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
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
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
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
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 propositions.
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
"World imperialism cannot live side by side with a victorious
Soviet revolution - the one or the other will be victorious in
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 likewise.
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 Russians.
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 Asia.
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 fossil fuels.
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
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
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
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
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
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 decade.
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.