By Metta Spencer.
The Globe and Mail, Monday, May 6, 1985, p. 7.
Ms Spencer is a sociology professor at the University of Toronto and executive director of Peace Magazine.
THE BELGIANS recently took to the streets again, protesting against their Government’s decision to deploy U.S. cruise missiles. But, once again the peace movement, despite its popular support, has failed. So far, not a. single missile has been kept out of Europe.
Why has public opposition to nuclear weaponry not been translated into public policy, even in democratic societies?
The failure has probably resulted from opposing the missiles without putting forward any plausible alternative around which citizens and government leaders could rally. A well-thought-out proposal for a secure, verifiable nuclear-weapons free zone in Europe might have filled that need. It is not too late to promote such an idea. Indeed, its time may not yet have come – but it soon will, and the eve of the 40th anniversary of VE-Day is a good time to consider it.
About 75 per cent of Europeans mistrust Soviet intentions and consider it necessary to maintain some sort of defence against Soviet expansionism, but at the same time, Europeans generally recognize that nuclear weapons are anything but a defence. They can even see that the existing array of conventional weapons adds to tension instead of increasing security.
Most would prefer some other scheme. However, until an acceptable one is put forward, many government leaders consider it risky to opt out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
No regional plan for security is foolproof in the nuclear age – either in Europe or anywhere else. If a nuclear war were to occur, there would be no safe spot on Earth. Even if no bombs were to fall in Europe, the entire biosphere might be so damaged that nothing would survive. Ballistic missiles would not detour around Europe, but would be lobbed over it. Hence a regional plan for security has only limited applicability.
Nevertheless, among the excellent reasons for proposing’ one are the possibilities that a misunderstanding could lead to a nuclear exchange and that a massed array of weapons is so threatening that it invites a pre-emptive strike.
Every patch of land from which weapons of mass destruction can be cleared away will help in promoting a sense of security. Moreover, European morale would be restored if the people could reclaim their sovereignty and make plans without having to take unwelcome U.S. missiles as their source of “security”.
In private conversations with government officials, one begins to hear murmurings of misgivings about the U.S. Star Wars plans. The dreams of U.S. President Ronald Reagan, even if they were to come true 20 years from now, can protect only a few missile sites and bunkers for leaders in the United States, whereas the battles will be fought in the skies over the heads of Europeans, who are too close to the Soviet Union to be defended by space weapons.
Europeans hope for a new detente and a few are looking for ways to clear weapons from the line between the nuclear powers.
One new proposal is actually a revival of an old one –- a denuclearized and even substantially demilitarized zone in all the European countries that do not own nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons-free zones have been suggested several times. Adam Rapacki, former foreign minister of Poland, worked hard to promote the idea in the late 1950s. Andrei Gromyko also. promoted the idea and, more recently, a commission headed by Sweden’s Olof Palme suggested it.
The current version gaining attention in Europe is a proposal by a Belgian, Albert De Smaele. Supporters of the De Smaele plan have been collecting endorsements of prominent government leaders from the countries that would be affected.
A total of 400 million people live in the zone with which Mr. De Smaele is concerned. It comprises all the 30 nations between the “nuclear” countries, the Soviet Union to the east and France and Britain to the west. These 30 countries do not possess nuclear weapons but have, in some cases, allowed them to be placed on their soil. Some of the nations belong to NATO, others to the Warsaw Pact and the rest are non-aligned.
The De Smaele “security zone” would be established by treaties ensuring in five stages that:
- No conventional or nuclear arms be fired from or at the zone.
- Nuclear and conventional arms be frozen, according to the situation of 1979, when the SALT II signatories acknowledged that the two alliances were in a nuclear balance.
- Foreign nuclear and conventional arms be withdrawn gradually from the zone in balanced portions.
- All other nuclear and conventional arms be reduced and the location of remaining arms specified.
The non-nuclear nations be organized effectively for non-nuclear defence.
How realistic is such a scheme? Obviously, it is not going to come to pass within the next couple of years, but it is both visionary and plausible, and is appealing to the growing number of Europeans who fear the current NATO arrangements are blueprints for catastrophe.
In March, I participated in a conference in Belgium with about 175 Europeans who were discussing the prospects for peace and security in their continent. The group was made up of assorted NATO generals and ambassadors, parliamentarians, academics, labor leaders, peace organizers and researchers and specialists on international law. One of the four workshops devoted two days to a consideration of Mr. De Smaele’s proposal, which the participants favored unanimously.
Most surprising was the endorsement of the Soviet delegate, since one might have expected the Soviet Union to categorically reject any plan requiring the reduction of all military forces in Poland, Romania, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Would they really accept the risk of uprisings against the Communist regimes in those countries?
To be sure, the proposal said nothing about requiring nations to quit NATO or I the Warsaw Pact, but such a new arrangement would, in effect, replace both military alliances. The Soviets have already announced their approval of nuclear-weapons-free zones, but the De Smaele security zone would almost be re-militarized — quite a aifferent matter. Are they so keen to clear the weapons away from their European border that they would release the countries that squirm so embarrassingly in their embrace? Perhaps. This would, of course, remove one of the great sources of antagonism between the two blocs – the plight of the repressed Eastern Europeans, which so offends Westerners.
A little later, I asked a top Canadian official at NATO whether such a security zone idea was realistic, and at first he seemed skeptical. The Soviets, he said, would reject it because it would open the way for the two Germanys to reunite. Then he acknowledged that a guarantee that the reunited country would remain demilitarized might be attractive enough to overcome Soviet anxiety about their old enemy.
Nor did he reject the idea that the Soviets might allow their Eastern European satellites to become part of this security zone. On the basis of his considerable diplomatic experience with the Soviets, he said that they feel burdened and embarrassed by always having to keep their reluctant neighbors in line. If assured that U.S. troops would not fill the vacuum, they might abandon their military presence and let the Eastern Europeans rule themselves.
Would any country feel secure enough to disarm in such an arrangement? Some would. The Nordic countries are probably going to form a nuclear-weapons-free zone, regardless Of whether other countries do, and there are already other countries that have chosen to leave themselves defenceless against possible Soviet aggression but which have not been threatened anyhow. Austria and Finland are examples.
However, most Europeans believe that the Soviets would come to replace the Americans if they had a chance, and they would prefer Americans. They stay in the existing alliance only because they feel a need for some type of military defence.
The De Smaele plan proposes a common defence system for the countries that join the security zone. However, this common defence establishment is described vaguely, almost as an afterthought.
That is a major weakness of Mr. De Smaele’s proposal, but it is matched by another, equally serious, deficiency – the absence of any proposals for verification. Probably no system of verification will ever be foolproof, but no country is likely to join a security zone without insisting on some on-site inspection to locate hidden weapons.
Mr. De Smaele’s security-zone proposal could be enhanced by specifying that the security and verification problems be handled by an international military unit, equipped adequately but without provocative weaponry.
This idea has been proposed in Canada by two long-time peace researchers. Arnold Simoni and Norman Alcock. They suggest an International, Regional Verification and Peacekeeping Force, which would recruit from all the countries of the security zone.
The main business of the force would be to verify the absence of weapons prohibited by the terms of the treaty establishing the security zone.
This type of security zone would not solve all the world’s problems, but without holding it (or something equally promising) as a goal, the peace movements of Europe are never going to succeed.
There are obstacles to implementing the plan, to be sure, but the peril of the present course is becoming so apparent that more and more Europeans regard it as more realistic than the status quo.
The political will is emerging. What will be required next, for the realization of the plan, is the commitment of some experienced, credible diplomat (A Willy Brandt? A Pierre Trudeau? An Olof Palme?) to travel about and piece it all together.
The initiative might be taken by any friendly country, including Canada, and would meet with enthusiastic appreciation throughout Europe.