase of negotiations—and in the case of Namibia, elections. [end p34]

— It is vital that we give our full support to the United Nations in Namibia and do not try to substitute our own judgment for that of the Javier Perez de CuellarUN Secretary-General. Everyone should accept the result of elections provided that he pronounces them to be fair.

— In South Africa, President de Klerk 's willingness to listen to all shades of [end p35] opinion, to allow peaceful demonstrations and to release virtually all the long-term security prisoners is a major step forward and should be recognised as such. Of course we remain committed to the EPG concept and want to see Nelson Mandela released, the State of Emergency lifted and political organisations unbanned, so that the way is opened to negotiations against the background of a suspension of [end p36] violence. We should recognise that is the way events are moving: and we are much more likely to achieve our aims by giving encouragement than by trying to pretend that nothing significant has happened.

— It is important that this Commonwealth Meeting should support and encourage peaceful change and negotiations in South [end p37] Africa rather than give the impression of rebuffing the most hopeful signs for many years that progress is possible. Frankly I think that consideration of sanctions at this stage would be utterly irresponsible;

— Perhaps I can also mention briefly the problem of China and Hong Kong although I am sure Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew will [end p38] deal more fully with this.

— I doubt whether the Chinese fully realise even now the impact on world opinion of events in Tiananmen Square. They try to pretend nothing untoward happened, whereas we know from very carefully gathered evidence that something like two to three thousand people were killed in and around the Square. [end p39]

— Many of us thought that after the experience of the Cultural Revolution in which many of the present Chinese leadership and their families suffered, we would not again see indiscriminate oppression in China. We were wrong. It also underlies the tenuous nature of opposition in China: there is nothing to compare with the history of refuseniks [end p40] and Samizdat that was evident for years in the Soviet Union.

— These developments have inevitably been a set-back for co-operation between the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council which had been increasingly successful. It will take some time to overcome this. [end p41]

— It also creates serious worries over Hong Kong. The people of Hong Kong suffered a very severe shock from what happened in China and are desperately in need of reassurance as 1997 draws closer. We of course remain responsible for Hong Kong right up until that date and shall do all we can to safeguard its stability and prosperity. [end p42] It would be very helpful if CHOGM could state unequivocally its support for Hong Kong and call on China to rebuild confidence there.

Mahathir bin MohamadMr. Chairman, my overall conclusion about the prospects for resolving international conflicts is a hopeful one. We really are moving forward. But we should not think we are out of the [end p43] wood, and I would warn in particular about two dangers for the future:

— first the spread of the capability to manufacture nuclear and chemical weapons, and of the ballistic missile technology to deliver them. I recently heard it estimated that another fifteen countries now have that technology. The risks are appalling; [end p44]

— second is the growing tendency to resort to violence and terrorism to achieve political ends. Much of it comes from those who might be described as the unsatisfied aspirants to nationhood, be they Basques, Croats, Kurds, IRA or many others, who wage their “holy wars” for self-determination. This new nationalism combined with [end p45] terrorism is a very potent mixture and poses great dangers to all established governments.


— Since we have separate debates on economic prospects and—I hope—the environment and drugs, I will limit my remarks on [end p46] these issues to a few essential points.

— The priorities in the world economy are clear:

controlling inflation

sustaining growth

liberalising trade

promoting structural reform

helping debtors to help themselves. [end p47]

— The basic outlook is good with world trade up by 9%; last year and probably 7%; this.

— The overriding need is to control inflation. Recognise that current high interest rates are unwelcome to debtor countries. But the consequences of failure to control [end p48] inflation would be worse.

— We must keep markets open. That is of course the purpose of the current GATT Round. We shall do what we can to ensure that 1992 is not used as an excuse to erect new barriers to trade with Europe. The whole purpose is to get down the barriers. [end p49] We shall also of course want to preserve the Lomé Convention advantages for Commonwealth countries. Something we must avoid is the emergence of regional trade groupings which attempt to exclude others and limit trade. [Marginal note by MT: Asia/Pacific.] That would be a very serious step in the wrong direction. [end p50]

— Very great progress has been made in dealing with the problem of debt, both the debt of the very poorest, and schemes for debt-reduction and debt-interest reduction for middle income debt. The Paris Club has in addition rescheduled some $20 billion of debt over the past year. But those measures will only be effective if developing countries pursue sound [end p51] economic policies which will avoid similar problems in future. That is why it is important to negotiate structural adjustment programmes with the IMF even if they involve difficult and unpopular decisions: and to create conditions which encourage inward investment. [end p52]

— Will say very frankly that I do not see a need to reinstate an institutionalised North/South dialogue. These are practical issues which need to be dealt with on their merits and not turned into a political confrontation. That would be a retrograde step which could undo much of the progress we have made in the last year or so. [end p53]

— If we follow these prescriptions, then the prospects for the world economy are good. But I would underline one very important point. Often it is the politics which have gone wrong rather than the economics. Sometimes it has been some external factor, such as the Korea or Vietnam war driving up inflation or the Yom Kippur war which put up oil prices, which has [end p54] caused difficulties. In other cases it has been rash or cynical political promises which could never be delivered which have left massive problems for future generations—inflation capital flight poverty. We must all of us always remember that success does not consist of making promises to people: it requires hard work, discipline and considerable sacrifice. [end p55]


— Finally a very brief word on the need to strengthen cooperation on some of the ‘new issues’ such as the global environment and drugs.

— We used to think that whatever progress mankind makes, our planet would stay much [end p56] the same. That may no longer be true. The way we use land, the way industry uses natural resources and disposes of waste, the way our populations multiply—all these taken together are new in the earth's experience. They threaten to change the atmosphere above us and the sea around us. That is the scale of the global challenge. [end p57]

— What we need is the best scientific assessment and a recognition that the problems are global and we shall all be affected. Not a time for quibbling over whose fault it may have been or for seeking compensation. If we want economic growth to continue an to provide the benefits our people want, then we need a massive international [end p58] cooperative effort to deal with the problems.

— Our goal is to protect the global environment—the atmosphere, the oceans, the tropical forests—without inhibiting growth. Indeed continued growth is essential, because without it you won't have the resources which are necessary to finance action needed to protect the environment. [end p59] It is prosperity which creates technology to keep the earth healthy.

— By and large we have the necessary international institutions already: but we need to strengthen them and make them more effective, as well as move as rapidly as possible to agree on a framework convention on global climate change—a sort of good conduct guide on the [end p60] environment of all the world's nations. These problems know no boundaries.

— The flight of Voyager II through the solar system to Neptune and beyond reminded us very vividly that our planet has the unique privilege of life. That should make us more aware of our bounden duty to safeguard our world. [end p61]

— Hope we can agree here on a short and clear declaration which focuses on the points of major importance and sends a political message which will be noticed not just within the Commonwealth but world-wide.

— On drugs, we should reaffirm our intention to take steps to deal with the problem at every level. We need to help countries where drugs [end p62] are grown to eradicate production. We need to reduce demand—and we shall hold a major conference on this in London next year. And we need to deal with trafficking in drugs. This means signing and ratifying the UN Conventions against illicit drug trafficking, reaching bilateral agreements to confiscate druge dealers' assets, and [end p63] support for law enforcement against drug traffickers by providing training and equipment. We must make sure that the UN has the resources to take on a full role in this work. Once again, we would like to see the Commonwealth issue a strong declaration on this problem, concentrating on action. [end p64]


— Overall message one of hope and of optimism. The world has moved forward since our last meeting and there is the prospect of far greater and more hopeful changes still between now and the end of the millenium.