Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,
When my distinguished predecessor delivered his Fulton speech, exactly fifty years ago, he journeyed hither by train in the company of the President of the United States. On the way, they played poker to pass the time. And the President won $75 dollars - quite a sum in those non-inflationary times for an unemployed former Prime Minister. But in view of the historic impact of his speech on American opinion and subsequently on U.S. foreign policy, Sir Winston Churchill later recorded that his loss was one of the best investments he had ever made.
I did not travel here by train; nor in the company of the Presidnet of the United States; nor did I play poker. I don't have the right kind of face for it. But there is some similarity in the circumstances of fifty years ago and today.
Mr. Churchill spoke not long after the second world war. Towards the end of that great conflict, the wartime allies had forged new international institutions for post-war co-operation. There was in those days great optimism, not least in the United States, about a world without conflict presided over benevolently by bodies like the United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank and the GATT. But the high hopes reposed in them were increasingly disappointed as Stalin lowered the Iron Curtain over Eastern Europe, made no secret of his global ambitions and became antagonist rather than ally. Churchill's speech here was the first serious warning of what was afoot, and it helped to wake up the entire West.
In due course, that speech bore rich fruit in the new institutitons forged to strengthen the West against Stalin's assault.
The Marshall Plan laid the foundations for Europe's postwar economic recovery.
The Truman Doctrine made plain that America would resist communist subverstion of democracy.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organizations mobilised America's allies for mutual defence against the Soviet steamroller.
And the European Coal and Steel Community, devised to help reconcile former European enenmies, evolved over time into the European Community.
Stalin had overplayed his hand. By attempting to destroy international cooperation, he succeeded in stimulating along more realistic lines - and not just through Western "Cold War" institutions like NATO. As the West recovered and united, growing in prosperity and confidence, so it also breathed new life into some fo the first set of post-war insitutions like the GATT and the IMF. Without the Russians to obstruct them, these bodies helped to usher in what the Marxist historian, Eric Hobsbawm, has ruefully christened the "Golden Age of Capitalism." The standard of living of ordinary people rose to levels that would have astonished our grandparets; there wre regional wars, but no direct clash between the superpowers; and the economic, technological and military superiority of the West eventually reached such a peak that the communist sytem was forced into, first reform, then surrender, and finally liquidation.
None of this, however, was pre-ordained. It happedned in large part because of what Churchill said here fifty years ago. He spoke at a watershed: one set of interantional institutions had shown themselves to be wanting; another had yet to be born. And it was his speech, not the "force" celebrated by Marx, which turned out to be the midwife of history.
Today we are at what could be a similar watershed. The long twilight struggle of the Cold War ended five years ago with complete victory for th West and for the subject peoples of the communist empire - and I very much include the Russian people in that description. It ended amid high hopes of a New World Order. But those hopes have been grievously disappointed. Somalia, Bosnia, and the rise of Islamic militancy all point to instability and conflict rather than cooperation and harmony.
The international bodies, in which our hopes were reposed anew after 1989 and 1991, have given us neither prosperity nor security. There is a pervasive anxiety about the drift of events. It remains to be seen whether this generation will respond to these threats with the imagination and courage of Sir Winston, President Truman and the wise men of those years.