This Day in International Law: May 4

Photo credit Rob Bogaerts

By Harris Mateen

On May 4, 1979, Margaret Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Her election triggered a new era in the post-World War II foreign policy of the U.K. An ardent anti-Communist, Thatcher closely aligned with the Cold War policies and strategies of her American peer, President Ronald Reagan. Her reinvigorated British Cold War policy included encouraging the US to position nuclear cruise missiles across Western Europe.

Thatcher’s eleven-years as Prime Minister, which started thirty-nine years ago today, allowed the United Kingdom to show a steely resolve towards crises. This resolve led to Thatcher earning the nickname “The Iron Lady.” Some of her contradictory choices included supplying Saddam Hussein’s regime with weaponry in 1981 but suggesting threatening the use of chemical weapons against his regime in 1991, and opposing strong sanctions on South Africa’s apartheid regime yet later assisting with securing Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.

After leaving office, Thatcher continued to play a role in foreign policy and international affairs, and often still a controversial one. In 1998, she encouraged the release of Augusto Pinochet—indicted by Spain for spearheading the disappearances of thousands of Chileans for political purposes. She also cheerled the second Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq in 2002.