When it comes to nuclear issues, NATO could use a public relations firm

Is NATO a war machine? Parliamentarians at the spring session of the North Atlantic Assembly June 10 -13 in Copenhagen would like to dissolve that notion, which they think may be widespread among Westerners.

The delegates from the 16 NATO countries met at a time when the Western peace movement is making strong public impact. In one of the committees an American delegate reportedly went as far as proposing special public relations efforts to promote NATO as the world's largest and most credible peace movement.

''When you start talking about defense, people automatically think about war, '' said the head of the Canadian delegation, Leonard Hopkins. ''Some of the statements that NATO is required to make give it that image. There is not enough emphasis on the fact that NATO is there as a protector and that it is the best guarantee we've had for peace since the end of the Second World War.''

It was perhaps with the need for a peace image in mind that Sweden's prime minister Olof Palme was invited as guest speaker on Monday.

''Uncertainty and mutual suspicion are necessary consequences of deterrent policies,'' Palme said. ''They lead to continued military competition. The search for an unattain-able certainty in deterrence has justified continued development and deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe.''

Mr. Palme called again for a nuclear-free zone in Scandinavia and central Europe. When he first pushed the idea last fall, neutral and Warsaw Pact countries had responded favorably. NATO's reaction had been mostly critical.

While Mr. Palme's approach won prolonged applause from the Greek delegation, there were distinct expressions of displeasure among some US and West German delegates.

The West German defense minister, Dr. Manfred Worner, told a press conference that he saw nothing useful in Mr. Palme's nuclear-free zone proposal. He insisted that deterrence was a basic security guarantee, but was reluctant to say whether Scandinavia without such a deterrence was actually in a more insecure situation than his own country.

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