The "Iron Lady" and the Cold War
By Margaret Thatcher
Reviewed by Francis P. Sempa, Contributing Editor
Margaret Thatcher, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, died on April 8 at the age of 87. When she assumed office, Britain and the West were on the geopolitical defensive against the Soviet empire. When she left office, the West had won the Cold War.
During her 33-year parliamentary career, Mrs. Thatcher spoke often and eloquently about the nature of the West's struggle with Soviet communism. As Paul Johnson and others have pointed out, Mrs. Thatcher shares credit with Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II for helping to bring about the collapse of the Soviet empire.
As early as 1975 in a speech to the Chelsea Constituency Association, Mrs. Thatcher lamented that "freedom has come under heavy attack" by Soviet Russia and its client states. She warned that the soviets were building and deploying a navy of global reach which threatened the security of Britain and the United States. She criticized those in the West who ignored the warnings of Solzhenitsyn and clung to the mirage of detente.
Less than a year later, she delivered a speech in Britain that earned for her from the Soviets the description as the "Iron Lady." The "strategic threat" to Britain and the West, she said, was "graver than at any moment since the end of" World War II. "The Russians," she undiplomatically said, "are bent on world dominance." The West, she warned, was "falling for an illusory detente." Britain and the West, she insisted, "have been fighting a kind of Third World War since 1945." Moreover, the Soviets had the advantage in this war of fighting all of the battles on Western territory, not theirs. (A distant echo of the strategic analysis of James Burnham and Brian Crozier). Like Ronald Reagan in the United States, Mrs. Thatcher in Britain promoted the idea of peace through strength, determination, deterrence, and will.
As Prime Minister she sounded the same theme in many of her speeches. In a June 1982 speech to the United Nations, Mrs. Thatcher dismissed the notion that disarmament and arms control produced peace. "The fundamental risk to peace," she explained, is not the existence of weapons It is the disposition, on the part of some states to impose change on others by resorting to force." The lesson of history, she noted, was that "disarmament and good intentions on their own do not ensure peace." It was "an evasion of responsibility to suppose that we can prevent the horrors of war by focusing on its instruments."
Two years later, speaking before a joint session of Congress about the threat of Soviet expansionism, Thatcher invoked her illustrious predecessor Winston Churchill and the lessons of the 1930s. "We have to resist the muddled arguments of those who would have us simply give up our defences in the hope that where we led, others would follow. As we learned cruelly in the 1930s, from good intentions can come tragic results."
Out of office after the West's victory in the Cold War, Mrs. Thatcher identified the policies that led to the fall of communism: the military build-up of the 1980s; the recovery of America's and the West's self-confidence; technological innovations; and the revival of Western economies based on free market principles. The West won, she said, because it overcame the "crisis of the spirit" that undermined its will in the 1970s. She gave full credit for the West's victory to Ronald Reagan and the endurance of the NATO alliance. She warned, however, that the democracies should not repeat the mistakes of the past by disarming in the wake of victory. Mrs. Thatcher ended her remarks by affirming that "true statesmanship in a free country requires unswerving commitment to make the sovereignty of justice prevail, an ability to inspire others with the rightness of a cause [and] strong arms and great hearts."
Margaret Thatcher was a staunch Cold Warrior, an unflinching defender of the West, and a champion of freedom.