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Margaret Thatcher’s Speech to Congress
Prime Minister Thatcher delivered the fourth speech to Congress by a British prime minister. The first three speeches were by Winston Churchill.
In her thoughtful and prescient remarks, the Prime Minister reached back into history to recall how far the English-Speaking Peoples had come since victory in World War II, and how much remained to accomplish. Like Churchill, she would be pleased that for the most part, they met the tests before them, in his words, with “a stern sentiment of impartial justice, and above all the love of personal freedom, or as Kipling put it: ‘Leave to live by no man’s leave underneath the law.’” Churchill also warned Congress: “Be careful above all things not to let go of the atomic weapon until you are sure and more than sure that other means of preserving peace are in your hands.”
There is much of current relevance in her words: timeless truths that we all would do well to ponder. “The frontier of freedom cuts across our continent,” she said. In many ways it still does.
Congress, 20 February 1985
Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Distinguished Members of Congress:
On this, one of the most moving occasions of my life, my first words must be to say thank you for granting me this rare privilege of addressing a joint meeting of the United States Congress.
My thoughts turn to three earlier occasions when a British prime minister, Winston Churchill, has been honored by a call to address both Houses. Among his many remarkable gifts, Winston held a special advantage here. Through his American mother, he had ties of blood with you. Alas, for me, these are not matters we can readily arrange for ourselves.
Those three occasions deserve to be recalled because they serve as lamps along a dark road which our people trod together; and they remind us what an extraordinary period of history the world has passed through between that time and ours; and they tell us what later generations in both our countries sometimes find hard to grasp: why past associations bind us so closely.
Winston Churchill‘s vision of a union of mind and purpose between the English-Speaking Peoples was to form the mainspring of the West. No one of my generation can forget that America has been the principal architect of a peace in Europe which has lasted forty years. Given the shield of the United States, we have been granted the opportunities to build a concept of Europe beyond the dreams of our fathers; a Europe which seemed unattainable amid the mud and slaughter of the First World War and the suffering and sacrifice of the Second.
When, in the spring of 1945, the guns fell silent, General Eisenhower called our soldiers to a Service of Thanksgiving. In the order of service was a famous prayer of Sir Francis Drake:
“Oh Lord God, when Thou givest to Thy Servants to endeavour any great matter, grant us to know that it is not the beginning but the continuing of the same until it be thoroughly finished, which yieldeth the true glory.”
On this day, close to the fortieth anniversary of that service and of peace in Europe—one of the longest periods without war in all our history—I should like to recall those words and acknowledge how faithfully America has fulfilled them. For our deliverance from what might have befallen us, I would not have us leave our gratitude to the tributes of history. The debt the free peoples of Europe owe to this nation, generous with its bounty, willing to share its strength, seeking to protect the week, is incalculable. We thank and salute you.
Of course, in the years which separate us from the time when Winston Churchill last spoke to Congress, there have been disappointments as well as hopes fulfilled: the continued troubles in the Middle East, famine and oppression in Africa; genocide in South East Asia; the brutal occupation of Afghanistan; the undiminished agony of tortured Poland; and above all, the continued and continuing division of the European continent.
From these shores, it may seem to some of you that by comparison with the risk and sacrifice which America has borne through four decades and the courage with which you have shouldered unwanted burdens, Europe has not fully matched your expectations. Bear with me if I dwell for a moment on the Europe to which we now belong.
It is not the Europe of ancient Rome, of Charlemagne, of Bismarck. We who are alive today have passed through perhaps the greatest transformation of human affairs on the Continent of Europe since the fall of Rome. In but a short chapter of its long history, Europe lost the position which it had occupied for two thousand years—and it is your history as much as ours.
For five centuries, that small continent had extended its authority over islands and continents the world over.
For the first forty years of this century, there were seven great powers: United States, Great Britain, Germany, France, Russia, Japan, Italy. Of those seven, two now tower over the rest: the United States and the Soviet Union.
To that swift and historic change Europe—a Europe of many different histories and many different nations—has had to find a response. It has not been an easy passage to blend this conflux of nationalism, patriotism, sovereignty, into a European Community, yet I think that our children and grandchildren may see this period—these birth pangs of a new Europe—more clearly than we do now. They will see it as a visionary chapter in the creation of a Europe able to share the load alongside you. Do not doubt the firmness of our resolve in this march towards this goal, but do not underestimate what we already do.
Today, out of the forces of the Alliance in Europe, 95% of the divisions, 85% of the tanks, 80% of the combat aircraft, and 70% of the fighting ships are provided, manned and paid for by the European Allies, and Europe has more than three million troops under arms and more still in reserve. We have to. We are right in the front line. The frontier of freedom cuts across our continent.
Members of Congress, the defense of that frontier is as vital to you as it is to us.
It is fashionable for some commentators to speak of the two super powers—United States and the Soviet Union—as though they were somehow of equal worth and equal significance. Mr. Speaker, that is a travesty of the truth. The Soviet Union has never concealed its real aim. In the words of Mr. Brezhnev, “the total triumph of all Socialism all over the world is inevitable—for this triumph we shall struggle with no lack of effort.” Indeed, there has been no lack of effort!
Contrast this with the record of the West. We do not aim at domination, at hegemony, in any part of the world. Even against those who oppose and who would destroy our ideas, we plot no aggression. Of course, we are ready to fight the battle of ideas with all the vigour at our command, but we do not try to impose our system on others. We do not believe that force should be the final arbiter in human affairs. We threaten no-one. Indeed, the Alliance has given a solemn assurance to the world—none of our weapons will be used except in response to attack.
In talking to the Soviet Union, we find great difficulty in getting this message across. They judge us by their ambitions. They cannot conceive of a powerful nation not using its power for expansion or subversion, and yet they should remember that when, after the last War, the United States had a monopoly of nuclear weapons, she never once exploited her superiority. No country ever used such great power more responsibly or with such restraint. I wonder what would have befallen us in Western Europe and Great Britain if that monopoly had been in Soviet hands.
Mr. Speaker, wars are not caused by the build-up of weapons. They are caused when an aggressor believes he can achieve his objectives at an acceptable price. The war of 1939 was not caused by an arms race. It sprang from a tyrant’s belief that other countries lacked the means and the will to resist him. Remember Bismarck‘s phrase: “Do I want war? Of course not! I want victory.”
Our task is to see that potential aggressors, from whatever quarter, understand plainly that the capacity and the resolve of the West would deny them victory in war and that the price they would pay would be intolerable. That is the basis of deterrence and it is the same whatever the nature of the weapons, for let us never forget the horrors of conventional war and the hideous sacrifice of those who have suffered in them.
Our task is not only to prevent nuclear war, but to prevent conventional war as well.
No one understood the importance of deterrence more clearly than Winston Churchill , when in his last speech to you he said: “Be careful above all things not to let go of the atomic weapon until you are sure and more than sure that other means of preserving peace are in your hands.” Thirty-three years on, those weapons are still keeping the peace, but since then technology has moved on and if we are to maintain deterrence—as we must—it is essential that our research and capacity do not fall behind the work being done by the Soviet Union. That is why I firmly support President Reagan‘s decision to pursue research into defence against ballistic nuclear missiles—the Strategic Defense Initiative. Indeed, I hope that our own scientists will share in this research.
United States and the Soviet Union are both signatories to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, a treaty without any terminal date. Nothing in that treaty precludes research, but should that research—on either side—lead to the possible deployment of new defense systems, that would be a matter for negotiation under the treaty.
Mr. Speaker, despite our differences with the Soviet Union, we have to talk with them, for we have one overriding interest in common—that never again should there be a conflict between our peoples. We hope too that we can achieve security with far fewer weapons than we have today and at lower cost. And thanks to the skillful diplomacy of Secretary Shultz , negotiations on arms control open in Geneva on the 12th March. They will be of immense importance to millions. They will be intricate, complex and demanding, and we should not expect too much too soon.
We must recognize that we have faced a Soviet political offensive designed to sow differences among us; calculated to create infirmity of purpose; to impair resolve, and even to arouse fear in the hearts of our people.
Hope is such a precious commodity in the world today, but some attempted to buy it at too high a price. We shall have to resist the muddled arguments of those who have been induced to believe that Russia’s intentions are benign and that ours are suspect, or who would have us simply give up our defenses in the hope that where we led others would follow. As we learned cruelly in the 1930s, from good intentions can come tragic results!
Let us be under no illusions. It is our strength and not their goodwill that has brought the Soviet Union to the negotiating table in Geneva.
Mr. Speaker, we know that our alliance—if it holds firm—cannot be defeated, but it could be outflanked. It is among the unfree and the underfed that subversion takes root. As Ethiopia demonstrated, those people get precious little help from the Soviet Union and its allies. The weapons which they pour in bring neither help nor hope to the hungry. It is the West which heard their cries; it is the West which responded massively to the heart-rending starvation in Africa; it is the West which has made a unique contribution to the uplifting of hundreds of millions of people from poverty, illiteracy and disease.
But the problems of the Third World are not only those of famine. They face also a mounting burden of debt, falling prices for primary products, protectionism by the industrialized countries. Some of the remedies are in the hands of the developing countries themselves. They can open their markets to productive investment; they can pursue responsible policies of economic adjustment. We should respect the courage and resolve with which so many of them have tackled their special problems, but we also have a duty to help.
How can we help? First and most important, by keeping our markets open to them. Protectionism is a danger to all our trading partnerships and for many countries trade is even more important than aid. And so, we in Britain support President Reagan‘s call for a new GATT round.
The current strength of the dollar, which is causing so much difficulty for some of your industries, creates obvious pressures for special cases, for new trade barriers to a free market. I am certain that your Administration is right to resist such pressures. To give in to them would betray the millions in the developing world, to say nothing of the strains on your other trading partners. The developing countries need our markets as we need theirs, and we cannot preach economic adjustment to them and refuse to practise it at home.
And second, we must remember that the way in which we in the developed countries manage our economies determines whether the world’s financial framework is stable; it determines the level of interest rates; it determines the amount of capital available for sound investment the world over; and it determines whether or not the poor countries can service their past loans, let alone compete for new ones. And those are the reasons why we support so strongly your efforts to reduce the budget deficit.
No other country in the world can be immune from its effects—such is the influence of the American economy on us all.
We in Europe have watched with admiration the burgeoning of this mighty American economy. There is a new mood in the United States. A visitor feels it at once. The resurgence of your self-confidence and your national pride is almost tangible. Now the sun is rising in the West.
For many years, our vitality in Britain was blunted by excessive reliance on the State. Our industries were nationalised controlled and subsidized in a way that yours never were. We are having to recover the spirit of enterprise which you never lost. Many of the policies you are following are the policies we are following. You have brought inflation down. So have we. You have declared war on regulations and controls. So have we. Our Civil Service is now smaller than at any time since the War and controls on pay, prices, dividends, foreign exchange, all are gone.
You have encouraged small business—so often the source of tomorrow’s jobs. So have we. But above all, we are carrying out the largest program of denationalization in our history.
Just a few years ago, in Britain, privatization was thought to be a pipe dream. Now it is a reality, and a popular one. Our latest success was the sale of British Telecommunications. It was the largest share issue ever to be brought to the market on either side of the Atlantic—some two million people bought shares.
Members of Congress, that is what capitalism is—a system which brings wealth to the many and not just to the few.
The United Kingdom economy is in its fourth year of recovery: slower than yours, but positive recovery. We have not yet shared your success in bringing down unemployment, although we are creating many new jobs, but output, investment and standard of living are all at record levels and profits are well up. And the pound? It is too low! For whatever the proper international level of sterling, it is a marvelous time for Americans not only to visit Britain but to invest with her. And many are.
America is by far the largest direct investor in Britain and I am delighted to say that Britain is the largest direct investor in the United States.
The British economy has an underlying strength and like you, we use our strength and resolve to carry out our duties to our allies and to the wider world.
We were the first country to station cruise missiles on our territory. Britain led the rest. In proportion to our population, we station the same number of troops as you in Germany. In Central America, we keep troops stationed in Belize at that government’s request. That is our contribution to sustaining democracy in a part of the world so vital to the United States. We have troops in Cyprus and in the South Atlantic and at your request a small force in Sinai, and British servicemen are now on loan to some thirty foreign countries. We are alongside you in Beirut; we work with you in the Atlantic and in the Indian Ocean; our navy is on duty across the world. Mr. Speaker, Britain meets her responsibilities in the defense of freedom throughout the world and she will go on doing so.
Members of Congress, closer to home there is a threat to freedom both savage and insidious. Both our countries have suffered at the hands of terrorists. We have both lost some of our best young lives and I have lost some close and dear friends. Free, strong, democratic societies will not be driven by gunmen to abandon freedom or democracy. The problems of the Middle East will not be solved by the cold blooded murder of American servicemen in Lebanon, nor by the murder of American civilians on a hi-jacked aircraft. Nor will the problems of Northern Ireland be solved by the assassin’s gun or bomb.
Garret FitzGerald and I—and our respective governments—are united in condemning terrorism. We recognize the differing traditions and identities of the two parts of the community of Northern Ireland—the Nationalist and the Unionist. We seek a political way forward acceptable to them both, which respects them both. So long as the majority of people of Northern Ireland wish to remain part of the United Kingdom, their wishes will be respected. If ever there were to be a majority in favor of change, then I believe that our Parliament would respond accordingly, for that is the principle of consent enshrined in your constitution and in an essential part of ours.
There is no disagreement on this principle between the United Kingdom government and the government of the Republic of Ireland. Indeed, the four constitutional nationalist parties of Ireland, north and south, who came together to issue the New Ireland Forum Report, made clear that any new arrangements could only come about by consent, and I welcome too their outright condemnation and total rejection of terrorism and all its works.
Be under no illusions about the Provisional IRA. They terrorize their own communities. They are the enemies of democracy and of freedom too. Don’t just take my word for it. Ask the government of the Irish Republic, where it is an offence even to belong to that organization—as indeed it also is in Northern Ireland.
I recognize and appreciate the efforts which have been made by the Administration and Congress alike to bring home this message to American citizens who may be misled into making contributions to seemingly innocuous groups. The fact is that money is used to buy the deaths of Irishmen north and south of the border and 70% of those killed by the IRA are Irishmen—and that money buys the killing and wounding even of American citizens visiting our country.
Garret FitzGerald—and I salute him for the very brave thing he did yesterday in passing a special law to see that money did not get to the IRA—will continue to consult together in the quest for stability and peace in Northern Ireland and we hope we will have your continued support for our joint efforts to find a way forward.
Distinguished Members of Congress, our two countries have a common heritage as well as a common language. It is no mere figure of speech to say that many of your most enduring traditions—representative government, habeas corpus, trial by jury, a system of constitutional checks and balances—stem from our own small islands. But they are as much your lawful inheritance as ours. You did not borrow these traditions—you took them with you, because they were already your own.
Human progress is not automatic. Civilization has its ebbs and flows, but if we look at the history of the last five hundred years, whether in the field of art, science, technology, religious tolerance or in the practice of politics, the conscious inspiration of it all has been the belief and practice of freedom under law; freedom disciplined by morality, under the law perceived to be just.
I cannot conclude this address without recalling words made immortal by your great President Abraham Lincoln in his second Inaugural Address, when he looked beyond an age when men fought and strove towards a more peaceful future:
“With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right that God gives us to see the right. Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Members of Congress, may our two kindred nations go forward together sharing Lincoln ‘s vision, firm of purpose, strong in faith, warm of heart, as we approach the third millennium of the Christian era.
Mr. Speaker, thank-you.
Featured Image: Congress, 20 February 1985 (Cspan).