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Groups discuss denuclearizing Europe

David Cleary — June 1984

Editors’ note: We would like to apologize for not having the space to run this article earlier, but we feel that it is just as interesting and pertinent now as it was then.

ATHENS – On February 6 an international Conference For the Denuclearization of Europe was convened in Athens, Greece. The conference was hosted and paid for by KEADEA, a government supported peace group made up of members of the Greek Parliament’s governing PASOK party and others. A seven-member committee composed of representatives from three western peace groups, three East Europe peace committees, and presided over by KEADEA, organized the four day conference.

One hundred and fifty representatives of 64 national peace groups from 29 countries attended. Canada was represented by two people from Project Ploughshares and two from the Canadian Peace Congress.

The conference was introduced as an attempt to coordinate and unify the international peace movement, and to plan a common platform for it. The main subject of discussion was European nuclear weapon free zones, specifically those proposed for the Balkans, the Nordic and Central European zones.

All but the French delegation expressed support for denuclearized zones. Some western groups argued that the creation of nuclear weapon free zones or declarations of no-first-use should be accompanied by the reduction of conventional arms, and should not be used as pretexts to an increased conventional arms race. East European groups agreed.

Disagreement arose over the question of responsibility for the crisis in Europe. A representative from the Czechoslovak Peace Committee rejected the idea of equal responsibility and was echoed in this by other East Europeans. E.P. Thompson of European Nuclear Disarmament (END) took issue on this position and linked the problem of responsibility with East European governments’ intolerance of independent peace activists. Thompson was supported by many western groups, including the Dutch Interchurch Peace Council. A West Berliner circulated a petition addressed to the East German government protesting the jailing of 16 independent East German peace activists.

There was greater agreement on questioning the need for ‘ba1ance’ or ‘parity’ in nuclear weapons. It was generally accepted that the introduction of new missiles. into Europe was at the root of the present crisis and the deployment of missiles on both sides were criticized, although East, European representatives assumed that a balance was created when SS-20’s were introduced.

It was also pointed out that there was a difference between ‘equal’ security and ‘enough’ security. Seeking balance, or equal security has only perpetuated the arms race. On unilateral initiatives Bruce Kent of Britain’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) commented that “a unilateralist is a muitilateralist who means it.”

A number of European representatives raised points that might be of interest to Canadian activists. Lars Baregard of Sweden described the stepping up of electronic surveillance for Soviet submarines in the North Atlantic and warned of the implications this had in the preparation of U.S. first strike capabilities. People in Iceland were reported to be concerned about the possible introduction of nuclear weapons there. Baregard called for the emergence of a third voice from the middle powers, such as those in the Nordic area, to mediate between the superpowers. A coalition of Nordic peace groups has prepared a nuclear weapon free zone proposal for the Nordic area, which includes extending such a zone to encompass Iceland, Greenland and Canada.

On the final day of the conference, the organizing committee submitted a list of points which they believed represented a consensus of views on the denuclearization of Europe. The document adequately reflected agreement on the desirability of nuclear weapon free zones, the call for the removal of all new missiles in Europe, support for a declaration of no-first-use, and support for the freeze. In the end, however, the conference organizers failed to receive support from some significant western groups.

Led by the Dutch Interchurch Peace Council, these groups felt that too many important issues had been left unresolved and that the conference had failed to provide a process to work out disagreements. It became clear at this point that there were differing expectations about what the conference should deal with and what its results would be. Future meetings of eastern and western peace groups should be clearer about goals and the procedures for attaining them.

The Athens conference was a useful first step in promoting increased dialogue between East and West. The Greek government, by supporting the conference, showed how important middle powers can be in promoting the disarmament process, a fact that should encourage the Canadian government to take greater steps in this direction.