As the world celebrates 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall it is right that we should reflect on the impact of those momentous months.

In the two decades which have passed there has been a tendency to diminish the importance of the Cold War. We have since learned how fragile the economic, political and military structures in the Soviet Union really were. But it would be wrong to lose sight of the dangers which mankind faced during the era of Mutually Assured Destruction. Nor must we downplay the bravery of those who resisted oppression. No ideology has been responsible for more deaths than communism and it required tremendous moral and physical courage to defy its deadly grip.

By the late 1970s it had almost come to be accepted that the world was locked into an unbreakable armed stand-off. But with the coming of Ronald Reagan to the White House, all that was to be transformed.  President Reagan was not prepared to accept the status quo. He believed that the West could win both the battle of ideas and the battle of resources, and with the support of other leaders, he was determined to loosen communism’s hold. And by the mid-1980s, as the effects of his determined stance began to expose the frailty of Soviet power, communism itself found someone from within who was prepared to doubt its orthodoxy and to promote change: Mikhail Gorbachev.

Twenty years on, the world has changed, mostly for the better. Millions of people who once struggled under the oppression of communism live freer, more prosperous and happier lives. We have not created utopia: but then only communism thought that mankind could. There are still hardships. There are still dangers. But it is a world where more people are taking more decisions about their own lives than ever in our history. And that is something for us all to celebrate.

Baroness Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979-1990.

This piece is selected from Freedom’s Challenge, an Atlantic Council publication commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.