Letter: 'Western peace fighters' and the Cold War

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sir: Mary Kaldor ('When peace invaded the East', 8 November) gives a too simplistic account of the relationship between the European Nuclear Disarmament (END) movement, East European opposition groups and the end of the Cold War. END was indeed one of the few minority groups in the Western peace movement to seek a dialogue with, and actively to support, dissidents in the East. Of this, and her own role in it, Mary Kaldor can justly be proud. The support, above all, but also the dialogue, was valued by opposition leaders such as Vaclav Havel.

But Mr Havel's major contribution to this dialogue was an essay of 1985 entitled 'An anatomy of reticence'. After describing all his reservations about the 'various much too earnest overstatements' of 'Western peace fighters', he argued forcefully that 'the cause of the danger of war is not weapons as such but political realities'.

Where END argued that only disarmament, starting in the West, would permit political change in the East, Mr Havel realised that only fundamental change, starting in the East, would permit real progress to disarmament, in West and East. With hindsight, who has been more right?

Mary Kaldor quite reasonably argues that parts of the peace movement and, more broadly, the Western left as represented in the Palme commission, contributed much to the conceptual vocabulary of Soviet 'new thinking' in foreign policy. But the very same former Soviet leaders and officials who happily acknowledge that influence will also say that it was the Western policy of military strength, up to and including SDI, that showed them an impasse from which the 'new thinking' was meant to be a way out. At the very least, it needed both. And to claim the INF treaty of 1987 as a triumph for the Western peace movement is, at best, a quarter truth.

Incidentally, turning to another newspaper, I read a passionate appeal by President Havel for the Czech republic to be admitted to Nato. With the end of the Cold War, he writes, Nato has lost its main strategic opponent but not its raison d'etre.

The hero of Mary Kaldor's piece, E. P. Thompson, was a fine polemicist, but an even better historian. For in his historical writing he wrestled far more subtly with the full complexity of things. His memory is not well served by reheating yesterday's left-over overstatements, and renaming the dish history.

Yours etc,

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH

St Antony's College

Oxford

8 November

Comments