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Dutch defer decision on Euromissiles

Robert Penner — July 1984

The peace movement in the Netherlands scored a major victory in June when the Dutch government accepted a compromise that avoided an immediate decision on the United States-led NATO decision to deploy cruise missiles in that country. By doing so, the Netherlands has become the first country to prevent NATO from adhering to its Euromissile deployment schedule.

The Dutch centre-right coalition government has been under intense , pressure on this question. The largest party, the Christian Democrats, although initially in favour of deployment became sharply divided on the issue, with at least 4 cabinet ministers, 20 members of Parliament and 50% of party opposed to deployment. Defections would have likely brought the government to defeat if it had tried to accept the missiles outright.

Opposing pressure to accept the planned deployment came from other NATO countries, particularly the upper levels of the U.S. government. The smaller partner in the doalition government, the more conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy promised to. bring the government to defeat if the deployment was totally renounced.

A government defeat on the issue could have been devastating for the coalition. The popular anti-missile Socialist Party and more than 70% of the Dutch population oppose deployment and have shown the strength of that feeling in demonstrations of more than 400,000 in a country with a population of only 15 million.

The intense pressure resulted in the establishment of a high level government task force, which was said to be considering 44 possible compromises. Most peace movement organizers thought that the agreed-upon compromise would involve the immediate construction of the missile base and a de-layed decision on deployment. They viewed such an option with the least favour, because a fmal decision could be made at any time without affecting the ultimate deployment schedule. The compromise finally achieved means a certain delay in the missile arrival date and also leaves the door wide open for a future government to totally renounce the missiles.

Wim Bartels, a spokesperson for the leading peace organization in the Netherlands, the Interchurch Peace Council (lKV) ere-dits the relatively long history of the Dutch peace movement and its middle-of-the-road approach for its success on this issue. The pre-sence of a church-related peace organization as the leading force in the Dutch peace movement also appears to have been a major factor.

Unlike religious-based peace organizations in other countries, the IKV has a more activist orientation, and is often the key organizer of protests and campaigns. Nevertheless IKV enjoys the continued formal and. active support of all nine major churches in the Netherlands.

In addition to churches, the Dutch peace movement has the support of the trade unions, and even the Union of Soldiers are part of the anti-missile coalitions. As such the constituency of the Dutch peace movement substantially overlaps that of the Netherlands political leaders and thus it has been able to achieve what has not been achieved in other countries: interference with this current NATO strategy.

The peace movement has be-come so succesful in the Netherlands because “it has become an absolutely institutionalized force which has to be dealt with,” says Jim Wurst, American-born editor of the world-wide magazine Disarmament Campaigns, which is based in the Hague.

The major importance of the Dutch decision is its international impact. Coverage of the stages of the debate have been featured in news reports around the world, and have been watched with great interest by disarmament supporters and opponents alike. From his home in England, E.P. Thompson, a leading disarmament theoritician has said that “a victory for the Dutch would be a very important victory for all the peace movements in Western Europe.”

“The smaller countries such as ours and Canada are becoming increasingly important,” says Bartels. “With more people adding their voices to the opposition it becomes increasingly difficult for NATO to continue in the same way.