DIEM25 NUCLEAR WEAPONS POLICY
An introductory comment on Dimitris Konstantakopoulos’ “How close are we to nuclear war?”
Anti-war movements and anti-nuclear movements come into existence in response to the needs of state diplomacy.
The peace movements of the World Peace Council served the needs of the Soviet state. The “non-aligned” peace movements were supported by other states hostile to the Soviet Union which did not wish to have sections of their population taking orders from a foreign state they saw as their enemy. These states therefore established rival peace movements monitored, and largely controlled, by themselves.
The mass European anti-nuclear movements of the 1980s arose in response to the effects of a deliberate NATO policy decision to circulate “first strike” Pershing II missiles in the streets of European cities, mostly in the early hours of the morning, positioning them in this way to make it impossible for the Soviets to stage a preemptive counterstrike against them and at the same time de facto fostering the growth of the “independent” anti-nuclear movement that would refuse recognition to the Soviet-controlled movements of the World Peace Council.
This latter objective was achieved in 1987 when Gorbachev, with Reagan, signed the INF agreement on the intermediate range nuclear missiles, thereby overturning the World Peace Council’s defence of the Soviets’ SS-20 intermediate range missiles and corresponding rejection of NATO’s official line that the American Pershing and Cruise missiles had been installed in Western Europe in response to the USSR’s introduction of the SS-20s. Gorbachev’s signature on the INF Agreement meant that he was adopting the “independent” peace movement’s position that “there are no good and bad nuclear weapons”. This implied, for the Soviets, an obligation to see their own nuclear weapons as “bad”.
The Eurocommunization of Gorbachev was the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union. The INF was celebrated hysterically in the media (Western and Soviet alike) as the beginning of a new era of peace and, with the abolition of “a whole category of nuclear weapons” (intermediate range missiles: Pershing II, Cruise and SS20), the first step towards general nuclear disarmament.
The euphoria in the Western Europe, in the population as a whole but also in the “independent” peace movements, was sustained, but with increasing cognitive dissonance, through the subsequent developments: the fall of the Berlin wall, disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, the collapse of the USSR. Finally Gorbachev ‘s reputation in the eyes of the masses underwent a sudden polar reversal: from saint to sad loser.
Having said all this, I would like to clarify that the fact that anti-nuclear movements arose out of the needs of state policy does not mean that the ideologies of the anti-nuclear movements, at least in the West, have been and are identical to the mainstream political propaganda conveyed to everyone and believed by the majority. “Nuclear deterrence”, for example, is not a favoured concept. It is an apologetic notion devised for public consumption and for sustaining the self-righteousness of the military. The idea that “the existence of a nuclear balance is a necessary in the long term as a condition for deterrence of nuclear war” is not an anti-nuclear movement idea. It is mainstream propaganda.
Similarly, the idea that in the Cuban missile crisis “all of the (policy making) participants were in favour of war apart from two people, President Kennedy and his brother” is inaccurate. John Kennedy simply had other ideas about how the confrontation with Khrushchev over Cuba could be won by the United States. “Everyone else” favoured a US invasion of Cuba. Kennedy did not. Why did he not? Because he was not a slave to his government’s ideology of nuclear deterrence.
There was general agreement among American policy makers that the US was obliged to respond dynamically to the Soviet installation of nuclear missiles in Cuba. For believers in “nuclear deterrence”, a direct response against the Soviet Union for its action of installing nuclear missiles in Cuba was precluded by the existence of the Soviet nuclear “deterrent”. If Khrushchev had not himself been a believer in nuclear deterrence, as testified by his obsession with building bigger and bigger hydrogen bombs, as many as possible) he would not have taken the risk of installing Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. By comparison with Stalin, who said he thought nuclear weapons were “a way to frighten people with weak nerves”, Khrushchev was a nuclear junkie. Stalin successfully defied a US threat of a nuclear strike against the USSR when he refused to change Soviet policy on Poland in the face of American nuclear threats. He refused despite the fact that at that time the USSR was without nuclear weapons. Stalin’s refusal to capitulate to nuclear blackmail was a puzzling mystery to then US Secretary of State Byrnes, who had similar ideas to Khrushchev on the political power to be derived from possession of nuclear weapons.
In any case, because of the official doctrine of nuclear deterrence, the consensus position in the US was that the Soviets’ installation of nuclear weapons on that island demanded a conventional response: a US invasion of Cuba. This was the idea that the Kennedy brothers rejected. Their preference was to threaten a massive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union if the Soviets refused to withdraw their missiles from Cuba.
Khrushchev caved in. His whole policy of making the USSR secure by building more and bigger nuclear bombs was being exposed as a delusion. And in return Kennedy, perhaps not least out of embarrassment, initiated together with Khrushchev, the nuclear de-escalation process that was to end with his own murder. A limited test ban treaty was introduced, and further moves were planned but were cut short.
Khrushchev was discredited in the eyes of the Soviet political class by his adventurism and subsequent capitulation. He was eventually removed from power. But his ideas on nuclear deterrence were not removed during the subsequent Brezhnev era. It required the coming of Andropov and then Gorbachev (under the influence of Andrei Sakharov) for the lessons of Cuba really to begin to sink in at the official level in the USSR.
Khrushchev’s reputation in the West as a liberal reformer has delayed acceptance of the Maoist view that he was the worst leader the USSR has ever had.
And his ideas on ideas on nuclear deterrence still have a grip on public consciousness, particularly in “the West”.
The present confrontation between “the West” and North Korea:
The doctrine of nuclear deterrence and its contradictions are being put on display again in the current showdown, or “showdown”, with North Korea. One of the few people in the public eye to have demonstrated rudimentary ability to stand up to propaganda is Trump’s former advisor Steve Bannon, who said: “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us”.
The implication is that North Korea has no military need for nuclear weapons: it can achieve “deterrence” without them. So if the North Koreans are fanatically determined to defend their right to possess nuclear weapons this must also be because nuclear weapons possession is something to which “prestige” has been attached: if a foreign power issues ultimata not to develop nuclear weapons, or to dismantle them if they have been developed, that spells “loss of face” if obeyed, not only internationally, but also internally, which is dangerous.
French President Emmanuel Macron has recently been on record as demanding that the UN “react rapidly” to the actions of Pyongyang (nuclear testing), summoning the European Union to respond with “clarity and unity” because North Korean nuclear weapons are a potential threat even to Europe. A senior North Korean official Ri Tok-Son responded to Macron’s statements by saying: “It is ridiculous to say that the nuclear weapons of the Democratic Republic of Korea, a force for deterrence against American nuclear threats and blackmail, could be aimed at Europe. If nuclear weapons are so bad, France should abolish its own nuclear weapons, because it is not threatened by anyone.”
This could be dismissed as cheap rhetoric, but much of the European Left, including DiEM25, declare that “nuclear weapons have no place in European security doctrines: all nuclear weapons should be removed from European territory, be they British, French, American or Russian.” Such a policy implies commitment to French nuclear disarmament. Why should “we” not be more specific, then, and propose a bilateral nuclear disarmament treaty between France and North Korea, on the Brazil/Argentina model. If North Korea’s nuclear weapons obsession has more to do with prestige and refusal to “lose face” than with military necessity, as pointed out by Steve Bannon, and if France is not threatened by anyone, as pointed out by Ri Tok-Son, why should this specific proposal not be adopted dynamically and officially by (e.g.) DiEM25?
What does DiEM25’s policy that “nuclear weapons have no place in European security doctrines” mean if it does not mean this?
(The idea that weaker states can achieve greater security against stronger states by acquiring nuclear weapons is critically dissected in the following article: Nuclear weapons for the underdog)