The Left: Peace Vaudeville


Those who look mainly for entertainment in the affairs of state should catch what the peace movement has been saying about The Treaty. Their attempts to claim credit for President Reagan's efforts to limit nuclear arms are mildly humorous. But the best laughs come from the irony of it: if their advice had been followed, we wouldn't even have the INF accord.

Members of the peace movement in America and Western Europe are congratulating themselves for the treaty because, they say, they generated relentless public pressure that forced the Reagan administration to bargain on arms control against its "natural" inclinations. Yet, begrudging the accomplishment even as they take credit for it, activists grumble that the treaty eliminates only 5 percent of the superpowers' nuclear arsenals. (Of course, this 5 percent represents hundreds of Hiroshima-sized bombs—a dramatic measure used by the peace movement when it serves the propaganda purpose of the moment.) The "only 5 percent" caveat serves to maintain the full diligence of true believers because it allows the conviction that, despite the peace movement's success, the world remains just as close to nuclear destruction as it was before the treaty. There may be no free lunch, but it is possible, evidently, to vanquish one's apocalypse and worry over it, too.

A few examples convey the didactic and unctuous tone that such declamations of success and peril usually carry.

"This summit will be a victory—not for Reagan, not for Gorbachev—but for all the millions of people who petitioned, marched, resisted and were jailed for the cause of disarmament and the survival of humanity. This is our victory." This sweeping judgment in last October's War Resisters League newsletter was rendered even before the treaty text was available for scrutiny. If these people buy cars and sign mortgage notes with the same cavalier lack of concern for detail, no wonder they're so angry at "capitalists."

But, the newsletter continued, "it is a victory which leaves us with far to go. The most dangerous missiles—the long range ones, and those on submarines—remain in place. There is still only a difference of twenty minutes between life and death of millions of people—if someone presses the wrong button." Such joy and terror on the same sheet of paper; what an exciting organization!

SANE/Freeze also proclaimed the treaty "a victory for the peace movement." Citing "our years of peace work," the organization boasted: "We deserve credit for creating a climate in which the Reagan administration, a leader in the fight against arms control, is at least willing to enter serious arms reduction talks."

David Cortright of SANE/Freeze did admit that the movement had help, that the treaty came not just from movement pressure but with "significant concessions and new thinking from the Soviet Union" and because of "the political needs of post-Contragate Washington." But the Reagan administration? No, no credit there.

The logic in this flurry of self-congratulatory remarks is pure revisionism: when "good" guys do good things, it's because they're good, but when "good" guys do bad things, it's because "bad" guys force them to; and when "bad" guys do bad things, it's because they're bad, but when "bad" guys do good things, it's because "good" guys force them to. Good thing, then, for Gorbachev and the peace movement, or else the "bad" guys in Washington who designed, proposed, and persisted in advocating the zero-zero proposal for six frustrating years would never have been forced to, er…accept their own proposal.

Not only does President Reagan get no credit for coming up with the treaty but, according to the peace movement, he hindered its ratification. Jane Wales, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, predicted that the treaty would be hard to get through Congress because "the political environment in the Senate is a product of Ronald Reagan's campaign against arms control."

Wales claimed that the administration was in desperate need of the people in the peace movement it had "spent the last seven years insulting." The Reagan administration and the movement, she told White House public liaison officials, would have to work together for treaty ratification. SANE/Freeze representative Mark Harrison reported that this suggestion hit White House officials "like a ton of bricks. It dawned on them that they would need our help, which had never occurred to them."

No doubt this suggestion did hit the administration like a ton of bricks. But the expression that must have come over their faces was probably not a belated recognition that they needed the peace movement, but an effort to stifle sobs of laughter. If the administration had accepted as allies those whose actions had made the treaty more difficult to complete on acceptable terms, they would have found it impossible to get undecided right-of-center votes in the Senate.

The peace movement in Western Europe evinces a similar attitude. Jutta Ditfurth of the West German Green Party declared that the INF success "is not due to NATO, least of all to the West German government, but due to the Soviet policy of new thinking and peace movements in the West."

For a more colorful view, the denizens of "peace camps" adjacent to Greenham Commons Air Base in Britain think they caused so much trouble that President Reagan just gave up. "It's a victory and we think it's because of our work," said spokeswoman Janet Tanver, "because we made the cruise missiles completely inoperable. We stopped every convoy that comes out through this gate. When they go to Salisbury plain on maneuver, we follow the convoys down there and we disrupt their exercises there as well."

In the midst of all these high-fives and back-slaps furiously shared by peace movement activists, however, E.P. Thompson paused for a moment to brag about modesty. The superpowers, he explains, "broke into the peace movement's files, carried off our speeches and demands and presented them as if they were their own. Of course we were not given any credit. We did not even get a percentage of the Grand Reykjavik Production, which plagiarized European Nuclear Disarmament's appeal and the platform of the U.S. freeze movement…Very good, very fine. We do not mind if we are overlooked in the credits. We are not in this work for any kind of recognition or reward. We shall be very happy if the powers can get rid of all nuclear weapons without our help."

E.P. Thompson can be counted upon to exaggerate just about anything, and he hasn't let us down this time. Because of the treaty and "an opening in the Soviet Union," he says: "Human consciousness has changed and we have helped to change it. This has redrawn and enlarged the limits of the politically possible. Everywhere, and on both sides, people know that a profound change is about to come. It is our business to disclose the present as it really is."

The peace movement holds that only continued pressure, in the streets if necessary, can force the next administration to conclude other, more significant agreements. The key, as always, is U.S. restraint, particularly over strategic defense and nuclear testing—restraint that SANE/Freeze and its allies mean to deliver.

In truth, the peace movement's claim to credit is utterly false and its analysis of what produced the INF treaty is plainly wrong. Had the Reagan administration taken its advice at any point, there would have been either no accord or an accord unambiguously inferior to the one signed. A short review of reality is in order.

Ever since the dual-track decision of December 1979, U.S. and West European leftists did everything they could to undermine a NATO response to the Soviet deployment of hundreds of new, mobile, and accurate SS-20 missiles. They argued that NATO deployments of U.S. medium-range missiles would doom negotiations and lead to a dangerous escalation of the nuclear arms race in Europe. Yet as long as NATO's response was in doubt, the Soviets refused to consider either deep reductions or a negotiated nuclear balance.

Next came the nuclear freeze movement. Had the freeze resolution that passed Congress in May 1983 been binding, the Soviet Union would have been left with hundreds of SS-20s in place at a time when NATO deployments had not begun. Partisans of the freeze enthusiastically supported European street demonstrations later in 1983 which, had they achieved their goal, would also have meant no NATO deployments.

Then, when the Soviets walked out of the Geneva talks in 1983 as NATO deployments commenced, the peace movement blamed President Reagan for the impasse. What were his sins? The U.S./NATO missiles (but not the Soviet ones) were provocative, and Reagan had deliberately refused to compromise on the zero-zero proposal, so that when negotiations then inevitably broke down he could install the U.S. missiles.

As columnist Anthony Lewis declared, "the approach suggested by the President…on theater nuclear weapons in Europe…was not serious. The administration knew the proposition was unacceptable to Moscow before it was advanced." Lewis further claimed to know that "the National Security Council discussions before [Reagan's move] reportedly focused on how to mollify the Europeans, not on how to approach the Soviet Union in arms negotiations with any reasonable chance of success."

Between 1983 and 1985 Moscow eschewed the bargaining table, trying to undermine NATO deployments by playing to sympathetic, or panicky, domestic audiences in Western Europe and the United States. The peace movement echoed the Soviet line. But the Soviet campaign backfired and the peace movement's "help" was part of the reason. Conservative forces all over Western Europe benefited from Moscow's blundering approach, particularly in Britain and West Germany. NATO called the Soviets' bluff. It proceeded with deployments, and the Soviets returned to negotiations in 1985.

The peace movement now praised the Soviets for being "realistic" and "sober." And whenever the Soviets conceded a point, from their return to Geneva in 1985 until near the end of 1987, the peace movement hailed Soviet flexibility and urged acceptance of the new Soviet terms.

But had Washington agreed to Soviet terms in mid-1987, the Soviets would have been able to keep in place hundreds of shorter-range missiles covering the same targets as the SS-20s, there would have been no ban on testing for follow-on systems, and verification would have been impossible. The deal on the table at that time allowed so much time for the elimination of missiles that the SS-20 first would have died of old age. If Washington had taken the deal offered by the Soviets even three months before the agreement was actually reached, 100 SS-20 missiles would have remained in Asia, pointed at China, the Middle East, Japan, and other U.S. allies in the Pacific Basin.

The zero-zero proposal was not deliberately non-negotiable. Its originator, Richard Perle, was not the Prince of Darkness. The Reagan administration never opposed arms control on principle. And the pressure of the peace movement has been nothing other than counterproductive, undermining congressional patience and understanding, NATO deployment, and the U.S. bargaining tenacity that eventually produced an agreement that, though not without faults, was still worthy of ratification.

The most important lesson to be learned from the entire INF episode is that when the United States sticks patiently with a worthy proposal, fights off Soviet propaganda and domestic underminings, and poses offsetting deployments to Soviet attempts to tip the military balance in its favor, it may succeed. NATO's ability to respond to the Soviet SS-20 did not lead to an escalating arms race; it was the key to the ultimate Soviet acceptance of the zero-zero option.

The way the INF accord was achieved should persuade arms control enthusiasts on the left that the Realpolitik approach to negotiations works best. It should also persuade skeptics of arms control on the right that American political institutions are not necessarily incapable of hard-headed and successful bargaining. If both sides would realize that negotiation, but only from a position of strength, is the most effective insurance against nuclear war, then together they would form a larger, but more sober, core constituency for arms control—a boon to sound arms control, and a bone in the craw to other, more common varieties.

Some liberals have realized this, and even those who sympathize with the peace movement seem willing to give credit where credit is due. But the peace movement itself and its professional activists are not. In the I'm-OK-you're-OK-but-they-are-war-mongering-cretins world in which devoted members of the peace movement dwell, it is an article of faith that President Reagan cannot be responsible for anything positive.

Notwithstanding their delusions of efficacy, however, the INF treaty was achieved not because of what they have done but despite it. The peace movement should not be allowed to steal credit for the INF accord. Its self-flattering claim mocks an important lesson and would deny us the benefits of learning it. If this self-congratulation succeeds, it will make subsequent sound agreements harder to reach. And that is not funny.

Adam M. Garfinkle is coordinator of the Political Studies Program of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, a contributing editor of Orbis, and the author of The Politics of the Nuclear Freeze.