It might have been dismissed as just another case where the star blew his lines if it hadn’t appeared so deliberate a rerun. Positioned squarely before the TV lights and the massed Washington press corps last week, President Ronald Reagan repeated the performance that less than a month earlier had sent shock waves across the Atlantic. In the same tangled syntax, he reiterated the possible scenario for a limited battlefield nuclear exchange which would not necessarily provoke either superpower into pushing the all-out button.
To many Europeans commemorating the death and devastation of two world wars on their soil, the message this time could leave no doubt. The nuclear battlefield is Europe where, in line with a 1979 NATO decision, the United States wants to deploy 572 Pershing II and cruise missiles in five countries by late 1983 to answer the 975 Soviet medium-range missiles already trained on its allies. Indeed, in the wake of yet another Reaganite rhetorical bomb, the response from the shaken continent seemed to be a steadily gathering “No.” Opinion polls and massive peace marches from London to Bonn during the past month have shown that the greatest European antinuclear wave since the 1960s is taking shape. And it is a tide tinted with creeping anti-Americanism which the United States itself is blamed for whipping up. As a national opinion poll published in last week’s London Observer showed, 57 per cent of Britons believe Reagan’s confrontational tactics are making nuclear war more likely. The British, in fact, are not so much anti-nuke as anti-Uncle Sam. The same poll noted 53 per cent want U.S. Air Force bases closed in Britain, while 67 per cent still think the U.K. should keep its own nuclear deterrent. But the poll adds fuel to the continent’s mushrooming peace movements, which rallied more than 600,000 marchers in London, Paris, Rome, Brussels and Bonn last month.
Washington has been busy denouncing those protests as Soviet-inspired “pacifist and neutralist” propaganda. But American leaders do not seem to understand that the White House is unwittingly turning into Moscow’s greatest ally. Says former British chancellor of the exchequer Denis Healey: “What President Reagan said is worth a
million votes to the unilateral disarmament movement in Europe.”
With relations steadily declining between the White House and the Kremlin, Europeans have grown increasingly unwilling to find themselves caught in between —sacrificial pawns in the nuclear posturing between superpowers. What is more, in the wake of Reagan’s talk of “limited” nuclear confrontations on the continent and Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s hypothesizing about “demonstrative” nuclear warning shots to frighten off the Soviets, reluctance has turned into suspicion.
Says Robert Nurick, assistant director of London’s Institute for Strategic Studies: “There’s a sense that the U.S. either doesn’t know what it wants to do or, if it knows, it has views that are dangerous to Europe. Here there’s a great premium on a steady hand at the wheel and they don’t see one. The Europeans are beginning to wonder—whether or not Reagan himself is trigger-happy— if there’s anyone else in the administra-
tion as a whole who is calm and cleareyed enough to deal with Russians.”
Certainly, the recent public squabbling between Haig, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and the White House security staff has done nothing to reassure them. Even NATO’s secretary-general, Joseph Luns, flew to Washington this week to try, among other things, to convey that recent American rhetoric hadn’t been “helpful” to the NATO missile cause.
Indeed, the tragedy of the growing breach between the United States and Western Europe is that, in the dizzying volleys of transatlantic oratory, the views of both sides are not being given attention. There is some truth in Washington’s contention that Moscow is us-
ing the peace protesters to split the Americans from their allies before talks on limiting missile deployment in Europe begin on Nov. 30 in Geneva. The Communist parties in both France and Italy helped to organize their anti-missile protests, while Marxists and the radical left of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt’s Social Democratic Party played a part in the march that brought a quarter of a million people to Bonn last month—the largest postwar demonstration in West Germany.
In recent months, Moscow has launched what one French newspaper termed a “charm offensive” on shaky West Germany, where the missile issue could bring down Schmidt’s government. Paving the way for his key visit to Bonn on Nov. 22, Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev protested in an exclusive interview with the weekly Der Spiegel that Moscow would never subscribe to the idea of a “limited” nuclear war or a “first-strike” theory like the Americans. Brezhnev also promised never to launch the new SS-20 triple warheads against a country that didn’t have U.S. nuclear weapons on its soil. That persuasive barter is one he is expected to bring up again in Bonn, when the peace movement plans another mass rally.
Rages White House Security Chief Richard Allen, writing in the U.S. Strategic Institute’s quarterly: “They [the protesters] do not recognize the purpose they serve . . . disrupting the transatlantic partnership.” But as Nurick points out, Washington is making a “major mistake” in dismissing the antimissile protests so easily. There are lots of different kinds of people in the European peace movement. There are also national variations. There’s a very strong nationalist component starting to creep into the movement in Germany—a feeling that they want control of
what’s happening on their territory.” While Helmut Schmidt went out of his way to point out that the anti-missile movement isn’t anti-NATOism or anti-Americanism, Reagan is using the missiles as a test of his allies’ fidelity. Convinced that if the Europeans aren’t with him they must be against him, he mistakenly believes that he can win them over by the very get-tough tactics that have convinced them he is an unreliable leader. Ironically, the most convincing boost to the continental cause may have come last week when 151 universities across the United States celebrated Nov. 11, Veterans Day, with a teach-in on the horrors of nuclear confrontation. More compelling than all the White House military jargon were the statistics cited by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Henry Kendall, chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists. If 1,000 onemegaton nuclear warheads were fired over Europe, he noted recently, 200 million Europeans would perish instantly. t;£>
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