Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to the National Press Club

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: National Press Club, Washington DC
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2239
Themes: Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Race, immigration, nationality


The last year has seen the euphoria about a new world order to follow the Cold War brought down to earth with a bump. I am glad of that. Euphoria is a bad and sometimes dangerous guide. A few good healthy suspicions coupled with careful observations and wise assessments are likely to be more sure. The sooner governments concentrate on realities rather than hopes the better.

Even today it is hard to grasp the magnitude of the historical changes we have witnessed in the last ten years—when a seemingly stable world structure crumbled into nothingness. In quick succession we saw the end of the Cold War, the spread of [end p1] independence in Eastern Europe, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the re-emergence of national rivalries as the communist ice melted, a reunified Germany, the lessening of the concept of the Third World as the newly industrialising countries particularly in Asia Pacific surged to prosperity, and the confirmation of the United States as the sole world superpower.

At the same time the discipline which the Communist powers exerted over their Third World client states in the last thirty years has decayed, paradoxically giving such international outlaws as Saddam Hussein and Kim Il Sung greater freedom to cause trouble. [end p2]

In speaking of the end of the cold war—some look back with nostalgia to the good (that is) bad old days of stability when a — balance of terror and — a clash of ideologies constituted the coin of international politics.

Let me say at once—I feel no such nostalgia.

1. The collapse of the Evil Empire is the greatest and best political development of my adult lifetime.

Indeed much of the evil which still stalks the world was planted and cultivated first by Communism. It was the crushing of human personality which Communism embodied that has [end p3] left so many in the former communist countries unwilling and even unable to shoulder responsibility for their own lives.


2. The collapse of Communism does not mean automatic and inevitable success for democracy

Indeed President Yeltsin had to use force against those MPs who under Rutskoi 's direction had started the shooting from the White House—he had no choice. You cannot leave democracy to Communists because they don't believe in it and they don't want it. [end p4]

If Kerensky had moved as decisively against the Bolsheviks in 1917, history might have been different.

But a people made passive by 70 years of a system where all land, property and jobs belonged to the state and who have neither a stable currency nor a rule of justice, start with multiple handicaps in their journey to democracy.

Moreover, we should not assume that Communism is safely dead and securely buried. The communist system may have been vanquished—but all too often the Communists themselves have not. There are plenty of them wearing a variety of disguises from market socialists to social liberals to fiery nationalists still in positions of power.

In Poland the nomenklatura have regrouped—old communists stood for election under a new name and held together. [end p5]

Contrast the centre right parties which split into several units and which under proportional representation did not reach the threshold necessary for election. Had they combined together they would have returned many MPs, their viewpoint would have been properly represented and the number of excommunist MP's would have been diminished. It will take quite a time to establish a lasting democracy in some of these countries.

3. Nor does the end of the Communist system mean that peace has broken out. When old Empires collapse new dangers arise. The fact that world war is less likely unfortunately does not mean that world peace is more likely. If anything the culture of violence is more widespread than ever.

It was because of Communism's ambition of global dominance that the arsenals which now furnish the means of bloody conflict in the Balkans, [end p6] the Middle East and Africa were first built up.

It was the repressive rule of Communism aimed at extinguishing national and cultural identities that produced todays reactive upsurge of ethnic strife in so many parts of the world. Serbia is an example of a ruthless dictatorship trampling down the rights of others in the very heart of Europe.

Moreover Sophisticated weapons from the former Soviet Union are finding their way into areas of conflict. North Korea and China are selling their weapons into areas of high tension. There is the spectre of “loose” nuclear weapons finding their way out of the huge inventories of the former Soviet [end p7] Union. Aggressive and irresponsible governments are dangerously close to building nuclear weapons of their own, and the existence of the IAEA is not adequate to carry out its inspection powers effectively. Some people have turned to the U.N. to find the answer.

4. Do not rely on international organisations like the UN or European Community to make or to keep a peace with freedom and justice. There is no substitute for national leadership.

It would be churlish not to give the UN credit for what it has achieved, particularly in Cambodia. Where, as in the Gulf, it has been given strong leadership, by one or more nation states, it has been effective. But we delude ourselves if we think that it will be capable of moving with the [end p8] speed, the will and the determination needed to keep the peace without such a lead. The UN depends on consensus and that is simply not an adequate basis for action or for readiness to take combat risks, as we have seen in Bosnia. Act in concert, yes. But act by consensus and you may not act at all.

If we attempt to rely solely on the United Nations, we shall soon learn that it is an institution where copious resolutions become a substitute for effective action.

We are only now beginning to come to grips with what part nationalism and internationalism should play in our very disorderly world order. [end p9]

Nothing is more insidious than a fashionable consensus about international politics. And a kind of consensus among Foreign Ministers and diplomats has recently grown up according to which the great threat to all good things can be summed up in just one word: nationalism.

Of course, it all depends. If nationalism were taken to mean the belief that the only rights which matter are those of the nation, the only moral norms which apply are those of the nation, and the only interests which need to be considered are those of the nation, nationalism would indeed be an ugly and dangerous thing. In fact, it is the ideology of race rather than nation which has produced most of the perversions in [end p10] the past and the fact that such nations are governed by tyrants and dictators. Nationalism if untamed by respect for human rights and unchecked by democracy can be a force for evil.

But this has nothing to do with provd nation-states with a long history of liberty, justice and democracy. You need such nation-states, which are willing to act resolutely when internationally-accepted rules of conduct are broken, because their action is the only real deterrent to violence and aggression. No system of collective security has ever proved effective on its own, as Henry Kissinger has pointed out. [end p11]

In the modern world, only the United States has the capacity and the generosity of spirit to lead on the required scale.

5. That means keeping the necessary strong defence and advanced technology.

Both Britain and the US must keep a safe level of defence and inject new life into tried and trusted institutions like NATO. The United States is the world's leading military power and I hope will stay that way. You need the strength and the advanced weapons always to be prepared for the unknown and to provide the backbone for the world's response to threats to peace.

That means keeping sufficient nuclear weapons and making sure that they are [end p12] up-to-date. I do not believe that a total ban on nuclear testing is sensible, nor would I criticise China for continuing its nuclear tests under proper safeguards. Weapons need to be tested if we are to be sure of their effectiveness.

In the years ahead there can be no diminishing of NATO as the mainstay of our security—indeed its tasks must be expanded to cover countries at present out of area where many of the problems and dangers now arise.

We should also extend NATO to bring in new members from Eastern Europe. Provided they are democratic, adhere to a rule of law and have no territorial claims—and provided they want to join, which several of [end p13] them have made clear they do—we should offer them the shelter and the stability of NATO.

The United States is the great defender of democracy. You have not hesitated to come to its aid when called upon. (As Abraham Lincoln said of the American people “Let us have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it” .) Winston

It is vital that like-minded countries should be ready to stand alongside you in international crises—countries on which America can rely. It is my pride that the United Kingdom was always ready to do that. More than any other country, Britain shares America's passionate [end p14] commitment to democracy and willingness to stand and fight for it. You can cut through all the verbiage and obfuscation. It's really as simple as that. But there is also a much broader dimension to the pivotal relationship between America & Europe than just NATO, important as it is.

6. Defensive alliances and economic cooperation must march together. If they do not the alliance will be undermined.

I don't find it difficult to sympathise with some of the criticism of Europe which one hears over here. There are a lot of things which cause me to steam as well. The most pernicious is to erect a philosophical barrier between the two sides of the Atlantic, to present everything connected with the liberalisation of trade, of finance & every aspect of economic life as American and therefore alien to Europe.

We should not forget that the world order established in 1945 was sustained on the basis of Western economic cooperation. The West's military alliance and post-war prosperity could never have been achieved without, first, the Marshall Plan and, later, the growth of trade within the orderly framework of rules [end p15] provided by the GATT, the IMF and the World Bank.

As I have already indicated, I believe that the American people will be prepared to accept the burden of world leadership and to act as the international community's enforcer of last resort—but only if the US can rely on the support of its allies in a wider alliance encompassing trade and economic relations as well as the occasional rare military action.

I have never thought that economics determines everything. But I do believe that you cannot have political and diplomatic unity in a West that is bitterly divided over economics. [end p16]

The US if she is to enforce the rules of the international game, must be able to rely on financial and military co-operation from her allies. Otherwise the West will find itself at odds and eventually split in two across the Atlantic.

We must therefore get on and complete the GATT negotiations. Europe's prosperity was built on trade and it is quite contrary to Europe's traditions and history now to try to restrict free trade, whether it is by undermining the GATT or by maintaining trade barriers against the newly democratic nations of Eastern Europe. The traditional multilateral approach to trade through the GATT has served us well and we should stick to it. [end p17] Unless the GATT talks are brought to a successful conclusion, the world will divide into a number of trade blocs that will stifle trade and smother economic growth.

The way to deal with competition is constantly to increase efficiency and make your economy more competetive, not erect new barriers or talk of managed trade. If necessary the European Community should simply be ready to go ahead in the GATT without France and reach an agreement. You cannot allow one country to hold up such a crucial negotiation of benefit to the whole world. [end p18]

Europe must shake itself free of the tentacles of protectionism and reaffirm the original values of the European Community embodied in the Treaty of Rome with its commitment to free economies. If it does not then it will become increasingly sidelined.

I would also suggest that beyond the completion of the GATT negotiations I would like to see the United States and an enlarged European Community establish a free trade area between them, although I am afraid hopes of that will inevitably be set back by the new challenges to the North American Free Trade Area, both from within the United States and from the new Canadian government. [end p19]


There is much which I have not had the time to cover, in particular the tremendous changes taking place in the Pacific, with the steady shift of the economic centre of gravity to that part of the world: the challenge ahead in South Africa where a satisfactory constitution can only be reached with the agreement of the Zulus, the largest nation in that country to whom sufficient regard has not yet been given: the future of Hong Kong after 1997: India's growing commitment to free market policies to bolster its remarkable democracy—the largest democratic country in the world. All that and more. Because along with the threats and the dangers have come exciting opportunities. If we can get the policies right, then the future is bright indeed. [end p20]

Ronald Reagan, George Bush and I fought alongside in many battles in the Eighties for freedom and democracy and the defeat of Communism, and the results were not bad, not bad at all. My most passionate wish now is to see that inheritance used to create a world in which our ideals triumph in peace and prosperity. That is not mere rhetoric—it is a matter of decision and action.