Peace groups view summit. European groups hope to reclaim lost identity
When President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev meet in Geneva next week for the first superpower summit in six years, arms control will be high on the agenda. But the European peace movement's message of pacifism and disarmament is not likely to be heard. The reason is that the peace movement has become deeply divided and no longer completely certain of its role.Skip to next paragraph
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James Hinton, a leader of Britain's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, says the peace movement has been ``thrashing around'' ever since it lost its key battle on deployment of new NATO missiles on the Continent at the end of 1983. Another activist says, ``There is little agreement on how to take the campaign forward over the next few years.''
There is, however, agreement among many leaders that the movement must move quickly to broaden its field of concern and activity if it is to continue to attract Europe's left-of-center rank and file -- and keep the movement alive.
The peace movement in Europe reached a peak of visibility during the ``hot autumn'' of 1983.
More than a quarter of a million people poured out onto the streets of London; 400,000 did the same in Brussels. An estimated 1 million marched in several West German cities. Hundreds of thousands said ``no to nukes'' in Amsterdam and The Hague.
In October 1983, it was only weeks before the first of 572 new United States-built, NATO-sponsored nuclear missiles were due to be deployed in Western Europe, and the European peace movement was buoyant, growing, and full of hope.
Peace activists were confident they could prevent deployment from going ahead if only they were able to mobilized enough public pressure. They believed they were about to strike a blow for peace which would be heard in the halls of the White House and the Kremlin.
Today, however, that blow for peace has become a measure of defeat.
The best efforts of peace activists from Scandinavia to Spain failed to prevent the 1979 NATO plan for modernizing the alliance's nuclear forces from proceeding on schedule. This has been the focal point of pacifist activism for years.
During the past two years, new US cruise and Pershing II nuclear missiles have been deployed in Britain, West Germany, Italy, and Belgium, despite strong public opposition. The Dutch government earlier this month joined those four in formally agreeing to station the NATO missiles on its territory.
``Opposition to the missiles is still strong,'' says Gied Ten Berge, a leader of the Dutch Interchurch Peace Council, which organizes pacifist action. ``But we all recognize we have lost a major battle.''
With the missile question behind them, many leaders of the peace movement are looking for new ways to mobilize support and broaden its base of support.
``We can't expect that an antiweapon approach alone will succeed,'' says Mient Jan Faber, head of the Dutch InterChurch Peace Council. ``That is the lesson of the past few years.'' He urges peace activists to ``emerge from the subculture'' and enter the mainstream of politcal life.
That is, in fact, the road already being taken in several countries -- notably West Germany. There, the radical, antinuclear Greens party entered the government earlier this month for the first time, after agreeing to form a coalition with the Social Democrats in the state of Hesse. The Greens will assume control of the energy and environmental ministry and will take up a junior post in the office of women's affairs. Recent public opinion polls have shown that the Greens continue to hover at or near the
5 percent level needed to hold on to their seats in the Bundestag, the lower house of the national legislature.
In Belgium, too, political parties reflecting peace movement thinking have made major gains recently. Last month, for example, the French-speaking Ecolo party and the Dutch-speaking Agalev party won more than 6 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections, doubling their win over the last elections four years ago.
Within the peace movement itself, the debate over future policy has begun to focus on the extent to which the movement should be prepared to deal with broader issues.