The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997


Sir John Major’s Speech at the Children for Peace Dinner – 23 June 2006

The text of Sir John Major’s speech made at the Children for Peace Dinner, held at the Granada Studios in Manchester on Friday 23rd June 2006.


[First section Sir John Major thanked everyone for coming and for Wendy and Colin for organising. Sir John Major explained why he was involved, he recalled the day he heard that Tim and Johnathan were murdered, and it nearly ended the peace process, but it didn’t because others might be killed.]

In the interim I met Colin/Wendy and have seen their extra-ordinary response to a tragedy that, even now, is heard to come to terms with.

They set up this Charity – and it has grown. They set up the Tim Parry Scholarship.

They built a dedicated Peace Centre.

They set up a range of learning programmes to meet the needs of 5-6 year olds up to young adults – and programmes working with adults.

We will never end terror by force of arms or policing alone. We have to attack causes, win minds as well as territories.

That’s what the Trust does: its learning programmes are focussed on understanding causes of conflict and resolving them peacefully.
Governments can try and change attitudes but they need help: organisations like Children for Peace.

Terror is at its weakest when the Community turns against it – rejects bigotry and violence – sets up “Ambassadors” for peace: this Charity does all of that. That is why I’m involved.

When the Peace Process began in the early 90s, Albert Reynolds and I both shared the view that terrorism could not prevail and that the better aspects of human nature would be bound to win. I won’t reproduce all the many twists and turns of the Peace Process but let me simply say I believe we are nearly there and we need to build on what has been achieved in Northern Ireland. That is one of the reasons, of course, why the Peace Centre is so important although its remit is wider.

Over the years, we have become used to Irish terror but now the threat is much wider.

Terrorism is not new: it has been with us since ancient times; but now, like the economy, terror is globalising. Terrorism is Al Qaeda; Hezbollah, ETA, IRA, Hamas, Tamil Tigers, Kashmiri and Punjabi Separatists; Pattani United Liberation Organisation; GIA … the list goes on.

Groups that are secretive, diverse, with their money, men and weapons hidden as effectively as their minds are closed.

Today, terrorism is a threat we can’t ignore. It is not targeted only against the Governments of the West. Think of the bombs in Bali. Or Jerusalem. Or the school siege in Moscow. Or Sarin gas in Tokyo. Or atrocities in Kashmir. The signature of mass-casualty terrorism can be seen worldwide. Around the world – other Tim’s and Johnathan’s.

Most people find violence abhorrent and yet, terrorism has never been short of apologists. Over many years, it has grown bolder and more deadly. Many nations have suffered.

And for no purpose because terrorism has not been effective in the post-Colonial world.

When Spain, Portugal and Greece dumped Fascism – it was not because of terrorism.

When Communism collapsed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe – it was not because of terrorist pressure.

When Apartheid ended – terrorism played no part in its demise.

Nor have the IRA gained from terror. Their political end is unrealised and their Community has seen through them.

Terrorism can claim none of these victories – it exposes frustration but it often entrenches what it wishes to destroy: it is – ultimately – immoral.

What is the purpose of terror? It varies. For many Terrorist Groups the predominant aim is to radicalise Islam; to set Muslim against non-Muslim; to play upon prejudice; to foster hatred. For others, as in Northern Ireland, it is to pursue specific political agendas or to unsettle democracies.

In Northern Ireland, the intent was to absorb the North into a united Ireland. Always, the effect is to create chaos.

And it does. The economic impact of terror is to de-stabilise markets and interrupt the flow of commerce. The political effect is to undermine Government by consent and civil order.

So, whatever reservations there may be about how this War on Terror is being fought – these are sound reasons why it must be fought – and why it must be won.

Terrorism and democracy are fundamentally opposed. They cannot co-exist. One must defeat the other. If democracy is to win, terrorism must lose.

The oxygen for terrorism is hatred: hatred of specific countries and their values or – sometimes – resentment of long-standing grievances. We know, too, that social and economic marginalisation encourages political radicalisation.

In considering terror, one question must be asked: can a war against terror be won at all? Is it possible that such a shadowy concept as terrorism can be identified, isolated and defeated?

My answer is – Yes, it can.

So, if democracy can win, how can it do so?

The answer to that question is complex. It involves action against existing terror groups now, and political measures to prevent such groups obtaining support today and spreading their contagion tomorrow.

To win, all those nations threatened by terrorism need to co-operate. This coalition of the willing must embrace every country that is – or wishes to be – democratic. These States must work together to deny terrorists their safe havens, cut off their financing, and stem the flow of recruits. They must deny them their causes. And, to defeat the ideological threat they pose, we must understand the motives that drive them and re-educate the minds of those who have sympathy with them.

We must accept we cannot win by military power alone, but concede that we cannot win without it.

International co-operation is vital: we will win more speedily if we co-ordinate action against terror; inhibit the movement of terrorists; outlaw them in every respect; attack money laundering; penalise States that are known to fund terror; act to reduce their supply of weapons; agree world-wide extradition of terrorist suspects. So much, I think, is obvious – although not all of it is done.

But these measures are simply policing action against existing terror groups. We need to know – what motivates terrorism? What encourages non-terrorists to tacitly support them? What can we do to make terrorism so totally abhorrent that terrorists are utterly isolated?

The answers to these questions are not always palatable – but they must be faced.

Inequalities – poverty, AIDS; injustices – political repression, social exclusion. All these play a part.

In much of the world ideological radicalisation has fed the perception that the religion of Islam is under attack. Al Qaeda assert this every day. Radicals use this belief as a recruiting sergeant to fuel their cause. Events such as the Afghanistan and Iraq wars have fed this perception as has the failure to bring the Middle East Peace Process – or the Kashmir conflict – to a successful conclusion.

The Radicals case is crude propaganda, and wrong, but it is effective. To rebut it, democracy must lessen the chance of demagogues exploiting hardship to promote terrorism. They must fight for the hearts and minds of those into whose ears radical poison is poured. Words alone will not do: they must accept obligations that illustrate the morality of democracy.

One example stands out. Our world has six billion souls. Of these six billion, one-half live on less than US$ 2 per day, and one-fifth on less than US$ 1 per day. This cannot be acceptable. I daresay no-one here today would hesitate in spending that sum on a cup of morning coffee. It is hard to imagine the disparity between the life of these three billion people, with the life of someone in richer countries – even if that someone was on the lowest levels of social support.

The rich nations do much to help – and, at the recent G8 meeting, pledged to do more. I welcome that. At present, the rich nations spend US$ 50 billion in total on overseas aid: an enormous sum. But less generous than it seems when you realise that Europe and America also spend US$ 350 billion on agricultural subsidies alone. A statistic that is even more bizarre when you realise such subsidies cut away the chance for poor nations to sell their agricultural produce – often their only export – into developed markets.

I believe that common humanity suggests that – if we are right to wage war on terror – and we are – then it is right to wage war on poverty and hardship as well and fill bellies that are empty.

In removing grievances, we cut away the resentment of the “have-nots” for the “haves”. Moreover, as we act, we increase demand, we begin to create tomorrow’s market – and we undercut the message of hate that fuels radicalism.

There are many reasons why the action promised by the G8 must be delivered: undermining hate campaigns is only a side issue but an important one. If we under-perform, the problem will worsen. In the next 25 years, world population will grow from 6 billion to 8 billion.

Of the extra 2 billion, 97% will be in that part of the world that has an income below US $2 per day. This is not sustainable if we wish to sustain a free market in a world free of conflict. Nor is it moral.

But if the world acts early, acts now, acts out of conscience – not only will we foreclose on misery and hardship to come but we will undercut the breeding grounds of terror that, at present, is such a threat to our security and our prosperity.

Over the years, terror has so unsettled the political climate that trust has gone and a lasting solution is elusive. This plays entirely into the hands of the terrorist for it gives this dispute a much wider fuse: it is used to justify terrorism elsewhere.

Sometimes, it has been difficult to see how this could ever be brought to a peaceful solution. It is depressing beyond belief – but it forces us to face the reality: in Palestine, as elsewhere, political progress remains the only way forward.

I want to say something here about politics and terror. It is based on my own experience in dealing with the IRA.

For years, the IRA had bombed and murdered in Northern Ireland – and on the mainland of the United Kingdom. Successive Governments reacted strongly and gave no ground to terrorism. But – whilst not conceding their objectives – we did look for a peace process to wean them off violence and to undercut their support in the community.

It took a long time – and there were many setbacks – but it was right. We are now near a political settlement, without conceding the united Ireland that the IRA sought through bomb and bullet.

The lesson is clear: never negotiate from fear, but never fear to negotiate. It is tempting just to denounce terrorism. But if you wish to save lives, you must sometimes engage with them as well.

That is what the Peace Centre does: why it is so vital; why it is important to continue.