Peace Studies Historian: The Peace Movement Won the INF Treaty. We Must Fight to Preserve It.Historians in the News
tags: peace movement, INF Treaty, David Cortright
The White House proposal to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) has been widely criticized, for good reason. Former military officials and diplomats have described the agreement as a “bedrock” of arms control. The 1987 treaty eliminated thousands of deadly medium-range missiles in Europe and helped to end the Cold War. The Trump administration alleges that the agreement is flawed and that Moscow is cheating, but if there is a problem, the answer is to try to fix the treaty rather than walk away from it. Scrapping the agreement would undermine international security, the former officials warn, and could prompt a new arms race in Europe.
Progressives have also blasted the proposal. Win Without War director Stephen Miles said that abandoning the agreement could increase the risk of nuclear war and called upon Congress to deny funding for any weapons that violate the treaty.
The INF agreement occupies a special place in peace history. The treaty was a response to and result of the massive nuclear disarmament movements that swept across Europe and the United States in the 1980s. In some respects the peace movement owns this agreement, and we must do what we can to ensure it is not taken away.
Let’s review the history. Beginning in 1979, as the Soviet Union deployed SS-20 missiles in Eastern Europe and NATO prepared to deploy new cruise and Pershing missiles in the West, millions of people took to the streets to demand an end to an accelerating arms race that put Europe in the nuclear crosshairs. In 1981 and again in 1983, massive protest marches occurred all across Western Europe—the largest rallies in postwar European history. In the United States the nuclear freeze movement spread like a populist prairie fire. Hundreds of cities and towns and nine states conducted public referenda calling for a halt to US and Soviet nuclear-weapons development. In June 1982 close to a million people converged on New York’s Central Park for the Rally to Freeze and Reverse the Arms Race, the largest peace rally in American history.
The many citizen actions that took place on both sides of the Atlantic during those years put pressure on political leaders to respond. With European officials calling for negotiations, the Reagan administration agreed to open talks with the Soviet Union in the fall of 1981, much sooner than hard-liners had planned. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger told a meeting of Catholic bishops that the administration would not negotiate seriously with the Soviet Union until after the United States had “rearmed,” a process he estimated would take eight years. Yet within months of taking office, the United States was at the bargaining table, driven in part by the political demands of the disarmament movement. Weinberger acknowledged in his memoir that antinuclear demonstrations generated pressure on NATO ministers to begin negotiations. ...
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