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E.P. Thompson and European Nuclear Disarmament (END): A Critical Retrospective

The Impossibility of Schengen: A Multi-Level Game Analysis of the State of Refugees and Asylum in the European Union

The Indian National Project: Failures and Successes

Annual Review Issue



E.P. Thompson and European Nuclear Disarmament (END): A Critical Retrospective

By Peter Baehr

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One of the more bewildering aspects of modern times is the speed with which the recent past is consigned to ancient history. The Cold War - a concept that must now be patiently explained to puzzled undergraduate students of politics - is little more than a decade away,(1) yet already it seems to have assumed the status of a glacial age. Moreover, it is not only the Cold War that is becoming a distant memory. So too are the social movements and political organizations that sought to confront it. In this essay in political retrieval, I reexamine critically the programme of one such organization whose twentieth anniversary coincides with the millennium: European Nuclear Disarmament (END).(2) Today, END offers the political scientist a case study of the relationship between ideas and politics(3) and offers the citizen a chance to reflect on an area - foreign and security policy - far removed from everyday experience. I begin by locating the origins and rationale of END, and then proceed to reconstruct the theory of the Cold War that informed its activity. Since this theory was most powerfully formulated by E. P. Thompson - a founding member of END and, at least initially, its most influential voice - I give his version pride of place. Next, I deal with END's wider 'dealignment' strategy to advance beyond the Cold War and with the many criticisms to which it was subjected. A final section seeks to assess END's significance in the events of 1989, which signalled the collapse of the geo-political system END had been forged to oppose and of END itself soon afterwards.

END: origins and rationale

The expression 'European Nuclear Disarmament' is almost calculated to confuse. It has two meanings. Broadly, it refers to the West European social movementthat, from 1980 to 1989, agitated against weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, and sought to link through its campaign issues peace, civil rights, and ecological welfare. When we think of this movement we recall, inter alia, its demonstrations in the capital cities of Europe, its nonviolent direct actions against nuclear bases, and its conferences. But second, European Nuclear Disarmament has a more restricted meaning. Abbreviated in the acronym END, it refers to a political organization, centred round a group of British socialist intellectuals, whose objective was to provide a theoretical analysis adequate to, and a geo-political strategy appropriate for, the social movement referred to previously.(4) Though both social movement and political organization had a common proximate origin - each was precipitated by the heightened state of anxiety that accompanied the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's) nuclear modernisation decision of December 12th 1979 (see Johnstone: 1984) and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on December 27th - it is END the organization, its political theory, and strategy, that is my primary concern here.

END first attracted public attention with the issuing, on 28 April 1980, of an "Appeal for European Nuclear Disarmament" (in Thompson and Smith 1980: 223-226), launched under the auspices of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation. The Appeal was a British initiative, bringing together leading members of such organizations as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the International Confederation for Disarmament and Peace, and Pax Christi; the historian and political activist E. P. Thompson was responsible for preparing a first draft in early 1980. Circulated to various interested parties in many parts of Europe for comment and appraisal, the Appeal was then rewritten following "a meeting in London in April 1980 at which French, British, West German and Italian supporters were present" (Coates 1980: 240). Signatories included, among others, Roy Medvedev, the historian who was to become a Soviet parliamentarian, Jirí Dientsbier (founding member of VONS [Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Persecuted] and later foreign minister of Czechoslovakia), András Hegedús, a former Hungarian prime minister, György Konrád, the Hungarian political writer, and Egon Bahr, spokesperson on disarmament for the SPD.

Essentially, the Appeal offered a warning and a call to action. Opening with the words "We are entering the most dangerous decade in human history," it sought to alert public opinion to the impending calamity of a third world war. The Appeal asked its readers to consider how the growing sophistication of nuclear weapons technology, itself encouraged by Cold War hostility, was making a limited European nuclear engagement thinkable. "The increasing spread of nuclear reactors and the growth of the industry that installs them" was another menace to peace, the Appeal contended. Moreover, the combination of a wasteful, spiralling arms race, economic recession, and the declining public accountability of the security state also appeared to the authors of the Appeal to presage catastrophe. To meet this emergency, the Appeal urged the creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone "from Poland to Portugal," a halt to the production of Soviet SS 20s, a reversal of NATO's policy to deploy cruise and Pershing II missiles in Western Europe, ratification by the US Senate of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) II, and a mass movement concerned with advaninge what would come to be called "détente from below:" that is, a range of direct, citizen initiatives to enhance communication and deepen trust between individuals and institutions of East and West Europe (in Thompson and Smith: 223).

Behind these convictions lay a particular picture of global confrontation, of, in a phrase, the Cold War. The Cold War in this usage referred only secondarily to those periods of heightened tension dramatized by such events as the shooting down of the U-2 spy plane in May 1960, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, or the missile attack on the Korean jumbo jet KAL-007 in September 1983. Principally, the 'Cold War' denoted the post-Yalta division of Europe into polar politico-military blocs, dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union, and represented by the antagonistic alliances of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, respectively. The détente of the Brezhnev/Nixon-Carter era was entirely consistent with the Cold War thus defined. Indeed, détente, rather than strained confrontation, represented the quintessence of the Cold War mentality; it enshrined a pragmatic Superpower agreement to respect, at least temporarily, each other's hegemony over the spheres of influence mapped out in February 1945.(5)

What particular purpose could END claim to serve distinct from other peace organizations and movements such as CND, founded in February 1958 and itself enjoying, in the early 1980s, a major popular revival? A contrast with CND is particularly instructive. All of END's original British members (notably Mary Kaldor, Dan Smith, Ken Coates, Peggy Duff, Bruce Kent, and Thompson himself)(6) were either members of CND or at least sympathetic to its fundamental goal: Britain's renunciation, independently and unconditionally, of its nuclear stockpile (so-called 'unilateralism'). But there were also reservations about CND. CND concentrated on Britain's particular responsibilities for nuclear proliferation. It insisted that the crusade against nuclear weapons should start at home; that Britain's unilateral abandonment of such weapons would break the log-jam of bilateral inertia. An organization like END, on the other hand, promised to offer an international perspective on the nuclear arms race.(7) There was the recognition too, however muted, that CND, in some respects, unwittingly reflected cultural attitudes belonging to the hey-day of Britain's colonial past. The argument of CND's founders that Britain could remain great by being a global power of peace, championing moral principles of nuclear disarmament through setting an example to the world at large, carried less credence than at one time it had. This "imperialist pacifist" vision (Hinton:1989a)(8) was believed to be politically grandiose for a middle-ranking power and morally inappropriate in its inflated and paternalistic register.

In sum, END came into being because of the conviction that the peace movement needed a theory for its practice, an organization that could help coordinate and publicize European-wide peace initiatives, and an alternative, but realistic, vision of European defence and security.

The END Appeal, as summarized above, was not a detailed document and was not meant to be. Its aim was to capture public imagination and mobilize energy. It afforded only the baldest sketch of an analysis and a programme. A more systematic treatment was not long in coming. It was provided by Thompson himself, rehearsing and expanding upon themes he first addressed in the late 1950s and early 1960s, as well as a host of other writers associated with the END Journal and the Alternative Defence Commission. The second and third parts of this paper deal sequentially with Thompson's analysis and END's alternative foreign and security polices.

Thompson's Theory of the Cold War

END was no monolith. The individuals that composed its leadership were generally of an independent temper, neither intellectually predisposed to follow a 'line' nor, during the turbulent eighties, in the mood to do so. Moreover, as the years passed, the organization attracted an ever-wider group of writers concerned with formulating a detailed alternative to foreign policy, rather than being satisfied with schematic critiques of it. That being the case, it is not possible to package END's ideas neatly or reduce them to some central dogmatic core. Nonetheless, some arguments were more sustained, prominent, and influential than others, and none more so, particularly in the early years of the organization, than E.P. Thompson's.(9)

The main threat to peace, Thompson argued, was ultimately political, or, more precisely, geo-political: the division of Europe into two rival and antagonistic blocs. That division had, of course, a number of specific causes, but its true contemporary significance was structural rather than a matter of historical antecedent. Conventional theories of militarism and imperialism failed to adequately account for its anomalous character. Indeed, in a vital sense the Cold War resisted anyrational explanation. A system predicated on an "exterminist" logic (Thompson 1982a),(10) the "incremental pressures" of which threatened to destroy friend and foe alike with a super-abundance of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, was deeply irrational, more akin to an addiction than a cogent security policy (Thompson 1982b).(11) To understand it at all, one needed something more, and less, than the standard tools of Marxian analysis or orthodox deterrence theory: a sensibility to the enduring unintended consequences of history in which inertia and paradox count as much as the conscious design of human agents.(12) The rivalry that followed this division was not one between citizens but between states. However, even the states, compressed into the distorting formations of the Warsaw Pact and NATO, found themselves placed in a contradictory situation.

On the one hand, the growth in economic trade and technological linkages among the European members of the blocs, and the decline of American and Russian influence over them, made their enmity appear increasingly redundant and arcane. The Cold War premise "of irreconcilable adversary posture between the blocs across the whole board" was, hence, something of a fiction (Thompson 1982d: 165), a sign of how far rhetoric had strayed from actual social processes. On the other hand, the Cold War, "as adversary military establishments and adversary ideological posture," remained "necessary to the ruling groups on both sides" (Thompson 1982d: 176-7).(13) The rulers of the blocs, and the military, security, and bureaucratic interests that supported them, had every incentive to uphold the status quo. Desire to remain imperial powers was not their primary motive, however. What concerned them far more was domestic containment and regulation: the requirement of keeping their own citizens under control. To this end, the division of Europe into blocs, and the "permanent-enemy hypothesis" (Thompson 1987: 21)that accompanied it, was expedient, serving as a potent factor of internal cohesion and group discipline.

Such division also exploited a psycho-ideological mechanism with deep roots in human culture and human social psychology: "bonding-by-exclusion" or, in other words, the creation of the "Other" onto which hostility and difference could be projected. As Thompson put it, this "bonding-by-exclusion is intrinsic to human socialization ...Throughout history, as bonding has gone on and as identities have changed, the Other has been necessary to this process. Rome required barbarians, Christendom required pagans, Protestant and Catholic Europe required each other. The nation-state bonded itself against other nations. Patriotism is love of one's own country; but it is also hatred, or fear or suspicion of others' (Thompson 1982d: 170-1).(14). The Cold War had exploited this mechanism to potentially lethal effect. Caricature, mendacity, and mental regimentation were its progeny. Forces for peace in the West were marginalised as utopian, communist fellow travellers; voices of dissent in the East were branded by their own governments as agents of imperialism. In America, populist and nationalist anti-Russian rhetoric served to unite a heterogeneous population in righteous condemnation of the 'Evil Empire,' in the Soviet Union, encircled by enemies and by restive nations demanding independence and liberty, the threat of the West legitimated repression. The debate about nuclear weapons, and any modern weapons technology, had to be situated in this political and ideological context. And so, correspondingly, did the actions of the peace movement itself. Its chief political goals, Thompson continued, should be to expose who the real Other was in present circumstances - the managers of the blocs, not the people in them - to bring the causes of freedom and peace together and, through wide-ranging independent citizens' initiatives, to work toward mending the fracture dividing Europe from itself. Unilateral measures of disarmament were a vital part of this process because they would break the self-perpetuating cycle of escalation and help abrade the enemy stereotypes that accompanied it. At the same time, realizing a nuclear-free Europe meant actively combating the tendency of modern states to usurp the rights of their citizens. This was not exclusively, even if it was saliently, a matter of giving support to victims of the Soviet-bloc dictatorships. It was also to recognise that western European liberal-democratic states, Britain foremost among them, flourished on a culture of secrecy deeply injurious to political liberty and peace alike. Thompson's concern about the "secret state" in Britain, particularly its security apparatuses, was a prominent motif in his critique of both Labour and Conservative administrations(15) that, he argued, consistently sought to resist political accountability, orchestrate public opinion, intrude upon and delimit jury trials, and invade personal privacy. To the extent that civil liberties were eroded, the ability of citizens to lawfully resist state domination and disinformation was weakened. So too was their capacity to agitate for peace and disarmament. It followed that both peace and freedom were part of the same equation and that to fight for the former meant defending the latter.

Thompson's analysis of the Cold War provoked criticism not only outside of END circles, but also within them, and these criticisms were not mutually exclusive. The concept of "exterminism" was believed by some to have uncomfortable affinities with determinist modes of argument (Williams 1982). Others expressed perplexity at Thompson's refusal to pursue a causal analysis of the arms race (Davis 1982; Halliday 1982), at his insistence that the Soviet Union had not simply reacted defensively to American militarism but was a fully responsible co-author of the Cold War (the Medvedev brothers 1982), and at his focus on Europe as the epicentre of bloc divisions.(16) (Objections from Central Eastern European oppositionists, and from critics outside the left, will be discussed in the penultimate section of this article.) Equally, as the author's conversations with END members revealed at the time, there was little sympathy for Thompson's strangely functionalist-psychologistic view of identity-formation(17) and the extreme forms of pessimism to which it seemed to succumb. (Ironically, Thompson's concept of the Other was a precursor of many of the post-structuralist and post-colonial theories for whose ahistorical abstraction he had such withering disdain.) Yet those in END or sympathetic to its project also found in Thompson's work a number of much needed insights and emphases. His break with the platitudes of Marxist analysis not only reinforced the growing rejection of economism among sections of the British left, it helped clear the way for an analysis of the Cold War that registered its irreducible political and ideological dimensions. Similarly, Thompson's emphasis on the linkage between peace, civil liberty, and the expanded practice of citizenship was resonant for those who watched aghast as the attack on civil liberties gathered pace during Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's successive administrations. Even Thompson's oft-expressed pessimism for the future could be cancelled out by his indefatigable energy as a campaigner, his exuberant idealism, and his insistence always on agency, of which he was the premier theorist on the British left. If anyone in British peace politics knew more about the making of social movements than Thompson, that person had yet to be identified. But Thompson's writings only took END so far. They advanced a theory of the Cold War, urged ordinary citizens to make their voices heard, and proposed a very sketchy way forward. What they failed to provide in any detail was either a credible foreign policy or defence alternative, areas in which many on the nonpacifist wings of the peace movement felt particularly vulnerable. Such lacunae exposed END to the charge of being romantic wishful-thinkers. More than this, many END members and supporters believed that both national defence and foreign policy were matters too important to remain the preserves of generals and politicians. An engaged citizenship should take responsibility for its own protection. To this end, the strategy of "dealignment" (18) and the policies of "alternative non-nuclear defence" were devised.(19)

Dealignment and Non-Nuclear Defence

From the beginning, END contained a number of people who were disenchanted both with the orthodox doctrine of Atlanticism, which presupposed bloc divisions, and with the main peace movement alternatives to it: unilateralism and neutralism. This discomfiture was understandable. Writers and activists like April Carter, Mary Kaldor, and Dan Smith worked extensively in the areas of foreign and defence policy before joining END and continued to deepen their investigations after doing so. Having a stronger grasp on the complexity of these fields than most of their fellows in the British peace movement, they also had a commensurate desire to produce credible disarmament alternatives to the bloc status quo. Moreover, the domestic and international context of END's arguments helped considerably to shape their evolution. END writers had to face the uncomfortable reality that, while British public opinion polls regularly registered majority opposition to the stationing of American cruise missiles on British soil, this was not the same as mass opposition to nuclear weapons more generally. Only rarely since 1958 had British nuclear unilateralism been supported by more than a third of those polled. Further, the erosion of American credibility as the guarantor of peace during the early to mid 1980s, a consequence in part of bellicose Administration statements, directives, and doctrines, did little for the unilateralist cause; it could just as well suggest that a British "independent deterrent" was even more necessary than before (Berrington 1989: 32-3).(20) A posture of "British Gaullism," inflamed by the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina, was also consistent, unlike its French namesake, with majority support for continuing membership of NATO. Such a complex situation indicated to END that feasible alternatives capable of garnering widespread endorsement were vital. And they became even more so once the Labour Party committed itself to abandoning British nuclear weapons and fighting the general elections of 1983 and 1987 on a platform whose defence policy owed much to peace-movement pressure.(21) When the hopes that hung on these elections collapsed, the old CND objectives of independent nuclear disarmament and withdrawal from NATO receded ever further from view. To cap it all, the Superpowers showed what could be done with serious bilateral negotiations. The Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the culmination of the Washington summit meeting in December 1987 between Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan, was a breakthrough in Superpower talks. True, INF only reduced the world nuclear stockpile by about four percent. But by stipulating the elimination of around 2,000 nuclear weapons and, more significantly, by agreeing to eliminate a discrete subcategory of nuclear weapons considered by everyone to be particularly dangerous - land-based missiles with a range of 500 to 5,000 kilometres - the Treaty involved real disarmament distinct from arms control.

Besides, traditional neutralism - a rejectionist stance that sought to repudiate established alliances - was unsatisfactory from an END perspective because it had "no regard for the role of British policy in the context of the broader and far more important objective of the denuclearisation of Europe as a whole" (Mepham and McClelland 1988: 20).(22) Even neutrality of the sort practised by states such as Switzerland and Sweden was problematic, resting as it did on tacit or explicit support for the bloc equilibrium the Cold War had brought into being.

The central idea behind "dealignment"(23) was to go beyond neutralism and Atlanticism alike by seeking to embed defence planning within a reinvigorated and reconceptualized foreign policy. This was especially important for the non-nuclear stance that END writers adumbrated. A posture of "defensive deterrence" (see below) based on conventional weapons was no security panacea; nothing was. Even with a strategy that envisioned multiple forms of punishment for a potential aggressor - concentrated employment of precision-guided munitions, pervasive dispersed defence, guerilla warfare, civil resistance(24) - the possibility remained that such a "high admission price" would be beside the point should the Soviet Union's aim,(25) or fall-back position, be to liquidate its enemies rather than occupy their territory, or if its calculations were based not on enjoying the fruits of victory, but on pre-empting threats to its own survival though a nuclear strike.(26) So foreign policy, and not only defence or, rather, foreign policy as the integral political and security context of defence, cried out to be rethought. Dealignment was the conceptual tool to do this and was articulated along three related axes: those of inter-state relations or geo-politics, of defence posture, and of popular-democratic mobilization.(27)

Of paramount importance was a new understanding of the relations between modern states, particularly of the transatlantic relationship between the United States and its security associates. More generally, dealignment signalled a process in which states would be encouraged to stand neither 'between' nor 'outside' the blocs; instead they would be enjoined actively to go 'beyond' them. But how was this best expedited? END writers who subscribed to dealignment (and not all did) were unconvinced by the argument that Britain should simply quit the NATO alliance; they were well aware that such an exit would leave the Warsaw Pact satellite regime untouched and Britain isolated from her former security partners. Shouting from the sidelines seemed futile to the extreme. To be sure, a significant measure of national sovereignty was to be respected in the newly forged Europe that END anticipated. For democratic reasons alone, it was imperative that national leaderships remained responsive to their own citizen constituencies, rather than buckle to external centres of power. Similarly, the ability of nations to pursue initiatives ("diplomatic pluralism") free of Cold War manacles should also be fostered.(28) National seclusion or segregation, on the other hand, was both undesirable in itself and, given global interdependency, quixotic as a foreign policy objective. Peace and disarmament would be far better served, the argument ran, if Britain remained a NATO member while simultaneously challenging from within its nuclear and secretive culture. Britain could seek to influence NATO policy and planning, act as a magnetic pole of attraction to other NATO and Warsaw Pact states harbouring similar inclinations of dealignment, and further the debate about non-nuclear defence.(29) In particular, it could press for measures advancing denuclearization (the establishment of nuclear-free zones, a no-first-use declaration, "a global freeze on development and production of nuclear weapons combined with the withdrawal of all nuclear weapons on foreign territory"[Falk and Kaldor1987: 17)]) and depolarization, such as support for countries that sought to escape the confines of bipolarity, as New Zealand had recently ventured to do in its prohibition of American ships bearing nuclear weapons (ADC 1987: 344). City twinning and cultural exchanges and the citizen dialogue these activities cultivated, were other means of changing the Cold War mentality.

To bolster these foreign policy initiatives, a new kind of defence system was required, a system that would forego not simply the threat to use nuclear weapons, but would also renounce any deployment of conventional weapons and their associated doctrines and tactics, that was provocative and destabilizing. A posture of defensive deterrence would eschew offensive capabilities afforded by long-range bombers and missiles and thereby abandon simultaneously deep-strike military doctrines like "Follow on Forces Attack," or those, like "AirLand Battle," that envisioned combat involving a synchronized use of conventional, chemical, and nuclear weapons. More positively, defensive deterrence was intended to exploit the advantages furnished by precision guided anti-tank and anti-aircraft technology in destroying the air, land, and sea forces of an attacker, to revive or extend civil defence, and to emphasise policies aimed at enemy attrition, through guerrilla warfare, the deployment of highly mobile commando armoured units, and nonviolent civil disobedience.(30)

Finally, dealignment was to offer encouragement to all those independent forces in Central Eastern Europe(31) seeking to create or expand the spaces of 'civil society' and to throw-off Soviet client status. Such forces included "independent trade unions (sic), churches, unofficial cultural opposition groups, peace and disarmament groups, ecology clubs, human rights organizations, campaigns around conscientious objectors' rights, and so on" (Mepham and McClelland 1988: 21).

"Fanatics of the Abstract Project"?

The work of E.P. Thompson and END provoked a constant stream of criticism during the 1980s, most of it devoted to showing that the policies it favoured were naive, dangerous, and irresponsible. As a way into these criticisms, there is no place better to begin than with Lawrence Freedman (1980:1-4) whose early encounter with END summed up with admirable economy many of the more prolix objections that were to come.(32) Freedman's fundamental argument was that the alliance system had enabled a stability in Europe that it would be folly to undermine without a careful calculation of the consequences. Peace in Europe since 1945 had been "the result of a system of a balance of terror combined with a coherent and fixed set of military alliances." Denuclearisation and the broader END perspective of unravelling the blocs threatened this system, but offered nothing convincing to put in its place. Indeed, the very idea of eroding bloc disciplines was cavalier since the "less the continent is under super power influence the more prone it may be to conflict" born of local rivalries and fractious nationalisms. The bloc system attenuated and contained these conflicts. Remove it and one would discover not the warmth and solidarity of fraternal internationalism, but an eruption of hostilities. As Freedman observed: "Might not there be a resurgence of traditional squabbles, rivalries and enmities? Look what has happened as the influence of the blocs has waned in Southern Europe: Yugoslavia and Bulgaria argue about Macedonia; Greece and Turkey prepare to fight over Cyprus and the resources in the Aegean. Do we expect Germany to be re-united? What will the Dutch and the Poles, never mind the Russians and the French say about that?" Besides, it was most unlikely that the blocs would melt away at the same time, and if they did not this would pose a threat to the countries unprotected by their previous alliance partners. It was also highly doubtful, irrespective of the intentions of governments, that the blocs shared "an equal capacity for dissolution." "Whereas it would be unthinkable for American forces to be used to keep, say, Holland in NATO it is equally unthinkable that Soviet forces would not be used to prevent a Polish defection. Most fundamental of all is the fact that the USSR is a regional power by virtue of geography and that the US is one only by virtue of alliance." The notion that the Soviet Union would allow the Warsaw Pact to dissolve was a dangerous fantasy: "I can think of no single event more likely to stimulate World War III than a successful revolt against the Warsaw Pact." True, the alliance system as it stood was no end in itself. "At some point we must make our environment safe for human conflict because we cannot suppress conflict forever by drawing attention to its horrendous consequences." Until the conditions were propitious for such change, however, Freedman confessed to remaining a conservative, believing that radical transformation was more threatening to civilization than an unsatisfactory peace.(33)

Another controversial area for END's critics was the nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) proposals. It was not only that such proposals failed to address the fact that a NWFZ from Poland to the Atlantic would take out only NATO weapons (East European states had none and were unlikely to receive them);(34) it was also that NWFZ slogans ignored a number of complex political and technical issues. Consider once more the Balkans, a region END had recommended as one NWFZ possibility. For one thing, the political, social, and ethnic composition of the area showed it to be extraordinarily diverse and unstable. For another, as a hotbed of intra-rivalries and alliances, the Balkans appeared one of the least likely places to establish a NWFZ. As Mark Stenhouse and Bruce George (1988: 1-3) pointed out, the Balkans included states that were capitalist and state socialist, states that belonged to NATO (Greece and Turkey) and the Warsaw Pact (Romania and Bulgaria), were nonaligned (Yugoslavia) or, as in Albania's case, assiduously isolationist. True, Romania since the late fifties had championed the idea of a Balkans NWFZ, and Ceausescu had continued that tradition into the 1980s. However, Romania was one of the most repressive states of the Warsaw Pact and its relations with Bulgaria strained. Yugoslavia was another state in the region that had tense relations with Bulgaria, as it did with Albania, yet Greece and Bulgaria had signed a "Declaration of Friendship, Neighbourliness and Cooperation" in September 1986. Another factor of instability was the deepening domestic crisis of post-Tito Yugoslavia, as constituent republics like Serbia flexed the muscles of autonomy and expansion. (Serbia's designs on the province of Kosovo were already well known.). Then, of course, there was the long-standing conflict between Greece and Turkey and the fact that the latter had consistently dismissed all proposals for a Balkan NWFZ as a Soviet Trojan Horse.

But probably the criticisms to which END was most sensitive came from those whom it most respected: the dissidents and oppositionists of Central Eastern Europe. END never saw itself as an Olympian think-tank of academic specialists. Its self-conception was of a body of concerned and engaged thinkers wishing to understand, empower, and remain in close contact with fellow citizens, East and West. Very early on, however, Thompson and END were apprised that the analyses, priorities, and agendas of engaged dissidents in Central Eastern Europe could be quite different from their own. An early alarm was sounded by the Czech oppositionist Václav Racek (pseud.) in an open letter to Edward Thompson, dated December 12, 1980. Drawing on Hannah Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), Racek rejected Thompson's theory of the Cold War on a number of counts, but what particularly irked the Prague writer was Thompson's tendency to identify both blocs, one democratic and one totalitarian, by a single concept: exterminism. For Racek (in Coates n.d: 5-8) this was grotesque.(35) It was also misplaced. Critics of soviet societies were not primarily interested in disarmament; it was basic human rights they demanded, and liberty was a condition of real peace. Moreover, to say that disarmament was a means toward the securing of human rights struck him as hollow and naïve. On the contrary, western unilateral disarmament initiatives would only encourage the hubris of Soviet leaders still wedded to fantasies of global domination.(36)

Other activists reminded Thompson and others that the very term 'peace,' a propaganda topos of officials in Soviet-type societies, had become so compromised that it had largely fallen into disrepute among ordinary citizens. The Hungarian writers Ferenc Köszegi and Istvan Szent-Ivanyi (1982: 117) put it this way: "In the People's Democracies of eastern Europe, the peace movement was fundamentally discredited by the end of the forties and the beginning of the fifties. At that time, instead of the neutral term, 'peace movement', the expression used was 'peace struggle', which was intended to camouflage the scarcely concealed preparations in expectation of a third world war. Gradually the militant term, 'peace struggle', lost its original meaning and became a euphemism for armament, expansion and a policy of intimidation. The term further lost significance and credibility because, with the passing of time, it was used in relation to everything...A familiar example is the rhyme: Collect your scrap, your iron send/With these too your peace defend!'(37)

The debasement of the word 'peace' in cliché-ridden apparatchik mantras - "The Soviet Union, guarantor of world peace," "For the even greater flowering of the peaceful labour of our people!" - was a theme also taken up by Václav Havel (1987: 166).(38), but Havel went on to fault the peace movement, and by implication END, for more than its lack of rhetorical sensitivity, its failure to understand that people unable to protect their children's teeth from environmental pollution were unlikely to believe they could influence disarmament negotiations, and its generally quietistic attitude toward the devastation in Afghanistan.(39) Peace campaigners, Havel continued, seemed at times to be blithely unaware that, while protest in Western democracies came relatively cheaply, in state-socialist societies it incurred major personal costs. That being the case, there was something incongruous and grating about Western peace campaigners encouraging their Eastern European counterparts to rise up and dissent. Even more discomfiting were the utopian strains that accompanied the peace movement's wilder visionary statements and countenance. Behind them, Havel discerned elements of a human type that seemed to be rebelling not mainly against war and violent conflict, but against disorder - man's existential condition - more generally. Unable to "bear the spectacle of life's outrageous chaos and mysterious fertility," the "fanatic of the abstract project" has little patience for the frangibility of all worldly affairs (Havel 1987: 173-176; cf. Havel 1988: 393-4). Havel did not level this charge at the West European peace movement as a whole, but he did suggest that the reserve that peace campaigners detected in Czech dissidents arose from hard-nosed disenchantment with millennial expectation and from a peculiarly 'central European' scepticism toward all grandiloquent slogans.

END in Perspective

The events of 1989 marked the terminus of the Cold War and END's own demise followed soon thereafter. On 28th August 1993, Edward Thompson died, though not before seeing the Balkans descend into the barbarity of concentration camps and "ethnic cleansing."(40) How, two decades later, might we assess END's significance?

The question is inevitable but treacherous. Notably, it invites us to construct a list showing in which respects supporters and critics of END turned out to be perspicuous or ill-informed. But not only does this kind of reasoning encourage a condescension toward the past - towards the complexity of its Lebenswelt - that Thompson himself famously and rightly condemned, it also misses a much more fundamental point. When we re-examine the 1980s with a historian's sensibility, it is evident that the 'facts' of the Cold War were consistent with a variety of equally plausible interpretations of its dangers. That the Cold War ended was not a simple vindication of the peace movement's analysis, any more than it was a simple refutation of their opponents'. Conversely, the fact that Europe then witnessed the recrudescence of fascist gang activity in the erstwhile GDR, the rise of continental nationalism, and the outbreak of a major conflict in the Balkans was no clear proof that the peace movement had been mistaken to oppose the Cold War. Let us only recall that those writers who had warned of the parlous consequences that would follow the blocs' collapse had been among the most confident that bloc confrontation would endure or certain that, if it ended, it would be because NATO had been betrayed by its own citizens in a spasm of appeasement. The Cold War finished suddenly; its conclusion was an episode sui generis for which noone was prepared; its results were the kind of unforeseen events with which the historian is familiar. Not least of them was that, when the time came for the bloc system to disintegrate, it was the Eastern part that gave way first.

But there is at least another way to consider END two decades away from its founding. Despite its minority status within the peace movement as a whole, END played its part in delegitimating Cold War rhetoric, redescribing the possibilities of foreign and defence policy, and offering a normative vocabulary that suggested that human beings were not bound by fate. It has been said that the "familiar dangers of the Cold War have ended; the unknown perils of its aftermath lie in wait" (Walker 1995: 7). Among these perils is our limited grasp of the geo-political forces that will shape the future. During the 1980s, END sought to persuade citizens that inter-state relationships were matters to which they, and not only experts, should pay close personal attention. That message, I submit, is as pertinent today as it was then.


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1. The key phases of its passing are marked by the dates 1986 (the Reykjavik Summit), 1987 (the Washington Summit), 1989 (the collapse of Soviet domination over its Central Eastern bloc) and 1991 (the unravelling and dissolution of the Soviet Union itself). On this chronology, see Hobsbawm (1995: 250-1).

2. Though the author was a member of END and a minor participant in some of the events depicted, he has sought to write this essay sine ira et studio.

3. For recent studies of the importance of normative vocabularies for the actual practice of politics see, inter alia, Baehr (1998), Skinner (1998), Pettit (1997), and Richter (1995).

4. An attempt to locate END in various 'peace traditions' can be found in Young (1987: 12-13).

5. See the pertinent observation of Walker (1995: 219), that 'détente was the continuation of the Cold War in other places, and by more subtle means than the mutual glowering of missiles'. At the same time, détente also 'involved a degree of self-liberation from the tutelage of the dominant superpowers', as Egon Bahr's and Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik demonstrated.

6. For other members of the original co-ordinating committee, and a list of some of the original signatories of the Appeal (over sixty British MPs were among them), see 'For a nuclear-free zone in all Europe' (European Nuclear Disarmament Bulletin, 1980, 1:3; no author cited). Dorothy Thompson, a formidable peace campaigner in her own right, was also an active member of END.

7. As Thompson (1980a: 13) put it in an early statement: the role of END was ' co-ordinate and bring into being a European-wide alliance; second, to provide the political perspective of this movement; third, to work out actual events, symbolic and effective, which will add a European dimension to the work of national [peace] movements'. In this article, anticipating the concerns of some CND members about political turf, Thompson remarked that 'It has never been proposed that END should appear as a distinct organization in Britain, with its own local branches, membership, etc', but that is what in fact it became. Initially, END was simply a supporters' organization; one joined END by subscribing to the journal. But in 1985 it became a proper membership organization whose numbers probably never exceeded 700. A Constitution, complete with officers and committees, was adopted in June 1983.

8. The term 'imperialist pacifism' was a coinage of the historian James Hinton (1989a), an active member of both CND and END. For critical reviews of Hinton's thesis, see Thompson (n.d.) and Baehr (1991).

9. James Hinton (1989a: 186-7) is right to remind us, however, that Thompson's vision 'did not become dominant' within the British peace movement: 'few activists shared Thompson's sense of an ongoing engagement against Soviet, as well as American, power in Europe'.

10. Thompson consistently argued that while it was absurd to equate the democratic countries of North America and western Europe with the dictatorships of the Soviet Union and its satellites, 'exterminism' was nonetheless a reciprocal process for which both sides had to take responsibility. The peace movement's hopes for the growth of civil society in the Soviet Union were less sanguine. On the repression meted out to the Moscow Trust Group, one of their leading spokespeople, Sergei Batovrin, found himself detained in Moscow's Ordinary Psychiatric Hospital No. 14, see Batovrin (1983) and Artman (1986). Other pertinent documents can be found in Stead and Grünberg (1982).

11. The article contains, on pp. 12-15, Thompson's critical reflections on the relationship between 'counter-factual history' and the theory of nuclear deterrence.

12. On the distinction between history as 'causation' and as 'consequence', see Thompson (1982c: 337-341).

13. 'I am proposing that the ultimate cause leading to the Third World War is ideological, and that the ideological forces, and especially the nationalist drives, in both superpowers are in certain respects self-engendered and proceed from domestic needs,' (Thompson 1987: 31).

14. The use of the term 'patriotism' was infelicitous here since, like Orwell, Thompson typically distinguished between patriotism (pride in being a member of a country whose traditions one cherished) and nationalism (a sense of racial and cultural superiority). Nonetheless, the question remained: 'must the Other perforce be the Enemy? Is humankind doomed because the very same social mechanics which bond them together in nations require an enemy to bond against?...This is the question at the close of the twentieth century' (Thompson 1987:25).

Thompson's own patriotic belief in an "alternative Britain" of expanded citizenship and culture, which he contrasted to the Britain of the "Falklands Factor" - "a security state, with a subjected people...which still struts and postures in the world as a bully" - is particularly evident in his "The Defence of Britain," a pamphlet published during the 1983 General Election campaign, but which can now be more conveniently located in Thompson (1985: 69-105, at 103-4)

15. For a body of relevant essays, some of the most pungent of which were originally published in New Society, see Thompson (1980b). The selection concludes with Thompson's earliest statement on European Nuclear Disarmament (originally published in The Guardian, 28 January 1980).

16. Critical extracts from the Indian leftist press, and Thompson's response to them, can be found in Thompson (1987/1988). They include the remark of C. Raja Mohan that the European peace movement in general, and Thompson in particular, had 'failed to appreciate that the roots of the present nuclear crisis rest as much, if not more, in the Third in Europe'.

On the current nuclear crisis between India and Pakistan, see The Economist, June 6th 1998: 23-25 and Mishra 1998.

17. 'We think others to death as we define them as the Other: the enemy: Asians: Marxists: nonpeople. The deformed human mind is the ultimate doomsday weapon - it is out of the human mind that the missiles and the neutron warheads come', Thompson, in Thompson and Smith (1980: 52).

18. The strategy of dealignment was the work of a number of authors and activists, the majority of whom were either END members or supporters. They included April Carter, Richard Falk, Owen Greene, Lynne Jones, Mary Kaldor, Louis Mackay, Keith McClelland, Michael Randle, Kate Soper, Dan Smith, Walter Stein, Jonathan Steele, and John Williams. My main sources for what follows are Falk and Kaldor (1987); the Alternative Defence Commision ( = ADC, (1987); and Mepham and McClelland (1988).

19. These policies might be described as the republican 'moment' of the European peace movement. One of their most thoughtful advocates was April Carter, who has recently taxed liberal theory for its failure to develop a concept of citizenship that includes responsibility for national defence. See Carter (1987, 1998).

20. That the 'independence' of British nuclear weapons was really a chimera, particularly after the purchase of the American Trident ballistic missile system, could be conveniently ignored by the majority of the British public.

21. Twice - in 1960 and 1982 - the Labour Party formally abjured the nuclear totem. Twice the Party repented. In 1961, Hugh Gaitskell convincingly routed his neutralist adversaries; while on 2 October 1989, the Brighton Conference endorsed with a block-vote majority of 1,182,000 the defence component of the Party's Policy Review. Three of the four Trident submarines were to be retained. (The Labour Party's defeat in 1987 occasioned the Mepham and McClelland [1988] article; it was part of END's submission to the Labour Party's policy review process.) Ironically, the Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock's argument for the retention of nuclear weapons was couched in a European rhetoric not so distant from END's own. As Kinnock (1989) remarked, the defence review document was 'predicated on getting a nuclear-free Europe, a nuclear-free world, not only a nuclear-free Britain'. For a dismayed response, see Hinton (1989b).

22. Criticisms by peace movement activists of the insularity that the unilateralism credo encouraged became an increasingly common (though still minority) refrain following Labour's 1987 election defeat. See, for instance, Bloomfield (1987). On the left, Paul Hirst (1989: 92), though no peace movement supporter himself, claimed that unilateralism and neutralism would make Britain a 'potential target for both superpowers. The British Isles are a stationary aircraft carrier which threatens both the Soviet route to the Atlantic and the route for US reinforcements to Europe in the case of war. A neutralist Britain is a fantasy, since it would unhinge the US strategy for containing the Soviet Union'.

23. Some of its content had been earlier canvassed under the rubric of 'nonalignment,' for instance, in Kaldor (1983), but this term, and also the Thompsonian oxymoron 'active neutrality', was gradually abandoned. 'Dealignment' denoted a more forceful mode of activity; in addition it escaped the unrealistic notion of 'standing outside the blocs', and the connotations - not all of them unwelcome - that surrounded the policies of the 'nonaligned states'.

24. These choices were rehearsed in some detail in the Alternative Defence Commission's first report (1983: 167-248). See also the 'alternative security policies' advocated by Johan Galtung (1984: 162-219), and by Alva Myrdal (1981: 209-276).

25. The Soviet Union, not the People's Republic of China, was the invariable reference point of these discussions. In the time of Deng, Mao Zedong's warning of 1957, delivered during a speech in Moscow, that he was willing to lose half of China's population of 600 million people in a nuclear confrontation, could be easily forgotten. That this was not an isolated threat is documented by Mao's personal physician, Li Zhisui (1994: 125, 206-7).

According to Ferenc Fehér and Agnes Heller (1986a: 178), a key weakness of the western peace movement was its failure to understand that, for Soviet publics (as distinct from those in East European states), China, not the USA, was the pre-eminent threat.

26. For this and related scenarios, see Michael Clarke (1985: 9-10). Clarke added ominously but accurately that the fundamental weakness of many nonnuclear alternatives was that they amounted to a 'a strategy for defeat rather than defence'.

27. A five-dimensional, alliterative typology can be found in Falk and Kaldor (1987), which mentions denuclearization, demilitarization, depolarization, democratization and development.

28. Phrases in quotation marks in this paragraph derive from Falk and Kaldor (1987: 14-15).

29. However, if NATO resisted major change, Britain could still withdraw from its military command structure and, in extremis, from the alliance itself. See ADC (1987: 17). Anticipating that this might turn out to be END's position, Neville Brown (1981: 30) observed that 'even worse than outright neutralism would be unilateralism within NATO: remaining inside the alliance (and continuing to fill half its senior commands), while picking and choosing which decisions to accept and which not'.

30. While Falk and Kaldor (1987: 20) suggested a policy that abjured all offensive conventional weapons, the ADC's recommendations did not preclude an offensive security component (ADC 1987: 18, 167-9). Cf. Ken Booth (1983) and Booth and Baylis (1989).

31. The term Eastern Europe gradually gave way in peace-movement discourse to the expressions Central Europe or Central Eastern Europe or Eastern Central Europe. This change in language reflected the usage of oppositionists like Václav Havel and György Konrád for whom 'Eastern Europe' was a term of denigration. Cf. Garton Ash (1989: 165).

The peace movement's hopes for the growth of civil society in the Soviet Union were less sanquine. On the repression meted out to "the Moscow Trust Group" -- one of their leading spokespeople, Sergei Batrovin, found himself detained in Moscow's Ordinary Psychiatric Hospital No. 14 -- see Batrovin (1983) and Artman (1986). Other pertinent documents can be found in Stead and Grunberg (1982).

32. For Mary Kaldor's response, see Kaldor (1981).

33. The fear that a 'major imbalance' in military strength could 'precipitate war' rather than forestall it, was also rehearsed by David Owen (1980: 9).

Being a conservative in these matters meant working within the bloc system, it did not mean that no change within it, even radical change, was impossible. See for instance the arguments of Schell (1984) and Hirst (1988).

34. See Howard (1980: 20). (In response to this kind of objection, END soon canvassed a NWFZ from 'the Atlantic to the Urals'.) The view that END was basically a unilateralist project - now extended to encompass the whole of Western Europe - was a common concern. See, for instance, O'Brien (1980).

35. Thompson (1982c: 332) was later at pains to emphasise that he was not arguing for the identity of the blocs, but rather their reciprocity: the fact that both interacted in ways that made nuclear war likely.

36. Thompson's reply is in Coates (n.d.: 8-24). The exchange between Racek and Thompson continued in the columns of the New Statesman 17/24 December 1982, and 18 February 1983.

37. This was the first part of an article that was continued as 'Peace and the one-party state', in New Society 28 October 1982, pp. 163-164. Among the subjects covered in the authors' very interesting intervention, was the role played by the 'nonofficial church peace movement' in the German Democratic Republic. In effect, the East German Association of Evangelical Churches, and related bodies, provided a semi-sheltered arena for independent peace activity to take place.

Ferenc Köszegi, though critical of END, took a much more positive view of it than most of his Hungarian compatriots. See his contributions to Köszegi & Thompson (n.d.), and Köszegi (1982).

38. Havel continued: 'Can you wonder, under these circumstances, that this word [peace] awakens distrust, scepticism, ridicule and revulsion among our people?'. A somewhat less astringent judgement of the western peace movement can be found in the interview with Havel published in Kavan and Tomin (1983: 42-3).

Charter 77's written responses to END were not generally hostile, even where historical allusions to Daladier and Chamberlain were employed to drive home the point that "we cannot believe the genuineness of peace efforts where fundamental human and civil rights are suppressed." The indivisibility of peace and liberty was constantly reiterated. See the various statements of Charter 77 spokespersons Radim Palouš, Anna Marvanová, and Ladislav Lis, in Kavan and Tomin (1983: 22-28, quotation on 24). It should be noted that as early as 1981, Thompson had restated his view that "peace and freedom" were the objectives of the peace movement, as he understood it (Thompson 1982d: 178-9; Thompson 1982e, originally from The Times, 22 December 1981).

39. END's allegedly confused response to actual events, for instance the suppression of Solidarity in Poland, was a common refrain of its critics. See the exchange between Timothy Garton Ash (1982) and E.P. Thompson in Encounter 21 August 1982, and 30th October 1982 (Thompson's response is reprinted in Thompson 1985:153-159.) Thompson's view that a 'self-liberation' was gradually taking place in 'Eastern Europe', was robustly contested by Garton Ash: 'I wish with all my heart that Eastern Europe was on a steady course to self-liberation. But my eyes refuse the illusion. I cannot see any meaningful sense in which this is true'. Also Fehér and Heller (1986b: 44, n. 44).

40. Thompson's activities in his last years are briefly, but ably, charted in Palmer (1994:54-60).

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