SPEECH BY THE RT HON BARONESS THATCHER TO A LUNCHEON ORGANISED BY SIR JOHN SWAN, TUESDAY 7TH AUGUST 2001
BERMUDA –ISLANDS IN THE STREAM
Sir John, ladies and gentlemen.
Denis and I always love visiting Bermuda – but it is rare moment when I can claim that we have come here from Britain to cool off!
It never ceases to fascinate me how misfortunes often have a happy outcome. Who could have thought that Admiral Sir George Somers’ shipwreck on this coast in 1609 would mark the beginning of so fruitful a relationship between these islands and Britain.
Tradition has it that Shakespeare based his play The Tempest on Somers’ experience. Perhaps Bermuda with its golden beaches and azure sea bears little resemblance to Prospero’s dark island. Yet the two clearly share one common advantage for as the poet wrote:
“How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world That has such people in’t!”
A SPEAKER’S DILEMMA
In speaking today I am conscious of the advice which one of my predecessors as Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, gave to a newly elected Member of Parliament who was contemplating his maiden speech in the House of Commons.
“For the first six months,” said Disraeli, “you should listen and not become involved in debate”.
“But” the eager young MP asked, “ will my colleagues not wonder why I do not speak?”
“Better they should wonder why you do not speak” explained Disraeli, “than why you do.”
THE LESSONS OF HISTORY
In daring to defy Disraeli’s warning, perhaps I might begin by reflecting briefly on the past century.
Back in 1900 much of the world could look forward to the years ahead with growing hope. The advance of science, technology and medicine was transforming peoples lives. New discoveries were being made at an ever more rapid rate. Industrial productivity and trade were reaching undreamed of levels. Over the following 100 years people came to expect longer, healthier and wealthier lives.
And just by listing some of the advances we can see how much our lives have been transformed. At the beginning of the century the motor car was still a rarity and powered flight three years away. There were no washing machines, no refrigerators – and no air-conditioning! Antibiotics and plastics were yet to be developed. The atom remained undivided. Our understanding of genetics was rudimentary. There were no radios, no televisions, no computers – the Web was still for spiders and the Net for fishermen!
Politicians have not always been quick to recognise the potential benefits of these advances. I am reminded of the story of William Gladstone, who as Prime Minister went to visit the laboratory of the distinguished scientist Michael Faraday. Faraday received the Prime Minister and demonstrated his remarkable new invention, the electric generator. Afterwards he waited for the Prime Minister’s response, expecting him to be suitably impressed but there was silence. Eventually Gladstone did speak, “Tell me Mr Faraday” he said,” will this new discovery of electricity be of any practical use?”. To which the indignant but quick-witted Faraday replied “Oh yes Prime Minister. One day you will tax it!”
But amidst all this progress the last century also saw the two worst tyrannies the world has ever known.
The first, Nazism and its cousin fascism, was defeated in war.
The second, communism, had a far more lingering legacy.
THE GREAT EXPERIMENT AND THE COLLAPSE OF COMMUNISM
For over seventy years it was as if the world was locked into a great experiment. On the one hand there was our way – the way of freedom. On the other was communism – the way of coercion.
Communism held its people in a grip of terror. It brought neither dignity nor prosperity and in the end it collapsed under the weight of its own failure.
The results of communist oppression were tragic. But sometimes they had their comic side. The Russians who are lucky to have such a marvelous sense of humour, if only because they’ve had so little to laugh about, recount a story about Leonid Brezhnev’s arrival at the pearly gates. St Peter tells him that he has not exactly led the sort of life that would qualify him for heaven but that he can choose between a capitalist and a socialist hell. To St Peter’s surprise the former Soviet leader replies that he would prefer a socialist hell. St Peter tells him to think carefully: this is no time for propaganda! But Brezhnev repeats that he chooses the socialist hell. St Peter grants his wish but, greatly puzzled, asks for an explanation. “Ah,” replies Brezhnev. “ It is because I know that in a socialist hell they will always be short of fuel!”
FREEDOM WORKS – LET’S NOT BE AFRAID TO SAY SO!
Though we have won the great ideological battle, it does not mean that our fight is over.
When I became Prime Minister in 1979, there were fewer than 50 free countries in the world. Today, because of our efforts, there are 86 Free countries. But there are still a further 59 only Partly Free countries, and alas, 47 countries Not Free at all. And those figures are Freedom House’s not mine. So there is more to be done to strengthen liberty in the world.
But my friends, we know what works – democracy, coupled to free enterprise, under a rule of law.
Political freedom and economic freedom go hand in hand. One will not long outlast the other.
It is free enterprise, which creates wealth, not meddling governments. Enterprise satisfies markets at home and abroad, generating profits and jobs, and producing higher living standards.
Moreover, the market is not some new-fangled academic invention. The freedom to buy and sell, to trade and barter, is the oldest system of exchange known to man.
Free enterprise works because, like democracy, it gives power to the people. Indeed, we could describe it as economic democracy, for it limits the power of government by maximising the power of individuals.
The proper role of government is to provide a clear economic framework and a rule of law, which together encourage the natural talents of the people to flourish. Opportunity, prosperity and progress will all follow.
In every age, there’s a tendency for government to take more power; to take more money; and to make its citizens more and more dependent – and all the while to tell them soothingly it’s for their own good. Ronald Reagan saw through this, as he did much else, when he described the nine most dangerous words in the English language as: “I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help…..”
DEFENDING FREEDOM – THE GATHERING STORM
Just as we must adhere firmly to our principles in our own countries, so too must we apply them to the international challenges we face.
Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria and North Korea all form part of that dysfunctional family of nations we refer to as the “rogue states”. All these countries have promoted or practised violence. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction affords them new opportunities to threaten us.
Such states know that simply by possessing these weapons they could sharply change the balance of advantage in their dealings with the West. In a crisis, they could threaten to take out a major Western city. But even the possibility of such action, they hope, would be enough to prevent Western interventions in support of our interests and our allies.
Nevertheless, the danger is already with us.
GLOBAL MISSILE DEFENCE – AN URGENT NECESSITY
This is why the creation of a system of global missile defence is a matter of urgent necessity. We live in a world of multiple threats. Some 37 states possess around 13,000 ballistic missiles, and there is an increased risk of unauthorised or accidental missile attack.
So, I applaud the vision of President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld in seeking to create a missile shield which would protect the American homeland, as well as America’s allies and our deployed forces. My friends, we need global missile defence – and we need it now!
FRIENDS OR ENEMIES? – THE JURY’S STILL OUT
To me it’s strange that so many European states have enthusiastically lined up with Russia and China in opposing America’s plans. After all, in their different ways, both Russia and China still pose a potential threat.
In 1962, the former US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, memorably said that “Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role”. Today that reflection could be applied to Russia. A decade on from the collapse of the Soviet empire are we any clearer about the direction Russia will take in the future?
Well, perhaps we are.
First, we have seen democracy of a sort take root. Vladimir Putin is now Russia’s second freely elected President, following Boris Yeltsin. The Russian Duma is directly elected by the people – even if they do have the discomforting habit of voting in too many communists! And similar democratic changes have occurred at local level.
But there are some worrying signs that the desire of ordinary Russians for law and order could be used as an excuse by the authorities for a return to internal repression. The Government’s clamp-down on its media critics reveal that there is still some way to go towards a real understanding of all that freedom entails. For the moment the jury is still out.
Second, Russia’s economy, after a first decade littered with disasters, seems to be stabilising and reform is moving forward – even if at a slow pace. President Putin’s programme calling for lower taxes, less government interference and more competition sounds promising. And I believe that he understands that only a free enterprise economy will deliver the wealth which Russia so badly needs and its people deserve.
But third, and less encouraging, Russia’s foreign policy still seems to be based heavily on its Soviet past. There are attempts to split Europe from the United States (as over ballistic missile defence). There is deep hostility to the use of Western power (as in Kosovo). And there is brutal disregard for the rights of non-Russians, who by misfortune live within the Russian empire (as with Chechnya).
Russia is also intent on trying to forge a strategic partnership with China aimed at the West.
At their recent meetings, Presidents Bush and Putin seem to have established good personal relations. But we will have to see what effect this has on Russian actions.
Let me now consider China.
Everyone agrees that China is a rising power. Its already vast population (1.2 billion people) is growing, so is its economy, and so are its ambitions. Moreover, China’s past history and present ideology mean that for the foreseeable future it will probably remain hostile to the West.
For the moment, China’s military lags far behind that of the United States, but we should be on our guard. With its known proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and its ambitions towards Taiwan, China needs to be watched. Moreover, Chinese behaviour over the downing of the American reconnaissance plane demonstrates that this is one country where communist habits still hold sway.
I don’t believe the argument that economic progress in China will automatically remove any threat. True pressures for democracy will increase as living standards rise. But the ruling communist elite in China is not going to go quickly or quietly.
That said, there are some promising signs. Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji has a formidable grasp of economics and I find him very ready to engage in discussions about reform. Only time will tell whether the forces of reform or of old-style communism will prevail. In the meantime we must be on our guard.
ANOTHER CENTURY OF FREEDOM
When he was an old man, in 1899, the great German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, was asked by a journalist what he considered would be the decisive factor in shaping the coming century. He replied “The fact that the North Americans speak English”. How right he was.
Over the past century the English-speaking peoples of the world have fought to defend and extend freedom. Britain, with the Empire and Commonwealth, and the United States have repeatedly stood together in times of world crisis – the First World War, the Second World War, the Cold War and the Gulf War. The relationship between our nations is founded, not just on a shared language, but also on shared history, on shared values and on shared ideals. Together, we have withstood the forces of evil and tyranny in whatever form we found them.
In the words of Winston Churchill we have discharged our “common duty to the human race”. And if freedom is to flourish we must continue with our task.