Groningen, the Netherlands — The European and American pro-disarmament movements joined together for the first time here April 22 to 24 at the Conference on Nuclear War in Europe. And the Americans went away heartened.
Approximately, the marriage took place in the Netherlands, the home of the world's most successful peace movement. For more than a year church and other antinuclear groups here have effectively blocked ratification of the Dutch government's acceptance of new NATO nuclear weapons in the mid-'80s. This is an accomplishment that the assembled representatives of various American, Canadian, West German, Belgian, and Norwegian peace groups might well have envied.
Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame expressed the common sentiment when he remarked, "I think more creative, effective work [in opposing nuclear weapons ] is being done in Europe than in my country. I'm here to draw inspiration and communicate it back to the US."
Similarly, American Friends Service Committee disarmament coordinator Terry Provance stated his appreciation of new contacts he made at the conference -- and hoped that an international antiweapons strategy might now develop. A board member of the Scarsdale fund for Peace hoped that the efforts of the European peace movements would lead "not only to your salvation but to our salvation."
This transatlantic reinforcement was one of the main purposes of the conference's organizers, the Groningen University Polemoligical (peace studies) Institute and the Washington Center for Defense Information. The conference presented its avid listeners with panels of academicians, retired officers, and officials who now oppose the arms race and others to discuss four topics: how a European nuclear war might start and be fought; its consequences; and how to prevent one. The presumption was that there would be a 100 million European deaths in any war, plus unimaginable disease.
One active officer, the deputy chief of operations of the Dutch Army, presented a paper portraying a need for new NATO nuclear weapons to offset new Soviet weapons and thus preserve deterrence and peace. Virtually all other formal speakers explicitly or implicitly opposed the NATO weapons scheduled for late 1983 deployment, however, as making war more rather than less likely.
Some argued on classical arms-control grounds that the new land-based weapons would increase instability because of their combination of lethality and vulnerability. Others argued more simply that the more nuclear weapons there are, the more inevitable nuclear war becomes.
For quite a few in the audience the conference wasn't radical enough. One writer, identifying himself as representing the 4 billion people who don't want to die in a nuclear war, wanted to give up on governments altogether and have a "world plebiscite for peace."
One feminist took the microphone to protest the low number of women in the hall --and also the mess that men have made of the world with their destructive nuclear toys.
One Dutch student also mocked the few references that were made by panelists to a perceived Soviet threat. He and his friends saw no current Soviet threat to Poland, other than in American inentions to intervene in Holland and Britain if anti-NATO nuclear forces carry the day in these coun tries.