Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Speech accepting the Morgenthau Award

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Waldorf Astoria, New York
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: Between 1700 and 1750. US Secretary of State James Baker presented the award. He speaks before MT, who was reported to have been moved to tears by his remarks.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1949
Themes: Conservative Party (history), Foreign policy (general discussions), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Leadership

James Baker

Prime Minister, Honoured Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Today, we have gathered here to honour the memory of a great man and we do so by honoring a great woman. The man—Hans Morganthau—as you know, was a lawyer, a professor, a historian and a political philosopher but above all else, he was a great teacher and what Hans Morganthau taught was the national interest, in this case the American national interest in shaking off isolation and in engaging fully in the affairs of Europe. Perhaps we were not always the most apt pupils, but we learned. The great trans-atlantic alliance of free peoples that has kept the peace in Europe—and I emphasise will continue to keep the peace in Europe—embodies the Morganthau lessons. [end p1]

The citation on this award reads:

“The Hans J. Morganthau Award is presented by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy in commemoration of the seminal contribution made by Professor Hans J. Morganthau to the theory and practice of American foreign policy. For all of her intellectual and practical contribution to the art of statesmanship and her commitment to fostering freedom and democracy throughout the world, the recipient of the first international award is The Rt. Hon. Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

It is indeed fitting that, in memory of Hans Morganthau, we honour Margaret Thatcher, a unique leader of the Western World, for Margaret Thatcher is Prime Minister not only of Britain's national interest but also a principal custodian—if I may use that phrase—of the interests of the Western World as well. Just as importantly, when it comes to principles, no-one is stronger. Let me give you what I think could be fairly described as the Thatcher doctrine:

First, decide what is right, even if that is not always convenient or expedient.

Second, let people know what is right, give people a sound direction, trust them—sooner or later they will recognise what is right. [end p2]

Third, be persistent; don't give up and don't let up.

Fourth and finally, when negotiations stall, get out the handbag! (laughter) The solution is always there, usually written on a small piece of paper deep within it.

Prime Minister, you have been a beacon of clarity in an often confused world, a reminder that while many things change, the importance of liberty and democracy and the individual does not change and so, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my great privilege and pleasure to introduce to this distinguished audience Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (applause). [end p3]

Prime Minister

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Baker, thank you so much for those wonderful introductions.

I am indeed honoured to have an occasion when the George BushPresident sends a message and also the James BakerSecretary of State gives such a wonderful summary of everything I believe in. You set your objective, you go straight for it and you never, never, never deflect your direction. You may in fact have to vary the speed at which you get there, but the objective is always the same. This has become known as “Thatcherism” and I spend quite a long time explaining that it is far older than me, it was I who just revived it.

It is a great honour to have this award and particularly for a Head of State. But these days, and indeed I think all my lifetime in politics, Heads of State have in fact spent a very considerable time on foreign affairs.

There used to be an occasion when people said: foreign affairs do not matter very much to an electorate, it is only domestic affairs that matter. These days things are very very different. Foreign affairs affect the way we live our lives at home [end p4] and you cannot have such an easy distinction between foreign and home affairs. That is so whether it is in international negotiations on a political scale or whether it is on the economic scale.

I fought my first election under the leadership of Winston Churchill, so I was very well brought up politically. Winston, as you know, believed passionately in the friendship and alliance between America and the United Kingdom; he believed passionately in liberty and justice; he believed passionately that the greatest expression of liberty in the English language is to be found in the American constitution. It was of course written by an Englishman, and that I think does explain quite a lot.

So indeed I was truly and well brought up under certain fundamentals from which Winston never, never deflected. And I can remember that it was Winston who first recognised aggression in the late 1930s and said: “If you give in to aggression, there will be no end to the humiliations that you will have to suffer.” What very good advice. I have often thought of that in the last weeks when we have had a new total aggression in the Gulf from Iraq into Kuwait.

There are some who are saying now, and I have heard them: there ought to be a role for diplomacy in all this, there ought to be, we ought to be able to have some kind of negotiation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Saddam Hussein took Kuwait by war, with tanks and guns, with no respect either for the property or people in the territory he took. And every day he is there is a new offence against the United Nations Charter, a new act of war. It is not for him now to talk about peace when that is the last thing which he has ever observed in his own life. [end p5]

That was the act of war. There was room for diplomacy, there was diplomacy, it was most brilliantly exercised by George Bushthe President and by Jim Baker and I happened to be around for some of it—I was just lucky—brilliantly exercised as they went to the United Nations, got a resolution to tell Saddam Hussein to withdraw immediately, that was all of the diplomacy as we got everyone together, led by the President and Jim Baker. And then when they did not withdraw immediately, the next thing was that they must go on and withdraw and the legitimate government of Kuwait to be restored. They did not do that. More diplomacy to get a sanctions resolution and then more diplomacy to see that it was enforced and then more diplomacy to see that there was an air embargo as well.

There was an aggression. There was diplomacy. There is no more room for negotiation now. The course has been set, he has to withdraw from his ill-gotten gains and the legitimate government has to be restored. And anyone who starts to negotiate flouts therefore the will of the United Nations which is the world and the very very careful efforts of the President and Jim Baker to get everyone together to condemn that aggression.

I do not know quite what will happen. I know we have to be ready for any contingency, and we shall be, and we shall be by your side. What I do know is that that Saddam Husseinman must leave Kuwait, the legitimate government must be restored, and he must pay for the damage and harm he has done in Kuwait and elsewhere.

And so in a way I learned that from a very great statesman—Winston Churchill—who always said: “Stand by America” , and that is as true today as it used to be. [end p6]

I learned something else from him too, which has been so important in my political life. Winston ChurchillWinston saw very soon that communism could not succeed in the end because it denied the human spirit. Communism said: this is the system, everyone must conform to instruction. Our way, believing in human rights, believing in liberty, believing in justice, and it is all in the American constitution, government is there to serve the liberties of the people, not to suppress them.

And so for many many years I read very carefully everything I could about communism and the more I read about it the more I hated it. And as I became leader of my Party, one of the first speeches I made was that we must always have a strong defence to make certain that those who had extinguished liberty could never, never succeed.

And there were at that time people saying: Oh, do you not think NATO has done enough, do you not think there is no longer any room for it, after all we are friends with the Soviet Union? And then of course came the Berlin airlift and they were not disarming. And then of course came things which we now know, the terrible cruelties and oppression of that regime.

It has been fascinating that this is the century when you saw the rise of communism and its total fall, the rise of doing things collectively and disregarding the rights of individuals and families and communities, and that has totally gone.

And so we are seeing the restoration of everything we believed in. But we have a new problem and it is this: we gathered our freedom gradually over the centuries, from Magna Carta—your inheritance as much as mine—1215, “No man shall be imprisoned except by the lawful judgment of his peers” and gradually the [end p7] common law developed, we have a rule of law. We gathered through industry, through the industrial revolution, people who could start up things on their own and create bigger businesses, bigger industries, bigger commercial organisations, sound banks. And we got a law of commerce, of banking and of industry within which free enterprise could work.

We have now something new. Mr. Gorbachev has said to the people: take your freedom of speech, take your freedom of worship, and take the responsibilities which freedom brings. And Ladies and Gentlemen, they do not know quite how to do it.

This is a new problem. Normally the demand for freedom comes up from the bottom, as it did in Poland, as it did in Czechoslovakia. This time it is going down from the top to say: “Look, live a new way.” And they know they want it but they do not know quite how to do it. How do you use the freedom when it is given you when your experience limits how you can think?

It is a new problem, it is very exciting, and believe you me, as Mr. Baker and I know, we have more people in the world calling upon us for help: “How do you do this? How do you live in liberty? How do you have free enterprise? How do you build up business? How do you build up prosperity? Come and teach us, we want to learn, we do not quite know.”

And in the Eastern European countries: please we also need help, help for the Soviet Union, help for the Eastern European countries. And in the developing world where so often they have gone for the collective socialism and not for the liberty, they should not be surprised that it has not brought them prosperity. They: Will you please help us? [end p8]

But what is certain is that we have seen the total triumph of our fundamental political beliefs of freedom and justice and democracy, the total triumph. I wonder why we ever doubted it, I wonder why at one time our theory was to constrain the advance of communism, not to defeat it.

Well, we never lost faith in what we believe in and now every single thing that we have believed in is steadily coming true. But it needs a great deal of work to get people to live in liberty, to bring them both the prosperity and dignity and in a country that size and faster than we have ever known.

So through all of this, the United States and the United Kingdom will stand together because we have believed in these things for so long and we have never swerved from our belief.

You have given me a crystal ball. I do not know quite how to read crystal balls. What I do know is that if you stand by the things you believe in, and as James BakerJim said, let everyone know and you persevere, you will reach the goal you set yourself and it will be wider liberty and democracy the world over.

Thank you so much for the award.