Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to 25th Annual UN Ambassadors dinner

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: New York
Source: Thatcher Archive
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2453
Themes: Civil liberties, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Economic policy - theory and process, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Defence (Gulf War, 1990-91)

The New Inter-Nationalism

Secretary General, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Thank you for inviting me to speak to this distinguished audience, particularly at a time when the values and resolve of the international community are once more being put to the test -this time in its response to the tragedy unfolding in Yugoslavia. And I shall have more to say on this shortly.

Thank you, too, Mr Chairman, for your generous remarks. It is indeed a great honour to receive the Business Council for the United Nations Medal. My deep appreciation is all the more increased as I recall those who have already been honoured in this way.

You, Boutros Boutros GhaliSecretary General have by your skill, persistance and integrity greatly enhanced the authority of your office. Indeed, the standing of the United Nations has, perhaps, never been higher: its original aims closer to fulfilment.

That somewhat overused term “historic” is rightly used of the achievements of two other recipients of this medal–President Reagan and President Gorbachev. Perhaps Thomas Carlyle may have exaggerated a little when he wrote that, “the history of the world is but the biography of great men” . Yet, it is true of the influence of these two men on our times. President Reagan never faltered in his belief in America's greatness and in the superiority of democracy over totalitarianism. He never wavered in his commitment to strong defence as the only way to deter aggressors and so keep the peace. He never accepted that half our world was for ever doomed to live in the darkness of oppression. In President Gorbachev, the West found a Soviet leader who was prepared to recognise the failure of Communism and had the courage to strike out in a new direction, in spite of the obstacles to reform. By ending Soviet backing for wars, subversion and terrorism around the globe he strengthened peace. And by bringing political freedom to the Soviet Union he gave them a better quality of life and new hope of a more prosperous life. We are still trying to come to terms with the transformation which Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev made possible. What kind of world has emerged from the triumph of liberty in the Cold War? How are we to grapple with new risks, how adapt them into opportunities for progress? And what principles can guide us through the diplomatic thickets which separate the two? The answers to these questions will constitute a new internationalism: and that is my theme here today.

A New World Order?

I believe that President Bush is right to talk about a New World Order. A seismic change has occurred with the crumbling of Communism and the advance of democracy and free enterprise. It will be possible to achieve greater international cooperation in upholding peace. But we should also be cautious. Human nature itself does not change. This is not the first time that New Orders of a visionary kind have been conceived. It happens after every catastrophic war. The League of Nations provides us with lessons we should not forget. It is easy now for us, who know in retrospect of the rise of the dictators, of appeasement and of the war that followed, to be cynical about the high aspirations of those who created the League. Its constitution was faulty. It never recovered from the fact that the United States was not a member. General Smuts, who contributed much to the thinking behind the League's foundation, provided perhaps its most perceptive epitaph. He said: “What was everybody's business in the end proved to be nobody's business. Each one looked to the other to take the lead, and the aggressors got away with it” . The United Nations began with a better constitution, with the full and active commitment of the United States–and, of course, with the lessons of the League already learned.But the history of the UN has confirmed the wisdom of Smuts' observations.For the UN has been effective only when there has been the will to make it so.It is only when national leaders–and particularly, of course, the leaders of the States represented in the UN Security Council–are determined that justice and human rights are to be upheld that effective action is taken.

That is the lesson of the Gulf War. The UN authorised action against Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.But it was the forces of individual nations under the leadership of the United States which defeated Iraq and so gave effect to UN resolutions.These reflections lead me to two conclusions.First, we must be realists about nationhood–but realists who understand that the patriotism of peoples is a worthy ideal, and that the resolve of peoples is necessary to defeat dictators.

And second, we must be idealists about human rights–but idealists who understand that there is no point in signing international declarations if we do not uphold their contents–and see that others uphold them too.Let me deal with each of these points in turn.

Nations, Nationhood and Nationalism

Nations, of course, are the product of history.The influences and circumstances which create each nation are always different.Religious faith, language, economic interests, geographical location, administrative practice–all in varying degrees have made our nations what they are.Some nations have for many centuries been independent nation states. Others have long been more or less autonomous units within empires or, more recently, federations.

The United States is a nation unlike any other.Its nationalism is different too.It was built on an ideal–that of individual liberty.Its history has become the working out of the implications of that ideal.To Americans–drawn from people of every continent, country and class–loyalty to the United States is synonymous with commitment to the universal ideals on which their nation was founded.Not all states are nation states–not all can be.But the fact remains that nationhood is the strongest source of political loyalty that there is in the world today and that where it can be fulfilled peace and democracy are more likely to be secure.So a respect for national self determination and sovereignty by international bodies and other governments are vital conditions for freedom to flourish.Moreover, there is a new kind nationalism at large in the world today which we should understand.First, the new nationalism is, in part, a reaction against tyranny–and so it will not become a force for it.In Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union expressions of patriotism are most fervent among those whose lives have been spent defending freedom from the legacy of Nazism and the reality of Marxism. The new nationalism is, therefore, democratic and goes hand in hand with progress in freedom.

Second, the new nationalism is strongly committed to free enterprise economics.In the past, nationalism–as the deeply misleading term “nationalisation” itself suggests–was sometimes reflected in so-called “economic nationalism” –economic policies of state control and protection.That is not so now.Third, because it is democratic and favours free enterprise, this new kind of nationalism–unlike the old–will not be aggressive and has respect for minorities' rights–though the international community has a vital role to help ensure this happens.Indeed, some people seem inclined to forget that the instability, which diplomats and foreign ministers traditionally fear, is most likely to occur when attempts are made to hold together artificially constructed states and empires.It is when national identities are suppressed and national culture forcibly expunged that resentment grows and violence erupts.It is supra-nationalism not inter-nationalism or even nationalism which lies behind so many resentments in the old Soviet Union and today's Yugoslavia.And all of these problems have, of course, been infinitely worsened by Communism itself–with its brutal repression and economic failure.

For the countries of Eastern Europe, which have won their freedom, patriotism and a sense of national cultural continuity with the pre-socialist past are now playing a crucial part in strengthening democracy.I believe that the re-emergence of new independent nation states from what was the Communist dominated Soviet Union is also profoundly welcome: and we certainly have no right to stand in the way.

We must, of course, ensure that the dramatic changes which are occurring in the balance of power between the centre and the republics do not–even temporarily–jeopardise our security.We all have a strong interest in ensuring that nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction are properly controlled and arms agreements monitored.But there are encouraging signs that those concerned are taking these questions seriously.Those republics of the former USSR, which have now declared their independence, should, I believe, receive early international recognition as sovereign states. They are more likely to deal fairly with their minorities if they are fully part of the international community.And they are more likely to cooperate with Russia and the other republics when they are sure that their sovereignty is recognised and their independence is secure.Only artificial states like Yugoslavia, created out of disparate nations subsequently held together by force and now by violence, are threatened by heightened national awareness.Yugoslavia must rank as one of the world's least successful experiments in federalism–a fiercely contested distinction, at that!For only ten of Yugoslavia's seventy-two years of existence has it known any kind of democracy.And it seems that the only people who seriously wish to keep it as it is, are to be found outside its own borders.

The Defence of Human Rights

However, Yugoslavia is not only a lesson to the international community on the dangers of propping up artificially constructed federations of nations which wish to go their own way: it is also fast becoming a terrible and shameful lesson about our failure to act together to uphold human rights.

And this leads me back to the second of my two conclusions–that we must be willing to take action in defence of human rights when these are trampled under foot by dictators.

The CSCE has an obvious role to play in this.The Charter of Paris, which I signed with other heads of Government last year, made particular mention of the rights of national minorities.We must give practical effect to the aspirations contained in that document.But upholding human rights is not just a matter for the CSCE–it goes right to the heart of the purpose of the United Nations.The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted and proclaimed by the UN General Assembly on 10th December 1948 refers to: “The equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” to “life, liberty and security of person” .It does not just concern small and scattered minorities. It concerns individuals everywhere. It concerns whole nations. And it was our revulsion at Saddam Hussein's brutal treatment of the Kurdish people which prompted us to act vigorously to protect them from the Iraqi forces.

We cannot continue to stand back and allow the Yugoslav army, the Communist Serbian government and Serbian terrorists to crush the people of Croatia. Croatian civilians are being murdered and mutilated. Refugees are pouring across the borders. Croatia's beautiful cities and ancient churches are being destroyed. Unless we give them hope–and help to defend themselves–they are lost. The international community should remember three things. First, the inherent right of self defence cannot be removed from those who are facing death and destruction. But they cannot exercise it without the means to do so. Second, this is not just a struggle between national groups. It is one between Communists and those–the Croatians–who seek democracy. Third, it cannot just be considered as an internal matter for Yugoslavia. It goes far wider. It threatens international security. It is happening in the heart of Europe–and in an area where the interests of those directly involved are bound up with other minorities elsewhere and indeed other European sovereign states. It is not for us to say that Croatia and Slovenia should remain in Yugoslavia against the democratically expressed wishes of their people. These two nations have exercised their right of secession under the Yugoslav Constitution. Rather, we should be prepared to apply the strictest possible economic sanctions against any republic which tries to change borders by force–and provide military assistance to the victims of aggression. I trust that the UN Security Council will take strong and urgent action to give practical effect to our shared resolve that democracy and human rights shall not perish. If countries sign up to the international documents protecting human rights, they must be expected to observe them. And nothing does more to bring international declarations into disrepute–nothing does more to encourage would be aggressive dictators everywhere–than to regard such agreements as worth no more than the paper on which they are written.

The United Nations

Ladies and gentlemen, true internationalism will always consist of cooperation between nations: that's what the word means. And similarly, the United Nations which embodies the highest aspirations of internationalism, reminds us by its very name of its true purpose. The starting point for all your deliberations is that you represent nations. Your often elusive goal is that they should be united in some common purpose. But unity of purpose–not union–is the objective. As Article I of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reminds us: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” This right–the right of peoples to develop and express their nationhood in freedom–is the counterpart of that other right which underpins our civilisation and of which I have spoken of today–the right of every human being to live in peace, security and freedom. National and human rights must both be upheld. For it is nation states which alone over the centuries have proved strong enough to defend the individual. And the only nations states which endure are those which fully recognise the rights of individuals and so win their loyalty.

Today we are better placed than ever to give true and effective expression to the great ideals which the founders of the United Nations held and treasured. And of those founders, none was wiser or more eloquent than Winston Churchill, with whose words I wish to conclude. “We must find the means and the method of working together not only in times of war and mortal anguish but in times of peace, with all its bewilderments and clamour and clatter of tongues... And Churchill warned that: “Peace will not be preserved by pious sentiments, expressed in terms of platitudes or by official grimaces and diplomatic correctitude, however desirable this may be from time to time.” “Greatheart must have his sword and armour to guard the pilgrims on their way. Above all ... there must be the union of hearts based upon convictions and common ideals.” Ladies and Gentlemen, let us remember these truths. Let us live by them. And let them, in the years ahead, inspire the work of our United Nations.