Reagan's world order delights Oxford

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The Independent Online
RONALD REAGAN told undergraduates at the Oxford Union yesterday that their debating society was all about a 'bracing clash of argument' and a 'heroic struggle of ideas'. He cannot have heard what happened on Tuesday night.

Then, the only bracing and struggling came in the closing stages of the end-of-term debate when the Union's president, Chris Hall, had to be wrestled to the ground at the end of a drunken speech. Not a good dress rehearsal.

But with sobriety restored, Mr Reagan in the end received a respectful, sometimes enthusiastic, hearing as he spelt out what he considered to be wrong with the world. 'Let us be frank. Evil still stalks the planet,' he said.

With the fall of Communism, the former US president, aged 82, is concerned with what will rise from the ashes of the old world order. 'Will it be a phoenix of freedom or a phoenix of fear?' he asked. To him, the new world looks increasingly like one of disorder.

To deal with that, he outlined a dream, a glimmer of which he had seen in recent days. 'Just as the world's democracies banded together to advance the cause of freedom in the face of totalitarianism, might we not now unite to impose civilised standards of behaviour on those who flout every measure of human decency?' he said. To do that, a 'humanitarian velvet glove backed by a steel fist of military force' should be used. In the old Yugoslavia, this would take the form of 'sharply focused bombing' against Serbian military supplies and targets if the Serbs refused to stop shelling civilian populations. The bombing would be carried out by Nato: not the Nato Mr Reagan relied on against Moscow, but a Nato with its sights readjusted on keeping peace. Mr Reagan also backed intervention in Somalia.

It was a speech which, had it been delivered while he was resident at the White House, would have sent shock waves around Europe. As it was, the Union gave him a standing ovation.

(Photograph omitted)