Margaret Thatcher and Foreign Policy
Alan J. Ward
In Britain, foreign and defense powers belong to the Crown and are exercised by Her Majesty's government. There is no formal constitution to require that these powers be shared with Parliament, nor is Parliament sufficiently independent as an institution to demand a significant role. The reality is that the government is selected from the majority in the House of Commons and uses party discipline to dictate policies to Parliament. In Britain, therefore, one can say with great certainty that national policies are those of a particular government.
Mrs. Thatcher dominated her government as few other prime ministers have done. When she came to power in 1979, her cabinet included party leaders representing a range of views in the Conservative Party, but she served as prime minister for almost twelve years, led the party to three election victories, and was able to weed out ministers who did not share her views. We should note, however, that foreign policy was extraordinarily complex during her period in office, and it was inevitable that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, very capably led by Lord Carrington ( 1979-1982), Sir Geoffrey Howe ( 1983-1990), and Douglas Hurd ( 1990-1991), was able to act more independently than other departments. It will not be until confidential government records are released that we will know precisely how influential Thatcher was in foreign policy.
Mrs. Thatcher had no governmental experience in foreign affairs. Indeed, she had very little experience in government at all, but her basic instincts were well understood. When she became leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, for example, she attacked the process of détente, which was the prevailing foreign policy doctrine of the time. In doing so, she put the world on notice that there would be a new style of British foreign policy when the Conservatives returned to office. That occurred on May 3, 1979, when