Goals Beyond Star Wars

By Eric Shragge | 1985-12-01 12:00:00

Some 1200 peace activists from Europe, China, Japan, and North America converged on Amsterdam for the fourth European Nuclear Disarmament (END) Conference in July, Three days of discussions focused on the prospects and directions of the peace movement, given the new deployment of missiles in Europe.

The mood was marked by some pessimism, but even more by a profound resolve to continue. Everyone realized that disarmament is a long4erm struggle against the arms race. Each day was devoted to one of the three basic themes. First, we dealt with the relations of movements inside the West ("West/West"). Another day's discussions were on West/East issues. The third day's talks were on North/South problems.


The first day's sessions discussed the future of the movement in Western Europe after deployment of cruise and Pershing II. Some optimistically stressed that the deployment of American missiles, far from cementing U.S. domination of Europe, has produced major cracks in the postwar consensus on European/American relations. A more pessimistic position saw a demobilization in all the national movements.

This debate raised many questions about Star Wars and European autonomy. For example, Carol Pressberg, of the American Friends Service Committee, argued that the U.S. administration's weak point now is its relation to its allies. Opposition from the European people and their leaders (and by implication Canadians as well) increases the vulnerability of U.S. policies to domestic critics. This, in turn, could influence the outcome of Star Wars in the U.S.

The European Star Wars debate has revolved around technology, and whether or not Europe will fall behind if it doesn't get a piece of the action. Militarily, the perception is of the U.S. building a shield for itself and ignoring its allies. This has led to the French government's "Eureka" proposal to "Europeanize" Star Wars.

The arguments at all levels are complex because of the technological and research aspects, yet political arguments are beginning to take shape, especially since technology is likely to require some overseas bases, perhaps in Britain, Iceland, Israel, and Pakistan. The U.S. invitation to share in the technology is thus but a step in a larger process of political and military integration within the west, one decreasing European autonomy.


The highlights of the conference were the discussions of East/West relations and the strategy of "detente from below." Here, the longer range political vision of the non-aligned European movement was revealed. While support for peace activists suffering political repression in both East and West (including in particular a strong denunciation of the imprisonment of peace activists in Turkey) has been a central activity of the non-aligned movement, the convention demonstrated the links between these "human rights" struggles and a political vision of Europe.

Europe was analyzed as a continent occupied militarily in the East, and politically and psychologically in the West. Thus the struggles for peace and freedom not only imply a removal of nuclear weapons on both sides, and the protection of human rights in the Eastern bloc, hut also a complete redefinition of European politics and relations.

Initiatives have come from groups in the West in establishing contact and supporting activists in the East, but recent discussion papers and debate have emerged from the East, and now a serious dialogue has begun. For example, greetings came to the conference from Lech Walesa of Solidarnosc. A new peace group in Poland was announced, and an important letter arrived, bearing the signatures of women from the seven countries (including East Germany and Czechoslovakia) where nuclear missiles are deployed. Charter 77 of Czechoslovakia sent the "Prague Challenge" to the conference, proposing denuclearized zones in Europe, and strategies and directions for disarmament. The emerging convergence of the movements was expressed in the Charter 77 document as follows:

"Only citizens living in freedom and dignity can guarantee the freedom and self-determination of nations. And only autonomous nations can build Europe into a community of equal partners which does not radiate into the world a danger ofglobal war but an example of genuine peacefrl co-existence.

This dialogue and the possibility of common understanding could only have been established because of the uncompromising nonalignment in Western European movements, and it is only on that basis that a "detente from below" can occur.


The emphasis in these sessions was the relation of western peace group to Third World Liberation movements. One participant emphasized the rivalry of the superpowers in the Third World as a possible cause of

war and the potential of nonaligned Western nations for aiding the economic development and struggles for national liberation.

Speakers from India, the Philippines, South Africa, and later in the day from Nicaragua discussed their different struggles for liberation and justice. Although these speakers argued in a moving and logical way the links between the movements for peace and third world development, and although the audience responded with enthusiasm, I had the sense that these links are only beginning to be made. Solidarity will have to be translated more concretely into the programs and activities of peace organization - a difficult task, given the varied agendas of the movement. The question of Third World liberation struggles directly challenges these in the peace movement adhering rigidly to principles of nonviolence. Clearly, for many in the Third world, non-violence is an ideal that can be practical only in those nations with traditions of democratic rights. However, the dialogue was a useful starting point, and reminded the conference that war was not one of future possibility but of present reality.


Canadian peace activists can learn from the Europeans on many fronts. The movement is larger, more diverse, and more deeply rooted than here. The agenda has broadened from resistance to missiles to a more systematic challenge to "bloc" politics.

The movement in Canada is now debating organizational questions without a clear discussion or debate about our longer term goals and vision. Without this discussion we will be constantly reacting only to the most recent government decision - or lack of one. The beginning of this vision for Canada is nonalignment - not only as a means of distancing ourselves from the policies of the two superpowers, but also as a definition for a constructive role for Canada in the world, as a nation between the blocs, and as an active supporter of independent development for Third World nations. If, indeed, this is to become our longer term orientation, then we must open a debate on Canadian foreign policy and in particular our relation with the U.S. Thus, even while rejoicing in the recent partial victory over Canadian participation in "Star Wars," we should realize the importance of situating the next phases of that debate in its wider context.

At the same time, peace groups need to develop a critique of the Soviet Union that neither equates their policies to those of the U.S. nor displays a knee-jerk anti-Soviet-ism. Such unreflective hostility to the Russians plays into the official Canadian permanent enemy hypothesis. Nonalignment implies supporting the new Eastern European initiatives and dialoguing with those activists who are working to move "beyond the blocs." Our intervention can have some effect through "detente from below" and building a constructive dialogue with the unofficial movements in the east.

The Canadian movement should try to increase its contacts with the European movement, both to work in solidarity and learn from it. However, the contact needs to be reciprocal; there was little discussion of the North American movement and none about Canada at END. One exception was the workshop on the North Atlantic Network. The Coalition Québecoise pour le Disarmement et La Paix (CQDP) supports and plays a small role in this network, which is concerned with the growing militarization of the North Atlantic. It comprises activists from the peace movements in countries bordering on it, including groups from the United States. Canadians should notice the increasing role our navy will play in the North Atlantic, through its modernization, and integration with U.S. and NATO. This network is a good way for Canadians, Americans, and Europeans to work together. Similar networks have developed around similar issues in the Pacific. Participation with the North Atlantic Network provides a means of linking the modernization of the armed forces and the related waste of money and Canada's role in NATO with similar concerns of activists in the U.S. and Europe. It will also alert us to the increasing militarization of the oceans.

The North Atlantic Network coordinates its activities by direct communication between activists; it has little formal structure. It organized international days of action on the 15th ofJune, 1985, to highlight the militarization of the seas, thus demonstrating an important lesson about organization. Coordinated actions can occur without a strong central organization -particularly if each group defines its own stake, and expresses local themes in these actions. The present debates about organization in our movement would benefit from this approach in coordinating actions and campaigns. If this kind of "networking" can be developed on an international perspective, certainly coordination from below in Canada can offer local autonomy and a national presence without centralization.

So the European movement is alive and well. It is moving from opposition to missiles to removing the sources of the missiles, the superpower domination of Europe. Certainly, this is a long term project. Specific campaigns will be launched, such as opposition to European participation in "Star Wars" but with a wider vision of peace, democracy, and freedom.

Peace Magazine December 1985

Peace Magazine December 1985, page 27. Some rights reserved.

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