Women From NATO Meet Warsaw Pact Foreign Ministers

By Madeline Gilchrist

A delegation of women from NATO countries, along with their East bloc counterparts, sat down last March with foreign ministers of the seven Warsaw Pact nations to discuss common security, alternative defence Systems, disarmament and East/ West relationships.

The event was organized by Margarita Papandreou, Intemational liaison, Women for a Meaningful Summit, and Paula Rose, Coordinator of the Movement of Bulgarian Women. Two years ago, Scilla Maclean of the Oxford Research Group proposed a women's dialogue with NATO. The idea got an immediate response from Women for a Meaningful Summit - a coalition of parliamentarians, researchers, activists and women's organizations.

When we met with Permanent Representatives of the sixteen NATO countries and Lord Carrington in June of 1987, we discovered that key decisions on nuclear weapons are made by NATO without any consultation with parliaments of member slates; also, no channel of communication exists between NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations; and NATO has no mechanisms for conflict resolution without the use of threat of force. Communication is so bad that the Warsaw Pact's invitation of May 29,1987 to NATO, to discuss military doctrine, was actually conveyed through the media. NATO has yet to respond.

Foreign Ministers of the Warsaw Pact were scheduled to meet at the Bulgarian capital in March 1988. Women from the East bloc, got working months ahead, to ensure this meeting included their sisters from NATO countries.

EVENTUALLY, WE WERE ABLE TO MEET THESE women and draw up a joint list of objectives: non-violence must be the abiding principle in conflict resolution; war is obsolete; force can no longer be a tool of power; existing international organizations designed to promote peace needed strengthening; new structures for peace had to be set up. Collectively, we focused on five issues to take up with the seven foreign ministers

- conversion; the establishment of an East/West Women's Institute; non-offensive defence; Gorbachev's Belgrade proposals for peace in the Mediterranean; and non-intervention.

WHEN THE DAY FINALLY ARRIVED, we found ourselves sitting across a long table with seven foreign ministers, including Mr. Shevernadze. They were very generous with their time and welcomed the opportunity to meet.

This was quite a change from the reception we received the previous year. At the NATO meeting, Lord Carrington could not be bothered to meet a bunch of women; instead he chose to stand above us during the twenty minutes allocated to the group. No cameras were allowed. We had to go through two sets of scanners and have our bags and purses inspected.

NONE OF THIS HAPPENED IN SOFIA: we were welcomed and received like dignitaries. Czechoslovakia's foreign minister personally supported the idea of an East/West Women's Institute for Peace, jointly funded by NATO and the Warsaw Pact. At a press conference on the following day, 120 journalists turned up. Bulgarian newspapers carried a picture of our group under a headline about stabilizing security between both blocs.

The foreign ministers of NATO meet on June 6. Our goal is to grant our East bloc sisters the chance for a similar dialogue. It remains to be seen if they are extended the same courtesy.

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1988

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1988, page 9. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Madeline Gilchrist here

Peace Magazine homepage