The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997


Sir John Major’s Speech at St Louis – 6 May 2008

The text of Sir John Major’s “Churchill Speech”, made at St Louis, Missouri, United States, on Tuesday 6th May 2008.


76 years ago, Churchill spoke in the St. Louis Woman’s Club. He was out of office and out of favour.

He could not know that – one day, not far away, there would stand a remarkable Museum, dedicated to his life and hidden under a

Christopher Wren church which was destroyed in the London Blitz, dismantled, shipped across the ocean and re-assembled at Westminster College, Fulton. I saw it today. It is an unsung gem in the heart of Missouri and – most probably – the oldest building in America.

For Churchill – half American and half English – there could be no greater honour.

And it is appropriate: for in the long history of the British nation, Winston Churchill stands as one of our greatest leaders, alongside Henry II, Elizabeth I and Cromwell.

In the most savage war in history, he rallied the British Empire as it stood alone against Nazi Germany until – as he predicted in his own magical phrase: “The New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the Old”. It is a classic Churchill phrase: compelling, vivid, and touching emotion at a level deeper than prosaic language.

That gift for language was part of his genius. He used it to inspire, to praise, to condemn and to mock. And, of course, to write. Like Shakespeare, Churchill invented new words by adding suffixes and prefixes: unwisdom and unsordid, for example, were unknown words until he invented them.

Because Churchill is such a figure of myth and legend it is easy to forget that he held power in the lifetime of our parents. He is not a hero from the distant past. His world was the forerunner of ours. At Yalta, he helped shape that world – though not entirely to his, or our, satisfaction. His leadership at a time of peril will be admired a thousand years from now. In the long march of history, most are forgotten – Churchill never will be.

In March 1946, he was invited by President Truman to speak at Westminster College, Fulton, and – as an incentive for him to accept – the President offered to travel to Missouri to introduce him. For a romantic like Churchill, Truman’s invitation was an irresistible one, and he responded with one of his most famous speeches.

The speech is remembered for his sombre warning – added on the train to Fulton – that an iron curtain had descended across the continent of Europe. But, in typical Churchill fashion, the speech contained much else of substance, as he looked ahead to forecast the opportunities and perils through which our generation has lived.

Nations, said Churchill, would need to be shielded from war and tyranny in a world menaced by poverty and privation. He urged a unity of purpose for the US and Great Britain and forecast – wrongly – so far! – that we might one day share a common citizenship.

He was trenchant that we should not trust any third country with the technology of the Atom bomb, and he welcomed the birth of the United Nations as a clearing house to prevent war.

Since then, time has moved on. Were Churchill here tonight, he would look to the future and – albeit as a poor substitute – that is what I propose to do.

Let me start by reviewing some of the structures Churchill knew.

NATO has served us supremely well. Its founding purpose was to defend democracy against the Soviet Union. And so it did. But the Soviet Union no longer exists. Even so, it would be folly to let NATO wither for lack of a clear-cut mission: we need to re-define its purpose.

So, too, the United Nations. Today, it is widely derided – not least in the US. But the UN is an American invention: its Charter signed at the San Francisco Opera House in 1946.

Its basic aim – to prevent war – is as relevant now as then, but the UN can only be as strong as its Members enable it to be. If its senior Member States are lukewarm in its support, then the UN is bound to disappoint.

Certainly, it is in need of reform. When it was founded, the US, Britain, Russia, China and France appointed themselves as Permanent Members of the Security Council. But sixty years ago, the UN had fewer than 50 Members. Today it has over 190, and the continued tenure of the same nations is no longer acceptable to much of the world. Yet the Permanent Five remain in place.

Unsurprisingly, nations like Japan, Germany, India, Brazil, now seek to join them. They have a powerful case – and yet it is denied. It shouldn’t be. If we wish the UN to fulfil its function – and it didn’t exist we’d have to invent it – then the present Permanent Members must admit others and dilute their power. Only then can the ambitions of its Founders be realised.

Reform of international bodies is vital to the future. It’s not only NATO and the UN that need to be updated. So do the Financial Institutions and – above all – the “Group of 8”.

The G8 – allegedly – comprises the most powerful industrial nations of the world – yet China and India are excluded from membership: frankly, that is absurd – and must be corrected.

It’s also instructive to note what Churchill did not talk about at Fulton: the rise of terrorism; the danger of an Islamic Jihad to divide Christian and Muslim; the unstoppable advance of science; and the prospect of near-universal free trade and a global market. Nor did he envisage a world with America as the only super-power. Had he done so, he would have warned that great power attracts great enmity, often without reason. As a child of Empire, Churchill knew that – and lived to see the Empire fade away.

In the sixty years since his speech, Churchill’s loathing of Communism has been totally vindicated. It was one of the most miserable creeds Man has devised. Around the world, it led to bloodshed, violence, repression and economic failure. Soviet-style Communism confronted the free world in a fifty-year Cold War – until the whole rotten edifice of Soviet Russia collapsed.

Whatever perils face us now, they pale beside the risk of massive nuclear exchanges between NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries. Now – that is gone. New – but lesser – threats lie ahead.

The American Goliath – and her allies – are learning that massive military superiority in sophisticated weapons, although re-assuring, doesn’t protect against attack by small, highly dedicated groups. Nor does it prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

As a young man, Churchill went to war on a horse in Sudan and South Africa. He lived through an age in which Man learned how to kill his fellows in great numbers, and with great efficiency, on land, in the air and under water. Fifty years of science led to the sophistication of the Atomic Bomb. But that wasn’t the end of Man’s inventiveness. The destructive power of today’s nuclear weapons dwarf those Churchill knew and yet – despite this – the threat is very different and, I would argue, diminished.

Both World Wars began in Europe. Today, the European Union extends from Ireland in the West to the very borders of Russia in the East, and military conflict between its Members is inconceivable. One worrying side effect of this new amity – as we learn to our regret in NATO – is that the Liberal democracies of Europe have little appetite for military expenditure.

The main enemy of our lifetime, the Soviet Union, has gone. But the major portion of it – modern Russia – survives. We have grown up with a 20th century perception of Russia that runs very deep, but is now out of date. If we are to understand modern Russia, we must consider her history.

The last century was a nightmare for Russia. Tens of millions were killed in the First World War, and yet more in the Revolution and the Civil War that followed.

The famine of 1921, and the terror campaigns of the 1930s, claimed many more lives even before the Second World War robbed Russia of 70% of her young men between 18 and 32.

Fifty years of repressive Government followed these horrors. So did economic stagnation, the Cold War and the decline and collapse of Communism as a philosophy – and the Soviet Union as an entity. Even then, the agony continued: economic and political reforms in the 1990s brought turmoil, crime, the Russian mafia and national debt.

Until 1990, the Soviet Union – Churchill’s Russian “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” – was a persistent danger to us. It was a bleak time, now in the past.

Today, we watch Russia warily as she becomes a newly oil-rich State. Russia makes money from an oil price of $14 a barrel; at $18 the income is significant; at over $20 it becomes rosy. At $80-$100 oil is an uncovenanted bonus, and offers a stability against which economic reforms and military re-equipment can be afforded with ease.

Should we worry about this? I don’t think so – at least not yet or for a long time.

It is probable that America spends as much on her military as the rest of the world combined. Certainly, she spends three times as much each year, as Russia and China added together.

As a result, Russia is so far behind the US in capability, that any serious threat is negligible. The once Mighty Bear now has very blunt teeth. Nor is China a threat compared to the old Soviet Union. Although she, too, is spending far more on re-equipping her military than she admits – and, of course, has a huge conscript Army – she cannot match the superiority America has built up over decades.

The gap is widening, not narrowing. In any major conflict, America has – and will retain – unchallengeable military superiority for a long time to come. Any security danger comes – not from large Nation States – but from rogue regimes and terror groups – and here the threat is imminent and serious.

It is also universal. Every nation has a stake in this. In its different guises, terrorism has hit West and East as New York, London, Madrid, Moscow, Tokyo and Bali can testify. All bear the scars and the fatalities of terrorist atrocities.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the impact of the phenomenon is seen on a wider canvas.

The failure to find WMD in Iraq was a disaster. It strengthened international opposition to the War and weakened support for anti-terrorist policies – not least in Afghanistan – where the European military and financial contribution for what is a necessary conflict – has been feeble.

Although every NATO ally agreed to a military role in Afghanistan, many have offered only token troops and placed caveats on what those troops will do and where they will go.

This is hopeless: it leaves the military burden unfairly distributed.

It may take a long time to diminish the potency of terror. But one thing is certain: action against it will be more effective if it is international – and wholehearted. There is a further point too: to be successful, we need to know our enemy. The battle against Islamic terror groups is a war of the mind – in a culture we don’t understand. We should try harder to do so.

The battle is against Islamic terrorism, but not Islam. If it were, we would be engulfed in a mighty conflict. Instead, we face highly motivated fanatical groups intent on the destruction of everything that does not fit within their philosophy.

After 9/11, America went into Afghanistan to get rid of Al Qaeda training camps: she – and her allies – have ended up fighting the Taliban.
Al Qaeda and the Taliban are different organisations, with few direct links. Yet they have a similar “inspiration”: both are fundamentalist, ideologically-motivated Muslim groups, seeking a purer Islam through a return to a Caliphate.

And this emphasises the complexity of any anti-terror strategy: it must confront threats from many disparate groups. In Afghanistan, we have made progress: there is a Parliament, a Government, an electoral process, and central Government Ministers. None of this basic apparatus of order existed in 2001. Even so, we are far from the end game. Our troops will – at best – be there for years, and the diplomatic and financial commitment for far longer.

In Iraq, much has improved too, but it is difficult to see an orderly withdrawal of troops in under 3-4 years and, even then, the allied involvement of special forces may stretch far beyond that – unless we wish to leave chaos behind.

If Iraq becomes a stable country, with a form of democracy that survives, it will be a triumph. The War may have been launched under false pretences; it may have done immense short-term harm to America and Britain; but a benign long-term outcome will change the future of the entire region. The right combination of soft and hard power may yet deliver such a result.

Let me turn now to economics:

Churchill’s world of yesterday has long gone. He did not foresee the scale of the competitive challenge posed today by China, India, Brazil, Russia. Nor did he imagine the end of a Western economic dominance that had stretched back over two hundred years. But – as a practical politician – he would have recognised one ancient rule that still holds true today: economic power leads to political power.

We, in the West, need to understand the scale of what is happening.

It is not my purpose this evening to discuss the financial problems of the Markets – they will work themselves out – but I do want to emphasise the impact of changes now taking place.

Energy prices have soared as demand has grown from the developing world. Once, emerging nations had a spurt of growth and fell away.

Now, their growth continues. So, too – I suspect – will high energy prices. And food.

If one billion Indians – one sixth of the entire world population – now eat two meals a day, instead of only one, the demand and price of foodstuff rises. One would need a heart of stone not to welcome the end of such hardship – even as we face the problems it poses.

In this new world, all Governments are losing economic influence to the free market. Historic weapons, such as exchange or capital or import controls, are almost derelict. Competition in the global labour market continues to transfer manufacturing to low-cost centres in the developing world. Even tax policy is becoming ineffective or unusable since, if countries aren’t tax-competitive, capital moves to a more attractive host environment.

Some people attribute the huge growth of emerging nations simply to the demand for raw materials, cost-effective manufacturing and the capture of a few niche markets. They are wrong: it is far more substantial.

Outsourcing is growing rapidly. It is no longer restricted to manufacturing and call centres. Tax, accounting, financial, advertising and some legal services, can all be electronically delivered from anywhere in the world to anywhere in the world.

So, too, computer programming; architectural design; medical records; financial analysis; and research and development in the knowledge-based industries.

An American economist (Alan Blinder), estimates that out-sourcing might cost the US many millions of jobs. If that is true of the US, it will be equally true – perhaps even more so – of Europe and Japan.

Don’t imagine for a moment that I exaggerate. For the first time since 1820, world growth comes predominantly from the East. This will continue. Emerging nations hold 70% of the world’s foreign exchange reserves. They consume over 50% of energy and 80% of growth of energy over recent years. Their dynamism is striking. They are re forming the world market, and changing trade and investment patterns.
China now manufactures 80% of the world’s photocopiers; 60-70% of mobile phones; 60% of digital cameras; and 50% of the world’s computers. If we are not already worried, we should be.

In order to compete in the future, mature States must develop new science and new services. This is important socially and economically. Let me offer an example.

America, Japan and the UK are leaders in investment in the knowledge-based industries – and especially Bio and Nano-technology. This requires huge research and development projects into this cutting-edge technology.

This is likely to prove worthwhile. Demand is soaring for healthy food, pesticides, the control and destruction of pollution, forensic medicine, genetic engineering and new and better drugs to combat disease.

Biotechnology may be in its infancy, but is already a $30 billion a year industry, with unlimited potential.

Nano-technology offers similar scope across the engineering and biological sciences. These are sciences for the new century and can be developed by anyone – anywhere – with access to capital and expertise. The social and financial rewards of success promise to be staggering.

Successful innovation may enable scientists to combine computer chip technology with pharmaceutical research to target drugs to treat specific parts of the body. Imagine the benefits to patients if chemotherapy could be so targeted in cancer treatment, that it caused only minimal side-effects. All this lies ahead.

Some commercial applications of Bio and Nano science are already apparent: the technology has revolutionised aspects of dentistry, dressings for burns, and better protection from the sun.

Already, advances in engineering techniques have given us insulin pumps for diabetes; cochlea implants for deafness; and there are realistic prospects of repairing nerve cells for those suffering from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. It may soon even be possible to replace heart muscle cells.

These are innovations which – until recently – seemed fanciful. In Churchill’s world they would have seemed like black magic.

But soon, what was once fantasy will be an everyday reality.

And that concept – fantasy becoming reality – may be a leitmotif for the future. No-one should be complacent that the present world order is fixed: it is not. Compare and contrast Churchill’s world of sixty years ago with today. Then factor in the reality that the pace of change is accelerating. Our children and grandchildren will live in a very different world.


Let me try and bring all this together. As the years unfold, change will invade every aspect of our lives.

In Churchill’s maturity, one hundred years ago, the UK, France and Russia controlled 80% of the world’s surface and much of the world’s economy. No longer: today, the age of Regal Empire has gone and the age of Commercial Empire is with us.

All over the world, young people dress as they do on the streets of New York and London. Over 200 million Chinese – and hundreds of millions elsewhere – are learning English.

Investment across nations minimises the risk of significant military conflict. Science is raising the quality of life. In the last 40 years – think of this – since 1968 – life expectancy has risen faster than in the previous 4,000 years. Now, science is on the verge of raising it still further.

Despite the perils and frustrations of our world – of Iraq, Iran, terror, Afghanistan, Pakistan, a resurgent Russia – it is an exhilarating time to be alive.

Despite garish headlines, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the confrontation of NATO and the Warsaw Pact has gone. The world is safer. The risk of widespread warfare has lessened.

Despite some tensions, international relations are more benign than for decades. China and the US have huge inter-locking economic interests. Japan and China are beginning to repair old scars. Latin America is becoming a continent of democracies. Even Africa – poor forgotten Africa – is growing faster than at any time in our lifetimes. There is much to be thankful for.

Sometimes, I think, we should be more aware – more self-confident – of what has already been achieved. Francis Bacon observed in the England of Queen Elizabeth I that “We have planted things that are likely to last”. So have we in our own time. The English Language. The Free Market. Democracy. All gifts from the West to the world, with America and Britain as the principal donors.

We need to look at the future with a critical and honest eye, and see how it is – with one prime purpose: if we see how it is, we can shape how it could be. That is what Churchill would have done and – in this as in so much else – we would be wise to take the lead of one of the most remarkable men in the long history of the English speaking peoples.