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On April 8th, Roland Vogt spoke to an assembly at the University of Toronto on the role of the Green Party In promoting peace and disarmament. Vogt is a co-founder of the Greens movement in West Germany, which became the Green Party In 1980. The Green Party approaches disarmament from an environmental and ecological point of view. Vogt himself has been involved in ecological and anti-militarist movements since the late sixties, and has been active in nonviolent social action including hanger strikes and organised occupation of nuclear power stations.
Vogt pointed out in his talk that the first ecologically based political movements in Europe recognised that peaceful relations between humankind and nature are a pre-condition for peaceful relationships among human beings themselves.
The Green Party’s Peace Manifesto expresses this interconnection between peace and ecology as follows:
“A lifestyle and mode of production which are based on a never-ending flow of raw materials which are then used in a wasteful fashion provide the motivation for the use of force to accumulate those raw materials from others. In contrast, the responsible use of raw materials in an ecologically-based lifestyle and economy reduces the danger of the political use of force on our behalf.” This understanding of the relationship between ecology and politics is the central idea behind the Green Party’s stand on disarmament.
Vogt noted that while there is a federal organisation of ecological citizen’s action groups in Germany, there is no such umbrella group for peace. However, Vogt emphasised that ecological and disarmament groups have a common denominator: the struggle against the new NATO missiles, the cruise and Pershing II’s. He also expressed the hope that peace groups will follow the lead of END (European Nuclear Disarmament), and the Green Party, in pursuing ‘Bloc-free politics’. This involves both ‘de-blocking’ our mental processes and re-examining our opinions on issues which have been influenced for years by pro-military ideas. For example, countries must make political decisions by determining their own needs, and not simply by assuming that “what is detrimental to my enemy is beneficial to me”, or that our neighbouring country’s arms build-up should be matched by our own. Vogt stressed that the Green Party’s chief concern in any armament discussions is the victims. This concern is expressed in the Greens’ slogan “neither loyal to the east nor to the west but to one another.”
He also emphasised the importance of non-military defense against military attack from without, for “a society cannot be controlled if it refuses to cooperate with its oppressor.”
Vogt pointed out that, notwithstanding their faith in non-violent defense, the Green Party and the Greens movement do not wish to denigrate those who still feel they need the protection of a military force, or feel they must keep their jobs if they work in the military sector.
Vogt defined three urgent necessities for realizing peaceful social defense: weapon-free zones in Europe and elsewhere; reduction of military systems clearly intended for use in attack; and the promotion of trust among nations. Once these initial goals are achieved all arms could be reduced to zero and the federal army and all military installations disbanded.
Vogt and members of the Green Party advocate complete disarmament through calculated steps taken by each side in the expectation that the other side will do the same. This step by step approach would lead both sides into what Vogt described as a “disarmament race.” In practical terms, one step toward disarmament and increased trust would he a decision not to deploy the cruise missile and the Pershing Il’s. Vogt believes shut the Soviet Union would answer this step by the withdrawal of their SS-20’s.
During a question-and-answer session following his lecture, Vogt said that although there is no proof, as yet, that the superpowers would participate in a series of concessions, such step by step concessions have occurred on the periphery of the arms race. Vogt gave the example of Carter’s decision not to combine neutron bomb components in 1978, which was answered by Romania in Warsaw Pact negotiations. Vogt maintained that such new approaches must he tried, and if they do not achieve the desired result, analysis will reveal a better course of actions.
Vogt also addressed questions about civil disobedience, saying, that an illegal act is the “ultimate measure” of protest. However, he qualified that statement by saying that there should be “no escalation” of these activities. They should he taken only when necessary and when they have a definite relationship to the problem.
Perhaps the strongest message which emerged from Vogt’s talk was the extreme importance of honesty and responsibility in both analysis and action. For example, when it was suggested that North American democracies are often as oppressive as the Soviet state, Vogt insisted that we should never underestimate the oppression experienced by those living under a Soviet regime or the very real freedom of speech which we in the West enjoy. Instead of attempting to rationalise the extent of Soviet oppression, we can better serve the cause of peace by accepting our responsibility to speak and act, both on our own behalf and for those who are not free to speak and act for themselves.
To contact the Green Party in West Germany, write to: Die Grünen im Bundestag, 53 Bonn 1, Hochhaus im Tulpenfeld, West Germany.