Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Rajiv Gandhi Memorial Lecture

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: New Delhi
Source: Thatcher Archive: press release
Editorial comments: Embargoed until 1700 local time.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4921
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Civil liberties, Conservatism, Defence (general), European Union (general), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Media, Race, immigration, nationality, Science & technology, Terrorism


The Gandhis

It is a great honour to have been asked by Mrs Sonia Gandhi to deliver these two Rajiv Gandhi Golden Jubilee Memorial lectures — the first here today in Delhi, the second in Bangalore. The theme common to both is one which would have delighted Rajiv: freedom — its nature, its extension and its defence. Today I shall examine the quality of freedom and some of the political and security challenges we face, both at home and internationally; in Bangalore I shall look more closely at the economic underpinning of free government and the free society. And by the end I hope that I shall have confirmed my thesis, which is that freedom in its different forms and manifestations is a seamless web in which each finely-wrought strand sustains and strengthens the other.

History, it is said, is the biography of great men. It is also sometimes the biography of great families. British history has the Pitts — William Pitt, William Pitt the Elderfather and William Pitt the Youngerson. France has its Bonapartes [(Napoleon I and Napoleon III)] — Napoleons both. American history has the Roosevelts — Theodore RooseveltTeddy and Franklin RooseveltFranklin. And India has the Gandhi family.

It may be that India, this vast and complex country, requires particularly powerful personalities to lead it — though in my experience even the smallest country or even the most remote local community demands strength of character in its leaders. Certainly, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi both had that in abundance.

I got to know Indira Gandhi well over the years, both when I was my country's Leader of the Opposition and then as Prime Minister. Very early on, we struck up a close rapport, for we both felt the loneliness of high office and it was good to be able to talk to someone who understood.

Mrs Gandhi and I had very different ideas about politics. But I found in her qualities which seem to me essential in a statesman. She was passionately proud of her own country, always courageous and very practical.

Mrs Gandhi's death by terrorism is forever linked in my mind with my own survival of it. In 1984 the terrorist Irish Republican Army bombed our Party Conference hotel in Brighton. Several of my friends were killed, or badly hurt. And one of the first messages I received was from Indira Gandhi. She was appalled. It was only weeks later I learned the terrible news of her own assassination. The unthinkable had happened.

Rajiv Gandhi I met in the days when he had no expectation of being involved in politics. A contented family life with Sonia and the children and the flying he loved were more to his taste. The two of us had our disagreements at Commonwealth summits — and in those days there was plenty to disagree about — but I liked and respected him as a shrewd, forceful and far-sighted leader of his country. Unfortunately, the more outgoing, and open a politician, the greater the danger to his life. I was no longer Prime Minister when I heard the news, on that evening of May 21st 1991, that Rajiv, like his mother, had met his death as a victim of terrorism. And again, as with Indira Gandhi, I felt as anyone who has lost friends to terrorist violence — personally bereaved and angry that it should have happened.

But as the poet James Shirley wrote:

“There is no armour against fate.

Death lays his icy hand on kings” .

Threats to Freedom

… Never give in to terrorism

Terrorism is the most direct form of attack on freedom. It involves both violence and the threat of violence to achieve political objectives. Even in an unfree society it constitutes an outrageous assault on lives and property. But in a functioning democracy in which freedom of speech and freedom of association are guaranteed, it is doubly inexcusable and totally unacceptable. As we know in Britain, and as you know in India, it demands considerable patience and statesmanship to try to ensure that real grounds for grievance among national, ethnic or religious minorities are resolved by reasoned discussion. But the very nature of the terrorists is that they refuse to accept the legitimate claims of others. It then becomes a matter of maintaining order and in those circumstances it is sometimes difficult to ensure that human rights are always respected. And the terrorists themselves seek to provoke human rights abuses, so as to polarise opinion.

This is something you know only too well from your experiences in Kashmir where repugnant acts of violence and hostage-taking have become all too common place. Such acts must not succeed. Indeed, they undermine the cause which their perpetrators claim to advance.

There are two abiding principles to which we must adhere. First, you can't defend freedom by abusing it yourself; democracy must be defended within the law. Second, we should never concede more to those who threaten us with a gun than we would to those who promote their views through the ballot box. For that would be death to democracy.

… But there are other dangers

It is not, however, the only way democracy dies. Freedom can also be lost little by little, by what the Fabians call the doctrine of gradualness. A little more taxation here, a little more government spending there, year by year until the people are no longer the masters of the state but its servants.

There are always, it seems, good reasons advanced for the state to have more power, but rarely for the state to divest itself of power. Each new problem becomes an excuse for more government intervention and less individual responsibility. We see this in so many parts of the world — in former Soviet Republics, where democratic checks and balances are blamed for the failure to improve the people's lot; in some Far Eastern countries where there is too much talk of adopting allegedly non-Western models which ensure economic freedom but not human rights; and in European countries where centralised bureaucracy and regulation from Brussels are sapping the powers of national parliaments. The excuses may differ. The threat is the same.

The Creed of Liberty

But some will ask why should we be so concerned with liberty in the first place?

It is quite simply because there is something in the life of liberty without which life itself is not truly “living” .

It is possible to browbeat or cajole people to accept restrictions on their basic freedoms for a while. But deep down there is something in every man (or woman) which longs with an unquenchable longing to speak and act freely. So deep is that sense that even a generation which has no hope of ever itself seeing the dawn of liberty keeps it alive for the next — and will if necessary give its life to make that hope a reality. Time and time again, tyrants of differing ideologies (but the same power-lust) have imagined that by their concentration camps, their gulags and their killing fields they would finally extinguish the flame of liberty. They were wrong, the flame still burns brightly. And this bears testimony not only to the courage of the few, but also to the instincts of the many.

Liberty is more than a social dimension: it is a moral quality. It couples self-respect with respect for others.

The Democratic Legacy

Without freedom and its component qualities we can achieve nothing worthwhile. This characterises the history of our two countries in this century. Having the oldest Parliament in the world, history put Britain at the forefront of parliamentary and democratic development; and, since independence, India has embraced that tradition. Moreover, Britain and India have enjoyed — though that was not always perhaps the obvious word — common values and profound political and cultural links which have left an indelible impact on both our countries.

As Nehru once observed: “The English are a sensitive people, and yet when they go to foreign countries there is a strange lack of awareness about them” . Doubtless there is some truth in that. But no-one who visits India today can have any doubt about the impact of our shared experience. It is there in the architecture of Calcutta, Bombay and Delhi. It is there in the language — and that works both ways of course; some years ago an Indian academic discovered that there were over 900 words of Indian origin in the Oxford English Dictionary. And it is there, above all, in the legacy of the rule of law and of parliamentary democracy.

Recalling the negotiations which preceded Indian independence, Prime Minister Rao has noted:

“With each advance in the constitutional parleys between the Indian National Congress and Britain, it became clear to us that the Parliament, an independent judiciary, an impartial civil service, and a free press would be Britain's everlasting contribution to modern India” .

So indeed it has proved.

Past Sacrifice

We have all had to fight to defend these things. They were dearly bought. And we remember this particularly as this is the week when we celebrate your Independence Day and the fiftieth anniversary of the Victory over Japan. Naturally, attention often focuses on the events leading up to your independence from Britain. But too exclusive an emphasis on that can lead to a certain lack of appreciation of what we have achieved together in our darkest hours.

The casualties suffered by the Indian Armed Forces during the Second World War bear eloquent tribute to their courage and their sacrifice — a total of almost 180,000 killed, missing, wounded, or prisoners of war. The commitment was enormous. By 1945 the Indian Army had more than two and a half million in its ranks. They fought in Burma, Singapore, Eritrea, the North African and Italian campaigns, Iraq and Syria. And of 182 awards of the Victoria cross — the highest award for gallantry — during the Second World War, 29 were won by soldiers of the Indian Armed Forces.

The Indians who joined the Indian Army during the War understood that they were fighting for their own freedom. And they were also indirectly fighting for ours in Britain — their sacrifice helped Britain herself remain free. For all the difficulties which have occurred before and after independence over the years, this shedding of blood for a common and great ideal binds our countries together.

After the Cold War

As one war against the tyrannies of Nazism and Fascism ended in 1945, so another struggle — the Cold War — began against a different tyrant: a tyrant whose ambitions were even more far reaching and no less ruthless than the Nazis. Only with the peaceful liberation of the East European countries in 1989 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 did the second conflict end, with victory for the West and for the ideal of freedom. The end of the Cold War was the greatest political event of my lifetime.

During much of the period of the Cold War, India and Britain took somewhat different approaches. India was the most important of what were called the non-aligned countries. Britain was the most important ally of the United States within NATO. But whatever our differences over those years, both our countries showed that democracy was alive and well. India, in particular, demonstrated — though not without the occasional crisis — that democracy is suitable not only for Western countries, nor only for countries which have ethnic or religious homogeneity, but for a vast and diverse state with a population approaching 900 million souls. The strength of Indian democracy was thus, by example, a powerful element in the final discrediting of the entire communist system.

But let us pause for a moment and think of your own difficult position during those years. To the North you faced the Soviet Union, a nuclear power, seized by Lenin and the Communists in 1917 and with ambitions to extend Communism the world over. To the East, China, another communist nuclear power. To the South-East, the killing fields of Cambodia, war in Vietnam and Laos.

Naturally, maintaining your position required skilful diplomacy particularly at a time when Britain and the United States were preoccupied in NATO with our initial objective of containing communism behind the Iron Curtain.

But let us remember how very much better things are now than they were a decade ago.

The Soviet Union has collapsed lifting the most immediate threat to the free world and liberating those states previously under its yoke. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe have achieved liberty. A hurricane of change is sweeping across Asia as enterprise flourishes and democracy takes hold in more countries — and I welcome the recent release of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma.

So our policy of resisting communism since 1945, keeping strong defences and constantly fighting the battle of human rights, has worked.

The post-Cold War world was initially described by many as making way for a New World Order. In fact, looking now at the regional, ethnic and religious tensions — above all perhaps, looking at the situation in the former Yugoslavia — I prefer to describe it as a New World Disorder. Let me consider the new factors which affect international relations — and later go on to identify others which remain as true as ever.

New Features of the “New Order”

… The changing roles of the major powers

The most important change is that America is now the only super-power. For with the collapse of the Soviet Union, only the United States combines the military, technological, economic and geographic features of a super-power. As such, America is the power of last resort, whose leadership is vital to the free world. Recognition of that fact is an important element of maintaining international peace and stability, as we remember from the Gulf War. We should welcome it and encourage the United States to maintain its global outlook and responsibilities.

There are, of course, other great powers as well. Russia is a vast country with rich natural resources, a powerful if decaying military might and a proud people. Japan is an economic giant, which is becoming a significant military power. And India, of course, has seriously embarked upon the economic reforms which will more effectively develop your vast potential. You are therefore entering the same league.

And may I say that if there is any question of extending the permanent membership of the UN Security Council, India — the second most populous nation, the largest democracy and all this with a strengthening economy — has a very strong claim for inclusion.

In the next century, the main global change, economically and politically, will be the enormously increased prosperity and influence of the Asia-Pacific region. Containing as it does the world's most populous countries together with the rapid economic growth we are witnessing now, within twenty to thirty years this region will be the fulcrum of economic growth and the powerhouse of world trade.

At the centre of this change is China. It was in 1978 that Deng Xiaoping began the policy of freeing enterprise in China. The effect on the coastal region, in particular, has been electric. But I believe it will take quite a time for real prosperity to spread to the poorer regions in a country which, throughout its history, has been governed by a rigid and all-pervasive bureaucracy. There is still no rule of law to uphold title to land or to enforce commercial contracts.

Any questioning about human rights is met with the reply that China interprets them differently and that neither our belief in human rights nor in democracy apply to Asian people. Had anyone from the West put forward such a monstrous proposition, we should have been adjudged racist. Moreover, that thesis has no validity. Human rights belong to each and everyone by virtue of being human and they should be a bridge between peoples and not a barrier.

I believe that you cannot open the window to economic liberties and stop ideas of political and personal liberty from coming in at the same time. Therefore, I am optimistic that in the longer term China will follow the same trail to democracy that India has blazed.

That is why I opposed the United States attempting to use trade as a political weapon against China. It is precisely the new spirit of enterprise and the growth of small businesses in China that will enlarge political and personal freedom and bring with it a more powerful and educated middle class.

… Shattering the prism

The second new feature of this post-Cold War world is that we no longer view international problems through the prism of East-West relations. The good news is that regional problems, for example in South Africa and the Middle East, across South East Asia and Latin America, have now become soluble. The bad news is that the discipline which the communist powers exerted over their third world client states has decayed, paradoxically giving such international outlaws as Saddam Hussein and North Korea greater freedom to cause trouble. And we will have to deal with a series of what have recently been described as “un-civil, civil wars” — internal conflicts whose consequences extend beyond their borders.

Naturally, great powers will jockey for advantage. And there will always be spheres of influence in practice if not in theory.

For example, Russia clearly regards the states of the former Soviet Union in that light, particularly where there are large Russian minorities. Moreover, her military intervention in Chechenya was a shocking abuse of human rights and a violation of international agreements. And it gives us all cause for concern.

But at a regional level it is now, above all, the balance of power which is the operative principle.

… The balance of power

This third factor is only new because during the Cold War years it was placed in cold storage. As a result, we are inclined to forget that in principle it is a force for cooperation, not just for conflict. For example, in the relations between Japan, China, Russia and India the operation of a balance of power should ensure that there is some check on what otherwise might turn out to be serious threats to other countries' interests. But it is also vital that the United States remains engaged in the Pacific as a crucial balancing force. Similarly, within Europe a balance of power should be encouraged to check the power of a united Germany — though the rigidities of the European Union make that objective more difficult than it would otherwise be. Indeed, in some ways the European Union augments the power of the largest member state. This is another reason why America should remain a European — as well as a Pacific — power.

… Pax Democratica

The fourth new feature is that democracy and free enterprise now provide the foundations for the new politics and economics of our time. The great ideological battle of the century, between absolute centralised planning and control on the one hand and freedom with rule of law, private property and limited government on the other, has come to an end. Communism has totally failed to deliver happiness or prosperity, and its failure has been at the expense of human lives and human dignity. The cost has been terrible.

In fact, war turns out not to have been the most deadly form of violence. While 36 million people have been killed in battle in all foreign and domestic wars in our century, at least 119 million have been killed by government genocide, massacres and other mass killings. As many as 95 million of these were killed by communist regimes.

In the light of these figures, who can seriously disagree with your Prime Minister's assessment that (and I quote):

“the basic and most essential agenda of the world hereafter, perhaps through the next century, is the consolidation and concretisation of democracy. On this single plank, directly or indirectly, will depend the prospects of peace, disarmament and development — in one word, the survival of mankind” ?

May I also add that this concern to advance democracy is just as practical as it is idealistic. Genuine democracies do not, by and large, make wars upon each other. Regimes which respect human rights at home are more likely to foreswear aggression abroad. The values of freedom give even culturally different countries a common understanding of the need for restraint, compromise and respect. That is why it is an essential part of foreign policy to encourage them.

I also believe that the spread of communications technology will make it far more difficult in future to exclude information about events and alternative ideas, or to brainwash populations into subservience. This is something on which all those concerned to entrench and widen freedom must concentrate; for there are still countries in which governments are blocking outside broadcasts and abusing their broadcasting monopolies. These obstacles to liberty and peace can and must be broken down.

Old Features of the “New Order”

So much for the changes since the end of the Cold War. But let us not forget the things which are perpetual.

There will always be conflict: it is part of human nature, part of the eternal battle between good and evil.

There will always be those who are prepared to use force to attain their objectives.

… Never appease an aggressor

The world is as full of potential and actual aggressors as ever — dictators will not suddenly become an extinct species. With the fall of the Soviet Union, their ability to manipulate their way to success by playing off one super-power against another has gone. But there are other problems. As the great powers' arsenals of weapons of mass destruction have been reduced, those weapons — including nuclear materials — have been the subject of unauthorised sale to troublesome and unstable second-order powers. This has given them the potential means to wreak havoc with their neighbours. Moreover, religious fanaticism, an extreme nationalism which is closer to facism than to a fundamental understanding of the religion itself, and resurgent tribal and ethnic resentments have all filled the gap left by communism. And each of these forces can be exploited by dictators who have a mind to do so.

Aggression must never be allowed to pay. That principle was one which had to be applied in the world before the Cold War, and during it, and must apply now. When international law and order, treaties and frontiers, human rights and norms of decency are flouted by aggressors with impunity, that is a signal to others to try their luck. So when Britain defeated the Argentinian aggressor in 1982, that was a blow against all aggression. And similarly, the world's failure to defeat the Serb aggressor in the former Yugoslavia encourages aggressors everywhere. As a result, the world is a more dangerous place.

It is perhaps difficult to consider what has happened in Bosnia and Croatia with the coolness that such analysis warrants. Horror at the brutality of the Serb extremists, pity for their tragic victims who were murdered or left to treck through the hills from Srebrenica and Zepa in search of safety, shame at the West's humiliating impotence — these must be the predominant reactions. But it is still important to evaluate the catastrophe as a case study to learn its lessons.

Don't treat the aggressor on equal terms with his victim.

Don't believe that dictators and butchers will keep their word.

Don't make empty threats.

Don't send in soldiers without a clear idea of their objective.

Don't imagine for a moment that international bodies will take swift, effective action in a crisis: such decisions must be entrusted, as in the Gulf War, to a multinational force of well armed nation states under strong leadership — a point to which I shall return shortly.

Do accept that internationally recognised countries have a right to defend themselves and to acquire the means to do so. This right of self-defence is far older than the UN. The lesson of Croatia's recent military success in re-taking its own territory from rebel Serbs is that the latter are not invincible when confronted with well armed opposition. If the Bosnians were provided with sufficient heavy weapons they too could re-take their own land.

… Keep your defences strong

And this leads to the second element of continuity with the Cold War era: the need for strong defence. It was, I believe, right to reconsider the level of defence spending in Western countries when the threat from the Soviet Union greatly diminished at the end of the 1980s. But there was, in retrospect, too much baseless optimism — which is the Achilles heel of democracies in their foreign and defence policies. Too many people failed to hold on to the essential reasons why we had won the Cold War in the first place.

Yes: of course, the battle of ideas which Ronald Reagan and I and others fought was important. But argument was not in itself enough.

Yes: the tireless and inspiring resistance of dissidents in the Communist countries was vital. But martyrdom was not enough.

And yes: the foundations of communism were a good deal shakier than many people thought. But waiting for communism to implode would not have been enough.

The fact is that without the defence build-up which owes so much to Ronald Reagan, without the willingness of European countries to station cruise missiles, above all without the American Strategic Defence Initiative which Moscow knew it could not match, the Cold War either would not have been won — or it would have taken many more years and many more lives to win it.

That is why it is impossible to stress too much that the only peace dividend we can expect from victory by the free world in the Cold War is peace itself. In my view, Western countries are now cutting back their defences too far. They are forgetting the crucial lesson: it is not strength that causes wars, but weakness.

There are real and growing threats which have to be faced. I have already mentioned the eternal ambitions of dictators and the way in which greater availability of military hardware is increasing their capabilities. The world must wake up to the problems which Iran may pose. The problem of North Korea has not been solved. You know too in this part of the world that there are serious tensions between neighbouring states. It is impossible to forecast whether regional problems might ultimately escalate into global ones that need wider international action.

…The importance of the nation state

The third principle which applies as much in the post-Cold War world as during those earlier years is the importance of the nation state. There are those who dispute this. 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 moral norms which apply are those of the nation

— and the only interests which need to be considered are those of the nation

then 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 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 nation-states with a history of liberty, justice and democracy. You need such a nation-state, which is willing to act resolutely when internationally-accepted rules of conduct are broken, because that is the only real deterrent to violence and aggression, and ultimately the only force to defeat them.

… And don't rely on international organisations

It is a grave error to believe that now, any more than during the Cold War, international bodies can satisfactorily take on the role of national governments. International bodies should be just that — bodies which foster cooperation between nations. This is not to say that they are necessarily ineffective.

The United Nations, at the summit of international cooperation, has the potential to be an influence for good. In the Assembly, important debates are held in which, as on Bosnia, the conscience of the international community is expressed. In the Security Council, the great powers argue out their differences and attempt to reach common understanding on issues which in the earlier part of this century could have led to war.

But when these organisations try to take upon themselves a role and powers which can only properly be wielded by national governments, misunderstanding, confusion, weakness and sheer inaction, even in the face of massacre and ethnic cleansing, result.

The true internationalist will only want to see things done by international bodies which cannot properly be done by national ones — and he will never fail to remember that national sovereignty is the basis of all international action.

India and the World

Although India has her own clear national security and other interests, she is very conscious of the importance of the international community in which she operates. She is one of the most influential members of the Commonwealth. Her standing in the whole Asia Pacific region, and indeed beyond, will continue to stem from the fact that she is the world's largest democracy, and will be increased by continuing economic reform and success. It will be easier for India to apply that influence in a world no longer divided between two political systems.

This, after all, was the hope of Rajiv Gandhi, in whose honour these lectures are delivered. He expressed it in these words:

“I dream of an India strong, independent, self-reliant and in the front rank of the nations of the world, in the service of mankind” .

In gratitude for his life, admiration for Sonia and affection for his family, we are charged with the duty of helping to make that dream come true.