05. Citizens to the Europarliament?


That a conference conceived as an initiative to defend the ABM Treaty should finally take place more or less as a conference against Washington’s new international “war on terrorism” is nothing very terrible. The exchange of ideas does not always have to be justified by a specific agenda, and in any case if powerful world-moving lobbies like NATO can dream up new purposes for themselves as they go along why should not NATO’s opponents, the “new social movements” – as we were called in the 80s – do the same?

As a fellow-member with Conference organiser Ken Coates of the European Nuclear Disarmament movement in the 1980s, I was naturally very interested to see what Ken has to say to the newer new social movements of the 21st century, and so I scrutinized very carefully his piece “Power Play and the New World Chaos” in Sand in the Wheels 107. The concluding question of the article: How can we bring about a constructive convergence of the “new peace movement” and the movement against neo-liberal globalism? – is the question I propose to address here.

One of the prerequisites for this constructive convergence – in my opinion – is honesty concerning the past, and Ken Coates, perhaps in response to criticism (http://enouranois.eu/?page_id=197) seems to be trying to address it. A little over a year ago, when moves towards launching the European Network for Peace and Human Rights first got under way, Ken was actually characterizing as “very effective” the campaigns of the 1980s against the installation of intermediate nuclear forces in Europe. Now he has acknowledged that at the end of the Cold War, “we were proved wrong in our supposition that general nuclear disarmament might become an established fact.” That is a start.

But it is only a start. There are other questions, like for example civil society, which was the focus of intense discussion in the non-aligned anti-nuclear movement of the eighties. In my drawer I still have a pretty green and blue European Nuclear Disarmament badge with two doves flying, one over Eastern and one over Western Europe, and bearing the slogan: “Free Europe from Nuclear Weapons”. That was the slogan we projected in those days in our courting of what we called “civil society” in Eastern Europe. In our public proclamations we systematically counterposed civil society in Eastern Europe to the Communist bureaucracy, which on account of the Soviet Union’s participation in the nuclear arms race we said disqualified itself – and the official World Peace Council peace movements it controlled – from acceptance as a legitimate interlocutor of the Western independent peace movements. Of course we were not all of exactly the same opinion on this subject. European Nuclear Disarmament was most intransigent towards the World Peace Council, the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament much less so. Ken Coates occupied a position somewhere between the two extremes.

For all of us the moment of truth came with the signing by Reagan and Gorbachev of the agreement on Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) in December 1987. Even the World Peace Council groups, through loyalty to the Soviet leader, celebrated the INF Agreement, though Gorbachev’s acceptance of the so-called Zero Option for removal of Soviet and American intermediate-range nuclear missiles from Europe stood in contradiction to everything they had previously demanded. Their confusion presented our non-aligned movement, now enjoying the backing of Gorbachev, with the opportunity to push our logic of civil society into the very heartland of the “old-line” Communists’ political base. But the offensive never eventuated. Somehow it got smothered in the fairy floss of the bizarre Gorbachev personality cult of the time. Murmurings also began to be heard that Gorbachev was the bearer not of progress, but of regression, counter-revolution, catastrophe. Before long anti-nuclear activists were drifting off to other issues.

In 1989 Ken Coates was elected as a Europarliamentarian for the British Labour Party, where he spent “two strenuous years arguing for a joint session between the European Parliament and the Supreme Soviet. Early on the proposal won the support of Gorbachev, who put Zagladin in charge of negotiating it. After a somewhat longer time the European Parliament saw that this was a desirable proposal. Had it happened, the Euro-Soviet discussions would have reached a wider basis than diplomatic channels….It did not happen, because just at the point when negotiations were coming to a head, Gorbachev was seized in the coup.”

When Yeltsin dissolved the Soviet Union only a few months later, he placed a premium on relations with the United States and was not interested in joint Russian-European parliamentary sittings. (In any case he was soon sending the Russian Army against his own parliament.) His hand-picked successor Putin has continued the pro-American orientation and it strains credulity to represent him as something different from Yeltsin in terms of anything other than style and personal competence.

Ken Coates’ 1991 Europarliament idea, apart from its incongruity with the emerging pro-American geopolitical alignment of Russia and the other ex-Soviet republics, lacked two crucial elements present in the politics of the non-aligned peace movement in the mid-eighties: firstly the focus on “civil society” (what did the European Parliament and the Supreme Soviet have to do with “civil society”?) secondly a striking policy proposal comparable to the projected Nuclear-Free Europe of the 1980 “Appeal for European Nuclear Disarmament”. This, after all, was what had served to lure Soviet diplomacy into the “common European home”. By 1991 the European peace movements were struggling to digest the implications of new wars, in the Gulf and in Yugoslavia. Nuclear weapons disappeared from sight..

Son of Star Wars

At the 1986 Reykjavik Summit President Ronald Reagan tried very hard to sell his original “Star Wars” proposal to Gorbachev, even proposing total abolition of the nuclear weapons of both the United States and the Soviet Union in exchange for Soviet acceptance of what was at that time called the Strategic Defense Initiative. Reagan’s offer, doubtless no more than a way for him to thumb his nose at supporters of the 1972 ABM Treaty (and of “nuclear deterrence”) in both the Soviet Union and Western Europe, was unsurprisingly rejected by Gorbachev and so lapsed..

To understand the peculiar dialectic between offensive and purportedly defensive systems in the nuclear arms race one has to enter into the mentality of Soviet nuclear planners at the point in the mid-60s when the Soviet government began to build an anti-ballistic missile system around Moscow. Defence against ballistic missile attack fitted in well with Soviet military strategy because it would not only lessen the destruction caused to the Soviet Union by nuclear war but also decrease the dependence of Soviet nuclear strategy on the “balance of terror”, a doctrine which had not yet attained the acceptance in the Soviet Union that it enjoyed with the Western public. Unfortunately for the Soviets, the idea of ballistic missile defence was also beginning to catch on in the US. In September 1967 the United States government decided to deploy nation-wide ABM defences, a move which soon led the Soviet leaders to see these systems in a different light. It became apparent that the nuclear balance could be upset in one of two ways, either by attainment of superiority in offensive missiles or by deployment of effective ballistic missile defences. At the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) that started in 1969 the Soviets therefore insisted on the principle of “equal security”. Although they proposed that a treaty be signed on defensive systems alone, the US government had by now perceived the extra leverage that it was acquiring from its ability to threaten an escalation of defensive systems and so insisted that offensive and defensive systems be linked. In May 1972 the ABM Treaty and the Interim Agreement on Offensive missiles (the SALT agreements) were signed in Moscow.

For the Soviet leadership the SALT agreements constituted a recognition of virtual strategic parity and they were valued for that reason. They were considered, as Ken Coates puts it, “a milestone in postwar arms control”. But from another, today more relevant viewpoint, they also represented a milestone in the other direction, a milestone on the road of institutionalization of nuclear weapons possession. The 1972 SALT agreements are the accords under the terms of which the Soviet Union (and its successor Russia) put its seal of approval on the doctrine of “nuclear deterrence”.

The significance of this change will become apparent if one bears in mind that in the early post-WWII period the Soviet conception of deterrence (szerdhzhivanie) was different from the American, being embedded in a wider notion of war prevention. By far the most important factor in avoidance of a third world war was considered not the threat of mutual destruction but the fact that “the forces of peace have been stronger than the forces interested in unleashing thermonuclear war”. Soviet diplomacy carefully avoided attributing any positive characteristics to nuclear weapons. The standing Soviet proposal at the United Nations was for general, universal nuclear disarmament. The argument that nuclear weapons possessed the virtuous feature of deterring conventional warfare was rejected. The argument that possession of nuclear weapons could deter the use of nuclear weapons by an enemy was dismissed as a ploy for justifying American possession of nuclear weapons and rejecting Soviet disarmament proposals. The notion of the “balance of terror” was simply not accepted by the Soviets at the diplomatic level.

On the other hand, Soviet insistence on American abandonment of nuclear weapons was portrayed by American politicians as interference in America’s internal affairs, in effect a challenge to American sovereignty. This reaction, in turn, reinforced the official Soviet view of being under threat. As a result it was not politically possible for either Americans or Soviets unilaterally to abolish their nuclear arsenals as some other countries (e.g. Sweden) had done on military advice.

By the late 1960s technological developments in anti-missile technology were as indicated, making it possible for the United States to present the Soviets with the plausible prospect that their nuclear “deterrent” would be neutralized by an American anti-missile shield. The argument was that a disabling first strike was now becoming possible that would destroy so much of the Soviet’s missile potential that the remainder would not be sufficient to pose a feasible threat to the United States. “Nuclear deterrence” was thus challenged.

Rather than just going ahead and developing the shield, the United States decided to use the threat of it to extract political concessions. The Soviets were going to have to stop playing to the aisles. If they wanted to preserve the political credibility of their nuclear arsenal they were going to have to publicly acknowledge the virtues of the “balance of terror”. This they in effect did at the SALT talks. The ABM Treaty, which emerged from those talks, thus marks Soviet co-optation into the hermetically sealed logic of the nuclear arms race and simultaneous turning away from what they, on their terms, had called “the forces of peace” and what we, on our terms, call “civil society”.

Perhaps it is now becoming clear how I detect a positive element in the way that President Bush, through his actions since September 11th and his transparent contempt both for the ABM Treaty (and for the United Nations that seeks to legitimate itself by defending such treaties), should have forced an unacknowledged change of agenda on the Brussels Conference of the European Network for Peace and Human Rights. The Conference will now, I imagine, focus most of its attention on the “War on Terrorism”, undoubtedly a much more useful activity than attempting a rearguard defense of the ABM Treaty.

Ten years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, twelve years at least after the collapse of the European anti-nuclear movements, browsing Ken Coates’ netsite at the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation I find an article by the academic Alla Yaroshkinskaya asserting that Russia had delayed ratification of the START-2 treaty because “Russia’s Communist-dominated parliament did not wish to ratify the treaty as NATO pursued plans to expand toward the Russian border, and the United States, as sole superpower after the end of the USSR, bombed Kossovo.” Still those Communists making trouble, even when they are no longer privileged bureaucrats and no longer even much of a force to be reckoned with! But some things have changed. Whereas once the Communists represented themselves as the peace movement, or at the very least a tendency in the peace movement, now, like their populist opposite numbers in the United States, they have become the war movement. The difference between 1985 and 2002 is that Communists in Russia now have to get themselves elected if they want to be parliamentarians. There are few votes for pacifists.

In China, too, where Ken Coates is now expecting a build-up of offensive nuclear weapons in response to President Bush’s tearing up of the ABM Treaty, things are similarly changing. During the American presidential visit to China last September, one of whose objectives was to overcome Chinese opposition to the National Missile Defense program, US officials revealed that the Americans would have “no objection” to China’s building up its fleet of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States! Of course the pork-barrel logic that underlies Son of Star Wars is not exactly a secret, but does it really make sense any more for Western anti-nuclear movements to encourage fears that the Chinese are in fact going to do this? (irrespective of whether they are or not). There are already quite enough Cassandras, many of whom get paid for their services. Do they really need volunteer reinforcement from the peace movement?


Which brings us, then, to the War on Terrorism. The 11th September terrorist attacks in the United States have given birth to three currents of thought in the antiwar movement. The largest and most respectable is the one closest to the agenda of the United Nations. Ken Coates testifies loyalty to this with his observation that “when responses (to 9/11) were considered, naturally most people thought in terms of the necessary actions of the United Nations and its relevant organs.” The most prominent, and verbally most radical, exponent of the UN perspective is Noam Chomsky, so I will take the liberty of naming the perspective the UN-Chomsky perspective. Majority opinion in ATTAC, as expressed in last November’s declaration of the ATTAC groups of Europe, likewise reflects the UN-Chomsky perspective. Essentially it holds that: “Bin Laden and his al-Qaida group, or at any rate some or other Islamist groups, are guilty of the September 11 attacks, but war is not the answer. The United States have been playing an unprincipled game with Islamists for a very long time and have created a Frankenstein monster. But it is the international community as a whole, not just the United States, that must bring that monster under control. And there has to be a solution to the problems of the Palestinians.”

Contrasting with the UN-Chomsky perspective is the stance of groups such as Jared Israel’s Emperor’s Clothes http://www.tenc.net and Mike Ruppert’s “Out of the Wilderness”, http://www.fromthewilderness.com/, which see the US government itself as complicit in the attacks on the Pentagon and the WTC. Jared Israel has extensively documented the failure of the air defense systems at Andrews Air Base to protect the skies over Washington and has dissected the mutually contradictory stories, demonstrating consciousness of guilt, later offered to account for this failure. The Emperor’s Clothes site calls for (at least) President Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Air-Force General Richard B. Myers, Acting Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on September 11, to be put on trial for treason.

In between these two positions is what could be called “The Israelis did it” view. It is espoused by a wide variety of groups and sites in the United States generally seen as disreputable and/or anti-Semitic but including sites such as Antiwar.com, a libertarian antiwar site that can hardly be so labelled. The view that the Israeli government at the very least had prior notification of the 9/11 attacks and failed to communicate it to the United States government has been substantiated by a series of Fox News reports mentioning the detention of 60 Israelis for questioning by the FBI. The reports also drew attention to “a long-running effort to spy on American officials” involving two Israeli-owned telecommunications companies in the US. Jewish organizations have expressed fears that the Fox News reports, which have not however been picked up by other media outlets, could lead to outbreaks of anti-Semitism in the United States. Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.com predicts that the Israeli lobby could end up in roughly the same position as the Arab-American community in the wake of 9/11. “The same bullies who turned on their fellow Americans of Arab descent could just as easily turn on Jewish Americans, collectively condemning them as a “fifth column” in classic anti-Semitic style – and a grave injustice will be compounded.”

If, as I suspect, the American people are going to tire eventually of the comic book world into which they have been plunged by their government and the media, with the arch-villain Bin Laden always somehow managing to slip away at the last minute, as country after country is left in ruins behind him, it is possible that anti-Israel sentiment will end up more popular than outright condemnation of the American government.

Nevertheless, if one is to speak of “constructive convergence” of the new peace movements and the movements against neo-liberal globalism, my personal view is that the most valuable service the European anti-war movements could offer civil society in the United States would be to provide support, just as was once done for Eastern bloc dissidents, to still marginal American voices such as Jared Israel and Mike Ruppert. Of course the majority UN-Chomsky pespective will remain predominant, being closer to globalist elite strategies. Its favoured projects, such as the establishment of an International Criminal Court, also purport to offer solutions to the present domination of world politics by criminals. Through its mere existence, the United Nations perspective also drives a wedge between establishment neo-Conservative politics in the United States and its populist and nationalist electoral base, something of benefit to the antiwar movement as a whole.

As far as nuclear weapons are concerned, for me the 1980 END Appeal projecting a nuclear-weapons-free Europe remains as valid as it was when it was formulated and should never have been abandoned. The undermining of the national sovereignty of the nuclear weapons states Britain and France by the European integration process provides a golden opportunity for the implementation of unilateral European nuclear disarmament or, in an updated variant of Ken Coates’ Europarliament-Supreme Soviet initiative, bilateral Russian-European nuclear disarmament on the Brazil-Argentina model. What the Bush administration claims to want to achieve through its National Missile Defense can be achieved much more cheaply and effectively simply by other nuclear weapons states getting rid of their nuclear weapons.

An American monopoly on nuclear weapons possession may seem less absurd a prospect if one bears in mind that most nuclear-weapons-use scenarios for the early stages of nuclear war are counterforce scenarios, i.e. scenarios where nuclear weapons are aimed at other nuclear weapons. An American nuclear monopoly will also undoubtedly be a prerequisite for implementation of one of the present world’s urgent priorities: the nuclear disarmament of Israel. This is something on which Aki Orr – Israeli disciple of Cornelius Castoriadis and inaugural speaker at the June 2000 founding of the Hellenic Direct Democracy Forum in Athens – and I are in complete agreement.

The British have their Queen, the Greeks their Orthodox Church, the Americans their nuclear weapons and their armed citizenry. These are totems, sacred symbols of sovereignty, defensible on the grounds of pluralism and tolerance for cultural specificity. Doubtless a nuclear-free world is the desideratum and if Americans one day decide on their own initiative to renounce their nuclear arsenal, so much the better. The alternative proposed by some: a nuclear arsenal controlled by the United Nations, should be rejected. The United Nations is not directly accountable to the world’s citizenry and it is undialectical and even totalitarian to imagine that it could be. Nuclear disarmament, unlike perhaps some other ecological questions, is a subject where the relevant decisions must be made, unilaterally or in agreement, by sovereign nations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *