A Time for Leadership

Monday, October 30, 2000
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher

During my time as leader of the opposition and then as prime minister, the Hoover Institution was quite simply the world’s most important institute of research into political, economic, and international affairs. Its full title—the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace—and the date of its foundation, 1919, themselves remind us how much Hoover’s scholars have been involved with illuminating the struggle between freedom and communism and their first cousins, capitalism and socialism. The work of my old friend Bob Conquest exposing the inconvenient truth about the Soviet Union’s systematic genocide is just one of the many fruits of that endeavor.

Today, Hoover’s work is no less important. The Cold War did not end all war. Nor are all modern revolutions beneficent or scientific ones, and in much of the world, peace is a febrile, fragile thing. As T. S. Eliot once put it:

It is hard for those who live near a Police Station
To believe in the triumph of violence.
Do you think that the Faith has conquered the World
And that lions no longer need keepers?

Hoover’s scholarship is by no means concentrated solely upon international security issues, and that is as it should be. But let us be in no doubt: the world is still a dangerous place, and it is even more dangerous when domestic concerns—such as “the economy stupid”—are all that encompass political discourse.

Lessons of the Cold War

Since the end of the Cold War, politics, journalism, and academe have been heavily preoccupied with debating what happened and why. That is only natural. But we have also seen a rather unsubtle attempt at revisionism—the claim that contrary to what appeared the case at the time, the Cold War wasn’t really won, or if it was, it wasn’t won by the Cold Warriors but in spite of them. Perhaps I should say “in spite of us.”

Simply put, if we learn the wrong lessons from the Cold War, we shall also risk the peace.

But the revisionists are wrong, and the right was right. We know that the Soviet Union in its heyday was an expansionist, hostile, and lethal power. We also know, from what the last foreign minister of the Soviet Union himself has said on the matter, that the Reagan defense buildup in general, and the SDI program in particular, did have a decisive role in forcing the Soviets to alter course.

Doubtless, it is also true that the Soviet system was doomed to ultimate failure by its own internal contradictions. But then it had been doomed ever since 1919, and it was still controlling much of the globe 70 years later. It took Ronald Reagan, with a little help from his friends, to exert the pressure that made the system finally crack.

This debate is important, not so much because of individual reputations but rather because of the consequences now. Simply put, if we learn the wrong lessons from the Cold War, we shall also risk the peace. If we come to believe that the best way to avoid danger is to evade rather than confront it; if we think that negotiation is always the statesmanlike option; if we prefer empty multilateral gestures to powerful national responses, then we shall pay a heavy price—and our children, and grandchildren, will pay it too.

The Cold War’s Over . . . What Next?

One of the strangest accusations made against conservatives today is that of nostalgia for the Cold War. But we feel none. We don’t need to. After all, we won it.

I have no doubt that we have broken with the era in which the West confronted a single doctrine and a single superpower implacably hostile to our values and interests. And, although communist China could still emerge as a significant danger, I don’t believe that anything like the Cold War will resume. What we have to do now is to apply to present dangers the lessons and insights drawn from the past.

Our tasks today are, therefore, threefold:

  • First, we have to defend our homelands against present and future threats.
  • Second, we have to maintain our military capabilities and our alliances in good shape.
  • Third, we have to project our values and the institutions that nurture them across the globe.

Meeting New Threats

Where will the new threats come from?

Russia. We don’t need to look very far. One dysfunctional member of our global community has quite a familiar appearance. With every day that passes, modern Russia behaves more and more like the old Soviet Union. Its foreign policy seems still to be based heavily on its Soviet past—deep hostility to exertions of Western power (as in Kosovo), attempts to split Europe from the United States (as over ballistic missile defense), and brutal disregard for the rights of non-Russians who by misfortune live within the Russian empire (as with Chechnya).

Russia is an enthusiastic proliferator of weapons of mass destruction. It is also intent on trying to forge a strategic partnership with China aimed at the West: Mr. Putin was in Beijing recently doing just that. By any criteria Russia still represents a threat, even if that threat is only general.

There are also some worrying signs that the desire of ordinary Russians for law and order may provide the authorities with an excuse to return to internal repression. Whatever else he is, Russia’s new president is clearly not a liberal.

President Putin is not, of course, about to return Russia to communism. Indeed, he seems to understand that capitalism, not socialism, holds the key to Russian economic recovery. And I very much doubt whether Russia will again be capable of mounting a global challenge to the West. But Russia is a major nuclear power and an unreliable custodian of its arsenal. With the longest land border in the world, and strategically placed Russian minorities, it is capable of creating sustained mischief in several regions. It may, under the right conditions, be helped—but it must also be watched.

China. We are apt to say—and I say myself, when I forget—that victory in the Cold War meant the collapse of communism. But, of course, that is not strictly true. Indeed, one communist power has actually benefited by the implosion of the Soviet Union. China is now the main candidate to become a superpower, and its intentions and capabilities are rightly the subject of intense debate.

China is certainly a rising power—its already vast population is growing, as are its economy and its ambitions—all three in contrast to those of Russia. And still more than Russia, China’s past history and present ideology suggest that for the foreseeable future it remains deeply hostile to the West.

The argument that economic progress will automatically change that is flawed. It is certainly true that pressures for democracy will increase as living standards rise. But the ruling elite in China—which uses the slogans, apparatus, and methods of communism to stay in power—is not going to go quickly or quietly. It cannot afford to embrace democracy, and at the moment it does not need to. It is, after all, able to repress dissent without much difficulty. It has even perfected a system—combining enterprise, corruption, and slave labor—that allows it to benefit from growing prosperity. And I would like here to pay tribute to Hoover fellow Harry Wu, who courageously exposed that wicked system.

China should not be isolated: it is far too important for that. But nor should it be appeased, particularly over Taiwan.

Communism with “Chinese characteristics” still has many of the characteristics of communism. Yet for all its abuses, China should not be isolated: it is far too important for that. Indeed, it should be drawn further into the global economy. But nor should it be appeased, particularly over Taiwan.

China will not become a superpower to match the United States—at least, not while it is held back by the deadweight of socialism. But it is a potentially hostile regional power. In the long run, democratic India may emerge as a counterweight. But today and for the foreseeable future, it is Japan that must be America’s strategic partner in the region. Keeping that partnership alive and well is the fulcrum of stability in the Far East.

Rogue States. The collapse of Soviet power also allowed its former surrogates and protégés to slip the leash. I understand that according to the State Department we are not meant to talk about rogue states any more, only “states of concern.” But I think we should all be extremely “concerned” about attempts to whitewash unpleasant regimes like those in North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Libya. All these countries have promoted or practiced violence. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction affords them new opportunities to threaten us and our allies.

The activities of rogue states and the possibility of unplanned launches of missiles armed with warheads are now our main security concern. The way to counter this threat is through the construction of an effective ballistic missile defense system.

As Colonel Qaddafi put it in a broadcast on Libyan television in 1990: “If [the Americans] know that you have a deterrent force capable of hitting the United States, they would not be able to hit you. Consequently, we should build this force so that they and others will no longer think about an attack.”

Such states know that the possession of these weapons would sharply change the balance of advantage in their dealings with the West. They could in a crisis threaten to take out a major Western city. But even the possibility of such action would, they hope, be enough to prevent Western interventions in support of our interests and allies.

The danger is already with us. In 1998 the Rumsfeld Commission noted that countries like North Korea, Iran, and Iraq “would be able to inflict major destruction on the United States within about five years of a decision to acquire the capability,” adding that for much of that time America might not know that such a decision had been taken.

Responding to Threats

As we prepare our response to such threats, we should bear in mind that our credibility has been severely damaged in recent years. The collapse of international attempts to control the ambitions of Saddam Hussein has shown others tempted to follow his example that the West can be defied with impunity—even by a defeated minor power. The possibilities for achieving nonproliferation by diplomatic means were always much slimmer than the optimists admitted. Now they are all but a dead letter, and a new approach is needed.

The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is a Cold War relic. It is a worthless document that deserves to be consigned to one of history’s shredders.

Countries hostile to the West that proceed to acquire and develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them must be made to understand that they are taking a grave risk. It is extraordinary that North Korea has been able to cock a snook at the mighty United States—posing a threat to America’s ally Japan, while enjoying the position of main American aid recipient in the region. And no amount of cross-border fraternization between the two Koreas changes that one jot.

With more and more countries acquiring nuclear capabilities, we must be resolute in retaining and updating our nuclear deterrent. This is still the ultimate guarantor of our security. I believe that the Senate did the world as well as the United States a huge service when it refused to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Nuclear weapons cannot be disinvented. Nuclear arsenals can certainly be reduced as a result of the ebbing of the threat of a major nuclear exchange. But a nuclear weapons—free world is an infantile fantasy. That is why all those, including Britain, who shelter beneath America’s nuclear umbrella should support its right to test its nuclear weapons.

Ballistic Missile Defense

With the end of the Cold War, the nature of the threat has fundamentally changed, as indeed has our ability to respond to it. It is the activities of rogue states and the possibility of unplanned launches of missiles armed with warheads that should now be our main concern. We must also be able to prevent the intimidation of friendly states like Taiwan. The way to achieve this is through the construction of an effective system of ballistic missile defense.

Liberals in America and Europe have been engaged in a rhetorical exercise on BMD that reminds me of nothing so much as the old song “Little Sir Echo.” American liberals point to European hostility to global ballistic missile defense in order to undermine the case in Washington. Then when a few of us in Europe argue for such systems we are portrayed as people who represent a minority view, even in the United States.

I suppose that one should never look for much intellectual consistency on the left of British politics. They once engaged in noisy protests against nuclear weapons because—I presume—they believed that having nuclear bases on our soil would make us targets for attack and thus lead to our incineration. Yet they now evince a passionate desire to leave us wide open to just such incineration by contemptuously refusing to participate in BMD, the only system that can prevent it. Such attitudes remind us, yet again, of why even the reconstituted left is a menace in high office.

Of course, the recent failure of the test of a missile interceptor over the Pacific has given comfort to these people. But it shouldn’t. The whole purpose of tests—whether of missiles or missile interceptors—is to improve them. I have no doubt that America has the capability to get the technology right. In fact, this setback may be a blessing. The soundest experts in this field advise that we need to build a fully integrated system that combines both space- and sea-based components, rather than the fixed land-based one favored by the present administration.

There are, indeed, very strong reasons—technical, political, and strategic—for building a global rather than merely a national missile defense system. Technically, it is safer for us, and more dangerous for our enemy, if their missile can be destroyed in the boost phase, before it is able to send out decoys. Politically, it will solidify the NATO alliance if all its members can be brought within this defense system. Strategically, global ballistic missile defense will reinforce America’s position as the only truly global superpower, on which rests the security of all nations from missile attack.

To achieve these goals will be expensive. America’s allies should meet a share of the cost. And delay must be avoided.

It is not for me to prescribe the precise technical solutions. But we should certainly avoid heavy investment in an unsatisfactory system determined by the constraints of an unsatisfactory treaty. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which rules out sea- and space-based systems, is a Cold War relic. It is therefore rather surprising that today’s liberals show such misplaced affection for it. In fact, the best lawyers tell us what most of us had already deduced: that the treaty has lapsed because the other party to it, the Soviet Union, has ceased to exist. Moreover, whatever rationale it once had has certainly ended, now that an increasing number of unpredictable powers can threaten us with weapons of mass destruction. So the ABM treaty is not the “cornerstone of strategic stability.” It is a worthless document that deserves to be consigned to one of history’s many shredders.

In the course of a series of penetrating speeches on security matters, Governor George W. Bush has spoken about the need for an effective ballistic missile defense that would also protect America’s allies. I applaud his vision. The peace and security of the whole world depend on wise and courageous leadership from the White House.

America in the Lead

Only America has the technology to build a global system of ballistic missile defense. Talk by Mr. Putin, for example, of an alternative European system is simply that—talk.

Indeed, America’s technological lead is so great, and growing so fast, that it has changed the whole basis of war fighting. I understand that during the first eight weeks of the Kosovo campaign, when bad weather kept most of the allied air force grounded, just three American B2 bombers destroyed 33 percent of the targets. By contrast, European bombers could not have functioned without U.S. targeting, protection, and damage assessment. This is the shape of the future.

French Follies

The proper response by its allies to the American superpower’s dominance is gratitude and relief and a desire to improve our own performance. Instead, the response is all too often resentment and rivalry. These, rather than good intentions, are what lie behind current attempts to create a separate European Defense Identity and European armed forces outside the control of NATO.

I do not believe that Europe is capable of providing an alternative military power to the United States. Without access to American intelligence and weaponry the Europeans would be lost. And the lack of seriousness of the whole venture is shown by the fact that wealthy European Union countries like Germany and Italy are cutting, not increasing, their already low levels of military expenditure. We should also remember that defense forces based on the European Union countries would exclude Turkey–and the Turks are one of NATO’s most important and underused resources.

French folie de grandeur has for many years been the driving force behind such attempts to reduce American influence in Europe and the military power that underpins it. So, not surprisingly, France is now most enthusiastic about a European army.

Decision Time for Britain

But my main worry concerns Britain. For many years my country could be relied upon to embrace an Atlanticist rather than a continental European approach to security. But in 1998 at Saint-Malo, France, the present British government signed up for the first time to the French proposal of the European Union’s acquisition of a so-called autonomous military capability.

Britain’s integration within a European superstate is unacceptable to me because it means the loss of our freedom, of our independence, and ultimately of our very identity.

If pursued to its logical conclusion, the present British government’s enthusiastic support for European defense integration—alongside its commitment to Britain’s adopting the European single currency at some time in the future—will inevitably lead to a weakening of the age-old ties between Britain and America. And this would be a tragedy for all concerned.

Britain has repeatedly proved to be America’s closest and most effective ally in times of crisis. Our relationship is based, of course, on shared history, values, institutions, and language. But it has also been reinforced by strategic interests. If Britain is drawn much further into Europe’s plans to create a superstate, its Atlantic orientation will be lost, perhaps irreparably.

Over many years, the United States has been nudging Britain closer to Europe, imagining that we would have more impact on the continent than it did on us. That policy has failed, as many Americans understand.

Britain’s integration within a European superstate is unacceptable to me because it means the loss of our freedom, of our independence, and ultimately of our very identity. But it would also represent a willful refusal to seize the opportunities offered to us. In this twenty-first century, the dominant power is America; the global language is English; the pervasive economic model is Anglo-Saxon capitalism—so why imprison ourselves in a bureaucratic Europe? And why unbalance NATO, when the alliance has so many new challenges to face?

An American Century

Henry Luce turned out to be right when he predicted in 1941 that the twentieth century would turn out to be the American century. And I for one daily give thanks for it. The American dream, defended and projected by American power, has transformed oppression and poverty into liberty and prosperity.

But there is more to be done, much more. Surveys by Freedom House and the Heritage Foundation still find that less than half the world’s nations enjoy a high degree of political and economic freedom.

We really have no excuses. We know what works—the Anglo-Saxon model of liberty, property, law, and capitalism. And we know where it works—everywhere it’s actually applied.

We must not be paralyzed by false modesty or even good manners. Promoting the values that find their expression in America isn’t imperialism, it’s liberation. And all of us who enjoy that liberty today should make our own the words of the poet Longfellow:

. . . Sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!