Why Mr Major needs Ambassador Thatcher: The writers are the directors of Independent Policy Research, an Anglo-American consultancy.

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The Independent Online
WHILE John Major nervously awaits Baroness Thatcher's threatened rebellion on Maastricht in the Lords tonight, he would do well to recall Richard Nixon's remark that 'old politicians sometimes die, but they seldom fade away'.

Mr Nixon is living proof of his own adage. He has re-emerged as America's elder statesman, 20 years after Watergate, to play a pivotal role in the continuing debate over aid to Russia.

Earlier this year, the 80-year-old former president - once fiercely anti- Communist, now ardently pro-Russian - made his ninth visit to Moscow, as part of a two-week trip through the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. On his return to the US, he was telephoned at his New Jersey home by President Clinton for a 40-minute conversation. A few days later, Mr Nixon was back in the White House, briefing the President on the need for aid to Russia in preparation for the Vancouver summit with Boris Yeltsin.

Mr Clinton's subsequent billion-dollar aid package to Mr Yeltsin owed much to Mr Nixon's view that the success of democracy in Russia would give dramatic impetus to 'this wave of freedom that is sweeping over the world'. Likewise, the President's call in April that there should be an emergency Group of Seven meeting to discuss Russian aid was inspired by his predecessor. Mr Nixon is now traversing the United States to spread the word.

Aside from the irony of the Kennedy clone courting his idol's old opponent, and the Vietnam hawk joining forces with the absentee dove, the Clinton/Nixon alliance is a shrewd exercise in political pragmatism. Amid the chaos of the former Soviet Union, Richard Nixon is still venerated as a statesman of global stature. While he is able to speak on Mr Clinton's behalf, he is unencumbered by the diplomatic constraints of office. And with Republican opposition threatening the President's economic package at home, support from Mr Nixon would bolster Mr Clinton's chances of pushing through aid for Russia.

Has it occurred to John Major that enlisting Lady Thatcher's support in a similar capacity would go some way toward uniting the warring factions in the Conservative Party? Now that the London-based Thatcher Foundation has offices operating in Warsaw as well as Washington, who could be better placed, or indeed, qualified, to serve as the UK's ambassador at large to Eastern Europe?

A few weeks ago, Lady Thatcher attended a Sunday morning service in Warsaw. As her visit had been announced in advance by the local priest, the church was packed to bursting point, the congregation overflowing into the aisles. They would never forget her uncompromising stand against Communism in the past. Now In his sermon, the priest compared the story of Doubting Thomas - who refused to believe in the Resurrection until he was able to touch the living Christ - with Lady Thatcher's effect on Poland. Under Communist rule, the people regarded the idea of a free state as unbelievable. Lady Thatcher, recalled the priest, became a beacon of hope. When she first visited Poland, people could see that freedom really did exist. At the end of the service, this embodiment of the free society was mobbed by the multitude.

As the only Western leader to roll back the frontiers of socialism at home and Communism abroad, Lady Thatcher naturally regards the future of Eastern Europe as a personal cause. While the long-term aims of her foundation are on a global scale, its initial operation - virtually on its own doorstep - is supporting the embryonic democracies through the traumatic transition from Communism and command economies to democracy and free markets.

Today, to pick just two random examples from the foundation's range of programmes, its London office is sending young east German agricultural graduates on a course in Hampshire to study Western management procedures; while under a scheme operated from the Washington office, Russian archivists are learning new techniques from the Library of Congress. After more than 70 years of Communist rule, the idea of public access to information is a novelty in Russia. On another front, the foundation is funding the development of a volume of political and economic thought - including works by Burke and von Hayek - for translation into Czech.

Through its Warsaw office, the foundation is forging close contacts in the Baltic states and Ukraine, with the goal of expanding throughout Russia from a Moscow base. With the new democracies of Eastern Europe getting a raw deal from the closed club of the European Community, Lady Thatcher is championing their integration, as well as advocating growing links with Nato to turn their military philosophy gradually westwards.

Only Richard Nixon could go to China, they said. By the same token perhaps only Margaret Thatcher can sustain freedom in the post-Soviet states - providing dividends not only for Western security but also for British trade, and sending a clear signal to regimes still clinging to Communism.

If John Major is serious about putting Britain at the heart of Europe, he should look beyond the EC and invite Lady Thatcher to pursue her efforts in Eastern Europe as Britain's ambassador at large.

With democracy on trial in the post-Soviet states, now is the time for Mr Major to heed the words of Richard Nixon: 'We must seize this moment because we hold the future in our hands.'