The West is forgetting the lessons of the Cold War victory
Forty years ago tomorrow, President Ronald Reagan addressed MPs and his peers in the Royal Gallery of Parliament. It was, he said, “a moment of kinship and homecoming in these hallowed halls…one of the sanctuaries of democracy.”
It was an important speech for Britain, especially for Reagan’s great friend and ally, Margaret Thatcher, as he fully supported British troops fighting to reclaim the Falkland Islands. Only a week before, he had begged her to cease the fire.
Now the president has included the Falklands liberators in his larger argument: “They are fighting for a cause – for the belief that armed aggression must not succeed, and that the people must participate in the decisions of government… If there had been stronger support for this principle some 45 years ago, perhaps our generation would not have suffered the bloodshed of World War II.
At the heart of Reagan’s thinking was the latest manifestation of the Cold War. Poland, then part of the Soviet bloc, suffered from martial law imposed by Moscow. Geographically and culturally, he said: “Poland is neither in the East nor in the West. Poland is at the center of European civilisation. It was “beautifully incompatible with oppression”. The West’s task was to overcome this oppression and “guarantee the basic rights that we often take for granted.” In 1988 Mrs Thatcher would reinforce this message in her controversial Bruges speech, reminding EEC partners that Prague, Warsaw and Budapest were European cities.
The Soviet Union, Reagan told parliament, provided an example of how “a small ruling elite…mistakenly attempts to quell domestic unrest through greater repression and foreign adventure.” If only the West could concert against this, the Soviets might choose “a wiser course.”
By the late 1980s, it had happened. The Berlin Wall had fallen. The Cold War has been won.
Reagan predicted, however, that “the task I have set will long outlive our own generation”. He wanted “a crusade for freedom that will engage the faith and courage of the next generation.”
Forty years later, this message is extraordinarily relevant. For Poland, read its neighbor Ukraine. This is exactly the kind of foreign adventure Reagan warned against, but Russia claims to see it as a domestic operation to liberate the people from the “Nazis”.
Although communism never regained its grip on the European continent, the situation is perhaps worse today than then. Vladimir Putin may not believe in Marxism-Leninism, but he has as little respect as Stalin for the independence of free countries.
He shares Stalin’s obsession with controlling places he chooses to consider Russian even when international law and democratic opinion say otherwise. It borrows Stalin’s methods – shootings, bombings, rapes, starvation and torture of civilians, deportation, using prisoners as hostages, puppet regimes and grain looting.
Putin has engaged in military bloodshed on a scale not seen since World War II. Reagan and Thatcher had to deal with the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, but even that was not as brutal as Putin’s attempt to destroy Ukraine.
Politics in the West is worse today than then. The United States and Britain are cooperating on Ukraine, but Joe Biden is not Reagan. As for Boris Johnson, he has shown himself at his best over Ukraine and is widely admired there, but his position at home is so difficult that, at the time of writing, he cannot guarantee his own presence on the stage. world. What Reagan called the “sacred halls” of Westminster rang with the sound of bickering Tory MPs.
As in the 1980s – only worse – France and Germany are trying to look both ways, writhing like corkscrews. France, out of vainglory, and Germany, out of guilt, plan to let Putin get about half of what he wants for “peace”. In reality, such an agreement would be nothing more than the postponement of the current conflict until it is stronger. He is the only leader since the 1940s to have reordered the borders of Europe by force. This cannot be allowed, but it will be, unless the allies agree to support Ukraine all the way.
Yes, the West should recognize that Russia has legitimate security interests in the region. But what President Macron, as he begs the world for the Nobel Peace Prize, and Chancellor Scholz, as he tries to sanction Russia while buying its gas, have to deal with the fact that Putin has breaks all the rules established to keep the peace. He must not be allowed to profit from it.
Ukraine took up the challenge launched by Reagan 40 years ago, on its own account. If the West does not help Ukraine enough, it risks losing the gains of its Cold War victory, not to mention the grain needed to feed the world.
A special connection
The Queen’s Jubilee tea party with Paddington Bear has delighted the world, although I have yet to hear anything from ‘Darkest Peru’, where Paddington is from.
No one is happier than the Ukrainians, who immediately uploaded the video to their government feed on Telegram. This is partly because Ukrainians are pro-British and love the Queen, but also because in the Ukrainian version of the Paddington films the bear was voiced by Volodymyr Zelensky when he was an actor rather than the most popular statesman in the world.
Obviously, Mr. Zelensky is rather busy at the moment, but I hope he will find time to rehearse Paddington’s visit to Buckingham Palace and thus, in a sense, have tea with the Queen.