Nuclear Peace Movement: No Time to Rest on Laurels

THESE are strange times for the nuclear peace movement. After working and struggling for a decade - and for some of us, much longer than that - we are seeing many of our fondest hopes about to come true. The cold war is largely over. The NATO-Warsaw Pact confrontation seems to be fizzling out. Even hard-line conservatives are calling for reductions in the military budget, and we are on the verge of a treaty that will actually reduce the numbers of strategic nuclear weapons. Why, then, aren't we happier?

For one thing, many of us are very happy indeed. We never really became fond of doing public ``bombing runs,'' detailing the devastation that would result from a nuclear war. And there is nothing we like better than to get back to our own private lives. But it is also true that these are frustrating and difficult times for antinuclear activists. Along with the horror and anxiety of the early 1980s came a remarkable, heady sense of enlarged purpose and importance, not dissimilar to the thrill that war itself has occasionally provided some of its practitioners. It is a relief - one that Atlas never got to enjoy - to lay down the burden of the Earth, but it also leaves a void.

Then there are the organizational issues. Along with diminished activism, enrollment in antinuclear organizations is down, and some have folded altogether. Ironically, bad times for the world tend to be good times for these organizations, and vice versa. Just as James Watt stimulated membership in the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth, Ronald Reagan, Richard Perle & Co. were, in a perverse way, the best friends the antinuclear movement has ever had. We almost miss them.

But most prominent is a sense of incompleteness. The world is doubtless a safer place with superpower tensions diminished and with ground-based intermediate-range missiles removed from Europe, and it will be safer yet with a 30 percent cut in strategic arsenals ... but there is lots more to do.

We should have, and could have, much more dramatic cuts in inventories and changes in doctrine, a halt to the production of fissionable materials, a comprehensive test ban, an end to ``star wars'' and to anti-satellite technologies, a far stricter anti-proliferation regime, and the termination of such destabilizing boondoggles as the Trident D-5 missile, the B-2 Stealth bomber program, the MX, cruise missiles, and even Midgetman. Having been granted the keys to heaven, the present administration can barely bring itself to poke its nose inside; and if we don't move quickly, the gate may yet close.

Historically, the antinuclear movement has been most active when it has been most needed, such as during the cavalierly militaristic days of the early 1980s, or during anxiety over radioactive fallout in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This is as it should be. But there is another time when ``the movement'' could be especially helpful: when the possibility exists for ``locking in'' substantial advances toward a more peaceful world.

Paradoxically, however, this is precisely when many activists are most likely to back off in their efforts, since it is easier to generate enthusiasm for the prevention of something awful, like nuclear war itself, than to rally the troops for the actual achievement of our goals, especially when these goals are typically stated in negative terms - the elimination of something - rather than more positively: the establishment of real security and peace.

The antinuclear peace movement thus has work ahead. Having labored mightily, it is not yet time to rest, to survey our accomplishments and pronounce them good. We must articulate a positive vision of the future. We must push a reluctant federal government to act boldly on behalf of such a vision, and to seize the opportunities so tantalizingly near. We should feel free to pat ourselves on the back for having delegitimated nuclear weapons in the public mind, but we must not stop now, when success can almost be tasted.

During the darkest days of the Reagan military buildup, we told ourselves that ending the arms race was going to be a marathon, not a sprint. That race continues today.

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