And thirdly, President Reagan has given America’s support to nations which are still struggling to keep their independence in the face of Soviet-backed aggression. The policy has had major successes: the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, due to be completed next February; the real prospect of Cuban withdrawal from Angola, encouraged by patient and constructive American diplomacy; and even the prospect of Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia.
These are all remarkable achievements, which very few observers predicted even three years ago.
Indeed, when we compare the mood of confidence and optimism in the West today with the mood when President Reagan took office eight years ago, we know that a greater change has taken place than could ever have been imagined. America has regained its confidence and is no longer afraid of the legitimate uses of its power. It has discussed those uses with its allies in the NATO alliance at all stages and with great frankness. Today our joint resolve is stronger than ever. And, finally, the recovery of American strength and confidence has led, as President Reagan always argued it would, to more peaceful and stable relations with the Soviet Union.
For strength, not weakness, leads to peace. It was only after the Soviet threat of SS-20s had been faced down and cruise and Pershing missiles installed that the Soviets were prepared to embark on genuine arms-control negotiations and wider peace negotiations. It therefore fell to the president, less than four years after the Soviet walkout at Geneva, to negotiate the first arms-control agreement that actually reduced the nuclear stockpiles. And when he visited Moscow for the third summit of his presidency, he took the fight for human rights into the very heart of Moscow, where his words shone like a beacon of hope for all those who are denied their basic freedoms. Indeed the very recovery of American strength during his presidency has been a major factor prompting and evoking the reform program under Mr. Gorbachev in the Soviet Union. The Soviet authorities would have had much less incentive for reform if they had been faced by a weak and declining United States.
The legacy of President Reagan in East-West relations is the realistic appreciation that maintaining sure defenses, bridging the East-West divide, and reducing weapons and forces on both sides are not contradictory but policies that go comfortably together. Nothing could be more short-sighted for the West today than to run down its defenses unilaterally at the first sign of more peaceful and stable relations between East and West. Nothing would be more likely to convince those with whom we negotiate that they would not need to make any concessions because we would cut our defenses anyway. Britain will not do that. We will maintain and update our defenses. And our example is one which I hope our partners and allies will follow, because Europe must show that she is willing to bear a reasonable share of the burden of defending herself. That would be the best way for the NATO allies to repay America’s farsighted foreign and defense policies of the Reagan years.
When we attempt an overall survey of President Reagan’s term of office, covering events both foreign and domestic, one thing stands out. It is that he has achieved the most difficult of all political tasks: changing attitudes and perceptions about what is possible. From the strong fortress of his convictions, he set out to enlarge freedom the world over at a time when freedom was in retreat — and he succeeded. It is not merely that freedom now advances while collectivism is in retreat — important though that is. It is that freedom is the idea that everywhere captures men’s minds while collectivism can do no more than enslave their bodies. That is the measure of the change that President Reagan has wrought.