THE QUESTION OF the withdrawal of foreign troops from Europe is as controversial among peace movements as within NATO. At first glance, the idea would seem to be one that peace movements would adopt easily. The withdrawal of U.S. and Soviet troops from East and West Europe could be an important step toward de-militarising the European situation. But foreign troops withdrawals also raise ugly spectres of a Europe rearmed and nationalistic that would have little to do with peace.
The debate has been stimulated by the re-emergence of the Western European Union (WEU), an organisation of seven European countries set up to discuss security and military issues. Last October the WEU Council of Ministers met in The Hague to draw up principles which emphasized the desirability of an independent West European nuclear deterrent. The Dutch Inter-church Peace Council (IKV) and Pax Christi/Netherlands issued a statement then, urging the Dutch government to place at the top of the WEU agenda new opportunities for détente and for reducing both nuclear and conventional threats.
The elimination of whole classes of weapons systems and the withdrawal of both foreign troops and bases would accomplish both of these goals, according to the IKV/Pax Christi statement. "With these two policies, it is possible to link a disarmament to détente," the statement read. "In a Europe that is divided, the security of Western Europe is largely based on the presence of nuclear weapons, while in Eastern Europe the presence of Soviet troops and conventional weapons is the most significant factor. A real step towards overcoming the division of Europe would be made by combining further-reaching 'zero options' with the withdrawal of foreign troops from Europe."
The statement, later discussed at an International Peace Communication and Coordination Centre meeting in March, drew criticism. A member of Norway's Nei Til Atomvapen (No to Nuclear Weapons) said troop withdrawal was a low priority issue, given the need for the Norwegian movement to concentrate on ensuring that Soviet short-range nuclear weapons are withdrawn from the Kola peninsula. Troop withdrawal would be an unpopular and confusing issue. "In Norway it is impossible to link withdrawal with reduction, as this is seen as anti-NATO," she said.
MEMBERS OF the U.K.-based European Nuclear Disarmament (END), on the other hand, thought troop withdrawals "ought to be a priority. Without being made a precondition of nuclear disarmament negotiations, conventional force reductions ought to play an important role in further negotiations."
A Hungarian participant believed there was a good possibility of a partial troop withdrawal, especially for Hungary, as it does not border a NATO country.
"What do you really obtain by troop withdrawals?" asked a Danish peace activist. "If troops are withdrawn, you may think the problem is solved, but that's not the case at all. Whether the troops are there or not, the policies remain. It's an illusion to think just withdrawal solves the problem."
THE QUESTION OF GERMANY is one of the thorniest problems. Foreign troop withdrawal can be "a very dangerous approach, especially for Germany," said Wim Bartels, international secretary for IKV. "When Germans talk about foreign troop withdrawals, they think of reunification." Bartels, invited to Bonn recently for a Green Party Conference, spoke in favor of a peace movement demand for troop withdrawals. "The question does raise suspicion and fear," he said. "Some people criticized it as too much of a weapons approach, others said it would militarise the WEU even more."
"Foreign troop withdrawal is one way the peace movement can make links between ideas," Bartels said. "It can, for ex-ample, give a new dynamic to East European peace movements and détente from below. It doesn't emphasise a weapons approach - it's a way to attack the arms race by political means.
"Troop withdrawals must be done within a framework, such as common security. The framework must be not just Europeanisation, or independence from the superpowers; we must also dismantle forward defence strategies."
Including troop withdrawals in a common security framework might help deal with such European conflicts as the British military presence in Northern Ireland and Turkish forces in north Cyprus. But when speaking about foreign troops, it is the superpowers' forces that are usually meant. "I was very surprised to hear the USSR's Foreign Affairs Minister ask the U.N. Special Session on Disarmament in a speech
that, by the year 2000, no country should have military bases or troops outside its own borders. If there is a need for troops after this date, the U.N. should deal with it," Bartels said. "Interest in the issue may grow as the Soviets express their position."
Contact: lnterkerkelijk Vredesberaad (IKV), Anna Paulownaplein 3, Postbus 18747, 2502 ES The Hague.
Disarmament Campaigns is published from its office at Anna Paulownaplein 3, Post Box 18747, 2502 ES, The Hague, Netherlands. Tel 070 45 35 66. Editor: Shelley Anderson. Editorial Staff: Renate Dumbaugh, Birgit Gaffrey.