Foreign Policy of Great Britain speech by
As I speak today, 1979 - and with it the 1970s-- has less than two
weeks to run. I myself will have some reason to remember both the
year and the decade with affection. But in general few, I suspect,
will regret the passing of either.
The last 10 years have not been a happy period for the Western
democracies domestically or internationally. Self-questioning is
essential to the health of any society. But we have perhaps carried
it too far and carried to extremes, of course, it causes paralysis.
The time has come when the West - above all Europe and the United
States-- must begin to substitute action for introspection.
We face a new decade - I have called it 'the dangerous decade' - in
which the challenges to our security and to our way of life may if
anything be more acute than in the 1970s. The response of Western
nations and their leaders will need to be firm, calm and concerted.
Neither weakness nor anger nor despair will serve us. The problems
are daunting but there is in my view ample reason for optimism.
Few international problems today lend themselves to simple
solutions. One reason is that few such problems can any longer be
treated in isolation. Increasingly they interact, one between the
other. Thanks to a still-accelerating technological revolution we
become daily more aware that the earth and its resources are finite
and in most respects shrinking.
The fact of global interdependence - I apologize for the jargon - is
nothing new. Four hundred years ago South American gold and silver
helped to cause inflation in Europe - an early example of the evils
of excess money supply. Two hundred years ago men fought in India
and along the Great Lakes here in America in order that, as Macaulay
put it, the King of Prussia might rob a neighbour whom he had
promised to defend.
But the popular perception of interdependence lagged far behind the
fact. When I was in my teens a British Prime Minister could still
refer to Czechoslovakia as 'a far-away country' of whose quarrels
the British people knew nothing; and an American President could
still experience difficulty in persuading his people of the need to
concern themselves with a European war.
Today it is painfully obvious that no man - and no nation - is an
island. What President Cleveland once described as 'foreign broils'
are brought into every home. The price of oil in Saudi Arabia and
Nigeria, the size of the grain harvest in Kansas and the Ukraine -
these are of immediate concern to people all over the world. The
Middle East and the middle West have become neighbours and will
remain so, uncomfortable though they may on occasion find it. The
bell tolls for us all.
This has been tragically underlined in recent weeks. The world has
watched with anger and dismay the events of Tehran. We have all felt
involved with the fate of the hostages. Nothing can excuse the
treatment they have received; for hundreds of years the principle of
the immunity of the messenger and the diplomat has been respected.
Now this principle, central to the civilized conduct of relations
between states, is being systematically flouted.
We in Britain have respected and supported the calmness and
resolution with which President Carter has handled an appalling
situation. With our partners in Europe we have given full public and
private support to his efforts to secure the unconditional release
of the hostages. We will continue to support and to help in any way
we can. Above all we have admired the forbearance with which the
American people have responded to the indignities inflicted upon
their fellow citizens. That restraint has undoubtedly been in the
best interests of the captives.
The Iranian crisis epitomises the problems which we face in trying
to co-exist in a shrinking world where political, economic and
social upheavals are endemic. Some would add religious upheavals to
that list. But I do not believe we should judge Islam by events in
Iran. Least of all should we judge it by the taking of hostages.
There is a tide of self-confidence and self-awareness in the Muslim
world which preceded the Iranian Revolution, and will outlast its
present excesses. The West should recognize this with respect, no,
hostility. The Middle East is an area where we have much at stake.
It is in our own interests, as well as in the interests of the
people of that region, that they build on their own deep religious
traditions. We do not wish to see them succumb to the fraudulent
appeal of imported Marxism.
Because, to look beyond the Middle East, I am convinced that there
is little force left in the original Marxist stimulus to revolution.
Its impetus is petering out as the practical failure of the doctrine
becomes daily more obvious. It has failed to take root in the
advanced democracies. In those countries where it has taken root -
countries backward or, by tradition, authoritarian - it has failed
to provide sustained economic or social development. What is left is
a technique of subversion and a collection of catch-phrases. The
former, the technique of subversion, is still dangerous. Like
terrorism it is a menace that needs to be fought wherever it occurs
- and British Prime Ministers have had reason to speak with some
passion about terrorism in recent years. As for the catch-phrases of
Marxism, they still have a certain drawing power. But they have none
in the countries which are ruled by the principles of Marx.
Communist regimes can no longer conceal the gulf that separates
their slogans from reality.
The immediate threat from the Soviet Union is military rather than
ideological. The threat is not only to our security in Europe and
North America but also, both directly and by proxy, in the third
world. I have often spoken about the military challenge which the
West faces today. I have sometimes been deliberately misunderstood,
especially by my enemies who have labelled me the 'Iron Lady.' They
are quite right - I am. Let me, therefore, restate a few simple
The Soviet Union continues to proclaim the ideological, struggle. It
asserts that the demise of the Western political system is
inevitable. It neglects the fact that few indeed who live in Western
democracies show any sign of wanting to exchange their system for
that operated by the Russians. In 1919, Lenin said:
"World imperialism cannot live side by side with a victorious Soviet
revolution - the one or the other will be victorious in the end."
The Soviet government have not repudiated this threatening
prediction. Indeed they broadcast their ambitions wholesale. They
should not be surprised if we listen and take note.
Meanwhile they expand their armed forces on land, sea and air. They
continually improve the quality of their armaments. They and their
allies outnumber us in Europe. Their men, their ships, and their
aircraft appear ever more regularly in parts of the world where they
have never been seen before. Their Cuban and East German proxies
We can argue about Soviet motives. But the fact is that the Russians
have the weapons and are getting more of them. It is simple prudence
for the West to respond. We in Britain intend to do that to the best
of our ability and at every level including the strategic. President
Carter has shown that he intends to do likewise. And the Alliance
last week decided to modernize its long-range theatre nuclear
weapons. This in due course will help to balance the new and
sophisticated weapons the Russians already have targeted on Europe.
The strategic power of the U.S.A. in the Western Alliance remains
paramount. But I would underline the contribution of the European
members of NATO - a contribution which is never overlooked by the
Modern weapons are totally destructive and immensely expensive. It
is in nobody's interest that they should be piled up indefinitely.
It makes good sense for both sides to seek agreements on arms
control which preserve the essential security of each. We in Britain
have therefore supported the talks on Strategic Arms Limitation and
on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions. The British Government
hopes that the SALT II agreement can be ratified.
I have been attacked by the Soviet Government for arguing that the
West should put itself in a position to negotiate from strength. But
in saying this, I have done no more than echo the constant ambition
of the Soviet Government itself. I am not talking about negotiations
from a position of superiority. What I am seeking is a negotiation
in which we and they start from the position of balance, and if both
sides can negotiate, genuinely, to maintain that balance at lower
levels, I shall be well content. It is in that spirit that I
approach the proposals which have recently been made by President
Brezhnev and others.
The East/West conflict permeates most global issues. But other
equally pressing problems have arisen. These affect above all the
world economy and the relationship between the developed Western
world and the newly emerging countries of Latin America, Africa and
No country can today escape economic involvement with the economies
of others. In the U.K. external trade has always been of central
importance to our economy. In the U.S.A. this has been less so. But
recently you have become much more dependent on overseas countries.
10 years ago you imported 5 percent of your oil. Now it is 50
percent. But it is not just oil - this has obvious consequences for
your foreign policy. So, rich and poor, communist and non-communist,
oil-producers and oil-consumers - our economic welfare is
increasingly affected by the operation of the market. Increasingly
affected by the growing demand of complex industries for scarce
materials and by the pressure on the world's finite resources of
All of this has coincided with a prolonged period of uneasiness in
the world's economy. The immediate prospects are sombre: inflation
will be difficult to eradicate; growth has fallen sharply from its
earlier levels; there is a constant threat of disorder in the world
oil market. News of recent price rises can only have added to the
general uncertainty which is one of the most damaging consequences
of the present oil situation. The task of economic management, both
nationally and internationally, is becoming more and more difficult.
The precarious balance of the world economy could at any time be
shaken by political upheavals in one or more countries over which
the rest of us might have very little influence.
In these circumstances, we all have a direct practical interest in
the orderly settlement of political disputes.
These were some considerations which, in addition to the obvious
ones, persuaded the new British Government of the need for a
decisive effort to secure a settlement in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. As you
know, after months of strenuous negotiation, overall agreement was
finally reached yesterday on the new Constitution, arrangements for
free and fair elections, and a ceasefire. The agreement secured in
London showed that even the most intractable problem will yield to
the necessary combination of resolve and imagination. Concessions
were made by all sides. Many difficult decisions were involved - not
least for the British Government, which found itself acquiring a new
colony, albeit for a short period. We are grateful for the forceful
and timely support we received throughout the negotiations from the
United States Government, and from President Carter personally,
especially in the final stages.
We have no illusion about the practical problems of implementing
this agreement on the ground, against a background of years of
bitter conflict. But now is a time for reconciliation, and for
restoring normal relations between all the states in the area. The
Lancaster House agreement could prove a major step toward peaceful
evolution and away from violent revolution in Southern Africa. We
are encouraged to persevere with the Five Power initiative to
achieve an all-party settlement in Namibia.
In this context I want to say a particular word about South Africa.
There is now a real prospect that the conflicts on South Africa's
borders, in Rhodesia and Namibia, will shortly be ended. This,
combined with welcome initiatives in South African domestic
policies, offer a chance to defuse a regional crisis which was
potentially of the utmost gravity, and to make progress toward an
ending of the isolation of South Africa in world affairs.
We must not regard these problems as insoluble. The West has immense
material and moral assets. To those assets must be added the clarity
to see where our strengths should be used; the will and confidence
to use them with precision; and the stamina to see things through.
Let us never forget that despite the difficulties to which I have
referred, the Western democracies remain overwhelmingly strong in
economic terms. We are, it is true, more vulnerable than before.
Vulnerable because of our reliance on raw materials; vulnerable
because of the specialization and complexity of our societies. It is
vital therefore, that we keep a steady nerve and that we concert our
policies. We already agree on the basic requirements - on the need
to defeat inflation; to avoid protectionalism: to use our limited
energy resources better. And as we deal with the problems our
inherent vitality will reassert itself. There is, after all, no
discernible challenge to the role of the Western democracies as the
driving force of the world economy.
The political strength and stability of the West is equally
striking. Preoccupied by passing political dramas, we often overlook
the real sturdiness of our political institutions. They are not
seriously challenged from within. They meet the aspirations of
ordinary people. They attract the envy of those who do not have
them. In the 35 years since the last war, they have shown themselves
remarkably resistant to subversive influences.
Our democratic systems have made it possible to organize our
relationships with one another on a healthy basis. The North
Atlantic Alliance and the European Community are - and remain - free
associations of free peoples. Policies are frankly debated. Of
course the debates are often lively and occasionally heated. But
those debates are a sign of strength just as the regimented
agreements of the Communist alliances are a mark of weakness.
The argument now going on in the European Community is a case in
point. The Community is used to debate, often difficult and
prolonged. We are seeing at present something more serious than many
of the disputes which have taken place in the past. But the
interests that unite the members of the Community are stronger than
those which divide them - particularly when viewed in the light of
other international problems. I believe that these common interests
will assert themselves. I am confident that an acceptable solution
will be found and that the European Community will emerge fortified
from the debate. And a strong Europe is the best partner for the
United States. It is on the strength of that partnership that the
strength of the free world depends.
The last asset I want to mention today is the West's relationship
with the countries of the Third World. Neither recent events; nor
past injustices; nor the outdated rhetoric of anti-colonialism can
disguise the real convergence of interest between the Third World
and the West.
It is we in the West who have the experience and contacts the Third
World needs. We supply most of the markets for their goods and their
raw materials. We supply most of the technology they require. We
provide them with private investment as well as Government aid.
We do this not only for our own sake but also because we support the
efforts of the countries of the Third World to develop their own
I have only been able to touch on a few current international
issues. There are many I have not mentioned. Nor would I wish anyone
to think that I underestimate the difficulties, particularly on the
domestic economic front, faced by Britain and our Western partners,
including the United States. But these difficulties can and will be
overcome provided we do not undervalue ourselves nor decry our
strength. We shall need self-confidence to tackle the dangerous
It is a time for action, action for the eighties:
The cynics among you will say that none of this is new. Quite right.
It isn't. But there are no new magic formulae. We know what we have
to do. Our problems will only yield to sustained effort. That is the
challenge of political leadership.
Enduring success never comes easily to an individual or to a
country. To quote Walt Whitman: "It takes struggles in life to make
strength; it takes fight for principles to make fortitude; it takes
crisis to give courage and singleness of purpose to reach an
objective." Let us go down in history as the generation which not
only understood what needed to be done but a generation which had
the strength, the self-discipline and the resolve to see it through.
That is our generation. That is our task for the '80s.
The Foreign Policy of Great Britain speech
by Margaret Thatcher