Holland has long been known as an exemplary country, sober, industrious, tolerant, a country whose people had to struggle hard for their prosperity against the forces of nature. Dutch politics hardly ever figure on the front pages of the world’s press, which, needless to say, is a good sign. Macaulay once said about Dutch political affairs that they were distinguished by a grave, discreet, and judicious conduct. There is a tendency nowadays in Holland to take a low profile—“We are a small nation”—but contrary to the image that this conveys, and contrary as well to widespread belief, Holland is not just a country of cheese and tulips. It has the biggest harbor in the world and three of the world’s biggest corporations. Far from declining as the result of the loss of its empire, it has undergone unprecedented economic development since the end of World War II. The foreign trade of Benelux (of which Holland is the senior partner) exceeds not just that of Britain and France, it is bigger even than that of West Germany and Japan. In international organizations one never has to look far for Dutchmen in leading positions.
Nevertheless, solid, substantial, reliable Holland has become one of the weakest links in the Western alliance. Neutrality (or neutralism) has been the traditional orientation of Dutch foreign policy for almost three centuries—as it has been of most of the other smaller European countries. In recent years most Dutch political parties, and above all the churches, have reverted to this traditional pattern, which was confirmed in the parliamentary elections that took place in Holland on May 26 of this year. The trend has been reinforced by a cultural (or pseudo-cultural) revolution. The issues at stake today are not technical, such as the stationing of cruise missiles, which, with a minimum of give-and-take, could easily be solved. The problem is deeper: a desire to keep out of world problems and an aversion to spending money on defense. Nor, needless to say, is it a question only of Holland. For this reason the syndrome is important; clues to understanding it can be found, as usual, in the past.
About the revolt of the Netherlands against Spain in the 16th century it has been said that it was neither national, nor republican, nor inspired by religion. Some have explained it by reference to the long waves of business cycles, others have interpreted it as a revolt of medieval conservatives against modern absolutism (Spain). But it still remains true that prosperous burghers and satisfied farmers, men about whom the Duke of Alba said that they were a pacific people with no courage, engaged in an eighty-year war, bloody and destructive, a war in which they declared early on that “we recognize no neutrals.” The Dutch resented the Inquisition but they would still have put up with Spanish hegemony if Philip of Spain had given them a minimum of self-rule and if he had treated the poor Dutch nobles—the gueux— better. But their patience was not limited and having taken up arms they were capable of great feats of courage. Once they had crossed their Rubicon, there was no looking back. In 1609 a truce between Spain and the Dutch republic was concluded and in 1648 de jure recognition was given.
The 17th century was the age of religious disputes and political quarrels at home but it was also the period of the great flowering of the arts and a time when the Dutch were masters of world trade. Then a gradual decline set in: France and England became stronger, the national spirit in the Netherlands declined. The desperate “water beggars” turned into rentiers, entrepreneurs became investors, as the historian Johann Huizinga observed.
Having opted for nonalignment, which best served their commercial activities, the Dutch were compelled to give up their neutrality under the pressure first of the French and then of the British. Following the French Revolution the country was occupied and became the “Batavian Republic” and later a French protectorate. Napoleon made his brother Louis King of Holland. When Louis began to identify himself too much with his subjects, Napoleon wrote him contemptuously: “You have neither army nor navy and yet you pretend to be a free and independent state.”
This takes us to the 19th century when the Netherlands became again a “voluntarily nonaligned country,” in contrast to Switzerland and Belgium which (as it was then put) were “compulsory neutrals.” But the prospects for the survival of small countries did not seem good, and the cautious Dutch opted for passivity, virtually abstaining from participation in international politics. They got more than a little panicky in 1866 and again in 1870 when their neighbors went to war. Some suggested economic pliability vis-à-vis Germany so as not to give the Prussians a pretext to annex their country. But Bismarck had no wish to seize Holland.
When World War I broke out, Holland remained an island of peace in a world of horrible bloodshed, very much in contrast to its southern neighbor Belgium which was invaded and became the scene of much fighting and destruction. Holland’s good luck in the war became a matter of immense satisfaction; as in the case of the Scandinavian countries, it led to a feeling of moral superiority and thus, albeit indirectly, contributed to the tragedy of 1940.
No serious efforts to defend the country were made in the inter-war period. It was generally assumed (first) that Hitler would not violate Dutch neutrality and (second) that if he did, the French led by General Gamelin would promptly dispatch an army corps to save the country, while the British would defend the Dutch East Indies against the Japanese. The debacle of 1940 was later explained by reference to German trickery: German soldiers had allegedly come disguised as mailmen, streetcar conductors, and even as housemaids. Thus the myth of the “Fifth Column” was born. But a few minor German coups de main hardly sufficed to explain the German victory. The real explanation was much less dramatic.
Shortly after the German invasion, Van Kleffens, the Dutch foreign minister, bitterly complained that his country had no quarrel with anyone; instead of spending money for armaments it had used it to improve the social status of industrial workers and peasants, to develop the educational system, to build bridges and roads, to reclaim the Zuider Zee. Even the Dutch newspapers had not provoked the Nazis; an editor had been sentenced to pay a fine in 1936 for calling Hitler a liar, and some anti-Nazi literature had been banned. “Why should an innocent people have been attacked? The answer lies with God alone.”
The invocation of the Deity did not excuse the stupidity of men. The Dutch—like others—had been blind to the changes which had gone on in the world around them. They had refused to accept the fact that new forces had arisen in Europe which did not respect neutrality. They did not want to believe that a second world war would be quite different in character from the first. Early on in the war, Churchill remarked that each of the European neutrals hoped that if he fed the crocodile enough, the crocodile would eat him last. Churchill had a very bad press in Amsterdam. “We must be an island of peace,” the Dutch said, as if it were 1914 all over again, “we are trustees, we have to help the combatants make peace.” Neutrality, the Dutch prime minister said, was a “beacon in a dark world.” There were a few dissenting voices such as that of Peter Geyl, the great historian, who agreed that Holland should remain neutral but said this was a matter of dire necessity, not of virtue, and that modesty became a country like Holland better than moral arrogance.
The rest of the story is well known: Holland was occupied in a few days in 1940. For Hitler, the violation of neutrality was wholly immaterial: “No one will ask us about it, once we shall have won the war. We shall not explain it as idiotically as in 1914.” But Holland had been lost in actual fact many years earlier, and it is unfair to put all blame on the political leadership. As Louis de Jong stresses time and again in his monumental work on the Netherlands during World War II, the spirit of the nation was averse to defense. There was in 1940 not a single tank (though a few had been ordered); the guns dated back to the 1880’s; the thirteen divisions which should have been under arms existed on paper only (as did twenty-one divisions in Belgium). The Queen and her consort, who had taken a more realistic view of Hitler and his designs than many ministers, escaped to London. Colijn, who had been prime minister for much of the 1930’s, stayed behind and wrote that the country would have “to modify national establishments and institutions in accordance with the German model” and to accept German instructions on political, social, and economic questions.
Why single out Holland? After all, the other small nations of Europe did not behave any differently. In 1939 Denmark had been ruled for many years by the social democrats and the Radicals, who believed that since the country could not be defended anyway, it was stupid to spend money on defense in the first place. These Danish leaders stood to the very end for disarmament; their representatives in the League of Nations scrupulously refrained from voting for sanctions against the aggressors even though this would have been a mere gesture which was not particularly risky. The press exercised self-censorship. The Danes refused to conclude a Nordic defense treaty for fear of offending Hitler—just as Holland refused up to the outbreak of the war to coordinate its defense efforts with those of neighboring Belgium. In 1939 the Danes signed a nonaggression treaty with Hitler; perhaps they believed that it would save them. When the Germans took over the country in a few hours in April, they did not even bother to depose Stauning, the social-democratic prime minister: there was no need to do so. Soon there were speeches about Denmark having to find its place in Germany’s New Order.
The melancholy tale of European neutralism in this period ends in a macabre scene which took place in Dublin in early May 1945. Eamon de Valera, prime minister of Eire, accompanied by the secretary to the Department of External Affairs, paid a visit of condolence to the German embassy. As he correctly pointed out, Hitler had been a head of state, and it would have been gross discourtesy not to tender one’s sympathy to the representative of a nation with which Eire maintained diplomatic relations. It is a pity the occasion seems not to have been preserved on film, for it would be of great educational value.
Extenuating circumstances can always be stipulated: that it was psychologically impossible for many Irishmen to fight side by side with the British; that Holland and Denmark, Norway and Sweden, were difficult to defend; that, generally speaking, small countries have to exercise prudence and caution in stormy periods of history. But the defeat of 1940 was not a foregone conclusion. It is now known from German intelligence reports that Hitler was well aware not only of the lack of military preparedness in Norway and Denmark, Holland and Belgium, but also of the fact that pacifism was widespread in these countries and that determined resistance would not be offered. By contrast, he also knew that the Swiss would probably fight, that they had 125,000 men under arms in 1939 and many more in the years after. He could, of course, have occupied Switzerland, but only at a price; at least twenty divisions would have been needed for Switzerland alone, and it so happened that these were always needed elsewhere.
What if the thirteen Dutch divisions, and the Belgian twenty-one, had existed in reality and not just on paper? What if they had been reasonably well-equipped, what if the spirit of the nation had not been averse to defense? It is an interesting question and we may never know the answer. But the Swiss example, in contrast to that of Holland and Belgium, Denmark and Norway, shows that military preparedness is a deterrent to aggression.
By the time World War II ended, neutralism was discredited in the Netherlands, as it was in the other European countries which had been occupied. For twenty years NATO and the cause of European unity had no more faithful supporters than the Dutch. Then, in the middle 60’s gradual change once again set in, gathering momentum in the 1970’s.
Various reasons have been adduced to explain this change. Up until the late 1960’s Holland, like much of Western Europe, had experienced an almost unprecedented economic upsurge; during the 1970’s growth was much slower, and the expectations which had been stirred could not be fulfilled. But the real reasons seem to go deeper. Something akin to a cultural revolution took place, as a new generation appeared on the scene for whom the collapse of 1940 and the years of occupation were nothing but dim recollections.
The first manifestations were quaint and even engaging. It all began in 1964 with the showing of Zo is het . . . (“This is it . . .”), an irreverent TV program somewhat akin to the British That Was the Week That Was. A year later the first naked woman was shown on television. Also in 1964-65 the Provos and the dolle Minas (radical feminists) made their appearance in the streets of Amsterdam. “Happenings” began with the anti-smoking campaign of a magician, Robert Grootveld, but their innocent character soon changed and they attracted thousands of young people. There were major demonstrations (such as against the royal wedding), which sometimes turned into pitched street battles. Students occupied the university. Others, dissatisfied with government support for the arts, seized the Rijksmuseum. Poujadist farmers abducted the minister of agriculture. Amsterdam, that city of almost obsessive cleanliness, of sobriety and quiet patriotism, turned into one of the main centers of hippiedom and drugs. The Provos dissolved in 1967, but when an attempt was made to clean up the city in 1970 there was a new crisis, with new street battles which have continued sporadically to the present day.
It would appear that the Netherlands went through a period of restlessness, not perhaps very pleasing aesthetically, nor very productive culturally, but probably inevitable given the rigidity of Dutch social structures and traditional beliefs. Soon, however, political radicalization ensued. The Dutch Labor party—basically social-democratic, pro-NATO, pro-European—was taken over by the New Left. More important still, there were profound changes in both the Catholic and the (Protestant) Reformed Church; both had supported the “new wave” in Holland almost from the beginning, both are now the main force behind the drive toward neutralism.
It is frequently said that Dutch politics, past and present, cannot be understood without reference to religion, and certainly the Dutch used to take their religion very seriously indeed. Voltaire has one of his heroes, Scarmentado, visit the Netherlands just in time to see the Dutch cutting off the head of a venerable old man—van Barneveldt, their principal minister. Moved by pity Scarmentado asks what crimes had been committed. Perhaps the old man had been a traitor to the state? Worse, he is informed, the minister had believed that mankind could be saved by good works as well as by faith. “You realize that if such opinions were to become current, no republic could endure, and that severe laws are needed to repress these disgraceful horrors.”
It is true that the Dutch ceased hunting witches earlier than other European nations, but with all their tolerance, strict religious divisions continued to prevail. Seventy percent of all schools are confessional; political parties, newspapers, and even radio and TV stations were, and some still are, largely run on confessional lines. Four Protestant parties virtually ruled Holland for sixty years; the Roman Catholics (almost 40 percent of the population) also had their own party (KVP), though for a long time they played no great part in politics.
The Dutch Catholic Church, which had been traditionally one of the most orthodox, at one time all but broke away from Rome. It introduced a new catechism, expressed doubts about original sin, the existence of angels, the virginity of Mary, and, needless to say, the infallibility of the Pope. It opposed the ban against contraception and it opposed celibacy. And as Dutch Catholicism faced a crisis of identity, the very structure of the Dutch system (the existence of confessional parties and trade unions, etc.) became problematic. In 1975 most of the Christian groups, Protestant and Catholic alike, established a new Christian Democratic party (the CDA), a merger that became possible because the Protestant churches had undergone a similar, though perhaps somewhat less far-reaching process of radicalization.
Yet when all the connections between the Dutch churches and Dutch politics have been traced, it remains the case that there is nothing specific to either Calvinist or Dutch Catholic theology propelling these churches toward radical neutralism. In one sense they are part of a worldwide movement. There have been manifestations of radicalism within sections of the Catholic Church in other parts of the globe (of the role of “liberation theology” in Latin America), and the World Council of Churches has also become passionately interested in world affairs. If a Pope could once maintain that he knew more about astronomy than Galileo, the World Council certainly thinks that it has a better understanding of world affairs than the politicians. As Philip Potter, its general secretary, declared not long ago over Prague radio (of all places), “We have learned through the experience of our brethren in the socialist countries that our own churches, influenced by the social structures of our own countries, often took side with oppressors. I have understood during my visit to Czechoslovakia, and also during my earlier visits to other socialist countries, that the Christians there are participating in the construction of a just society. . . .”
In the Netherlands the origins of a pacifist movement (Kerk en Vrede, Church and Peace) date back to the 1920’s. But these facts alone are insufficient to explain the recent conversion. Why should churches which for a long time were not bothered by the slave trade, which showed indifference and indeed neutrality toward National Socialism until very late in the day, become suddenly so acutely aware of their social and political commitments in a world belonging to God? Are these delayed guilt feelings or could the motives be, at least in part, opportunistic in character? A case can perhaps be made for the idea now propounded by the Dutch churches that the traditional Christian doctrine of the just war is no longer valid in the nuclear age. But how to support the Potter thesis that Czech Communism is building a just society—whereas Dutch society (say) is oppressive and unjust?
In the 1960’s the Dutch churches seem to have feared that they would lose their hold on the young generation unless they underwent radical changes. Thus, in extreme cases, Jesus reappeared as a hippie preacher, faith was given up for hope, God was jettisoned and replaced by revolution, wars of liberation, and the march into a better future. Admittedly only a few went that far, but many started moving in this general direction.
Despite the transformation, Dutch churches did not fare too well. The Protestant parties suffered substantial electoral losses, and the Catholic party was almost halved. They could have argued that were it not for their “reorientation” they would have disappeared altogether, but this seems doubtful.
Apart from the desire to be “with it,” the reorientation in foreign policy owed something to another, very human, factor, which few discussed openly: fear. Although there has been for a long time a strong inclination in Dutch politics to interpret world affairs in moralistic terms, this has usually been tempered by an equal measure of caution. If in the 1930’s successive Dutch cabinets, and public opinion in its overwhelming majority, remained neutral as between Hitler and the Western democracies, the main reason was not a belief in the moral superiority of such a position, but, deep down, fear of being overrun by the German tanks. There can be little doubt that the present inclination toward neutralism, in whatever way it is rationalized, stems at least in part from similar fears of the Soviet Union.
The anti-NATO movement in Holland has certainly gathered momentum in recent years, and if the militants in the Labor party (PvdA) had their way, the country would have left NATO long ago. A year and a half ago the PvdA announced that it was “currently not in favor” of modernization of NATO nuclear arms. A party congress last February went considerably further and accepted a resolution unconditionally rejecting Dutch participation in such a program, which would be resisted through a “popular movement” stimulated and led by the party. There was opposition even to retaining nuclear land mines, weapons that can hardly be used offensively. An even more radical resolution, which would have taken Holland out of NATO, was defeated only because Joop M. den Uyl, the party leader, threatened to resign; without this popular leader the prospects of the party in the forthcoming elections would have been greatly impaired.
There are strong anti-nuclear factions in the other Dutch parties as well, excepting only the liberals (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) who are however not known for their interest in foreign affairs. But the most vocal support still comes from the churches. The interdenominational Church Council and the Catholic Pax Christi have made it known that they will rely on democratic means to attain their aims only so long as such means are successful.
How do the churches justify their stand? By reference, paradoxically, to the murder of six million Jews. There are situations, one of its leaders has said, where the church as a church has to speak out against outrage. The historical comparison may not be entirely obvious. A better starting point would be the elitism of Dutch Protestantism. There may well be a link between the concept of Holland as a neutralist (anti-nuclear) “pilot country”—an idea propagated by Dutch politicians—and the concept of the elect in Calvinist theology, according to which after Adam’s fall God preserved a certain number of human beings from destruction and destined them to salvation through Christ.
Such quasi-theological arguments have not passed without contradiction. In a recent interview with a Protestant press service, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of West Germany noted that the churches have never recognized democratic principles as binding and do not do so now. Thus their legitimacy as teachers of political virtue is not altogether above suspicion.1
But the Dutch churches also invoke other arguments. One spokesman has written that since there is now a stable equilibrium between the two camps, West and East, it would not be disturbed by the unilateral neutralism of a small country like Holland. (At the same time the churches hope that Dutch unilateralism would give heart to neutralists in other Western countries—in which case the equilibrium would certainly be upset.)
The Dutch debate does not on the whole proceed with much political sophistication and its participants (with notable exceptions) are not really well informed about the facts of international relations. A Dutch political commentator recently noted that “at bottom the interest in what goes on beyond our borders is slight. Politicians, even experts on foreign affairs, have no idea what is going on in other countries and why.” But well informed or not, the trend toward neutralism in Holland is now a fact of political life.
If it were only a question of Holland this “new wave,” though an interesting phenomenon, would hardly be one of overwhelming political importance. But it is by now a far wider problem: Holland pioneered the movement but it is no longer alone. Karel van Miert, the leader of the Belgian (Flemish) Socialist party, has deplored the fact that “we have become permanent vassals and nuclear hostages of the U.S. We have become an American protectorate more than ever.” If no real agreement is reached with the Russians, he has demanded that the European missiles not be deployed. Like others, van Miert seems to fear not the Soviet missiles which have already been deployed against Europe, only the American missiles which do not exist.
In England, the unilateralist orientation of Michael Foot, the Labor party leader, and of the present majority of the party executive is well known. The Labor party is committed to removing NATO bases from Britain—just as it has announced that if victorious it would quit the European Community. At international Socialist meetings the party is now represented by Alex Kitson, who has made statements over Radio Moscow so zealous in their pro-Soviet ardor as to cause acute embarrassment even to most self-respecting West European Communists.
In West Germany a popular front has arisen during the last year made up of the Green (ecological) party, the Communists, the left wing of the Social Democratic party, and also quite a few intellectuals. This coalition has already exerted considerable pressure on Chancellor Schmidt and is still gaining influence. It is directed against both the military and the peaceful use of nuclear power. Again, one finds sections of the Protestant church giving fervent support to the movement, and expressions of sympathy in the media (more on radio and TV than in newspapers).
The underlying theme is anti-Americanism, the belief that while the Soviet system is not necessarily to be emulated, Russia seems to be right more often these days than the United States. According to Horst Ehmke, a prominent Social Democratic leader, this is nothing but disappointed love: after the war many young Germans believed that America would be instrumental in building a truly new society on earth, free of oppression, exploitation, and power politics. But whatever the mental image of the generation of 1948, it is hardly relevant to the young men and women of 1981 who more often than not have been taught to regard America as the enemy par excellence.
Commenting on this mood, Annemarie Renger, a Social Democratic leader and a vice president of the German parliament, has stressed that the strong anti-American feelings in the Bundesrepublik are shared by the Left and the far Right (which has recently penetrated the “green” movement); she has drawn attention to the characterization of American consumerism as “creeping fascism,” and the inclination among well-known university teachers to belittle and ridicule basic democratic institutions—just as a previous generation had done in the Weimar republic. According to Mrs. Renger, this anti-Americanism has nothing to do with the present incumbents in Washington but goes considerably deeper: it is based on the conviction that as between Russia and America there is not really much to choose; that, on the contrary, Communism because of its “anti-fascist” character may be the preferable system; and that for these reasons Germany’s links with America (and the West in general) should be eventually cut. Few, except on the extreme Left and Right, will say these things clearly and uncompromisingly. But about the general trend there can be no two views.
In Denmark, in contrast to Holland, West Germany, and Britain, there has been little public debate over defense, but again the general direction is unmistakable. Even Giscard d’Estaing of France made it known that he was appalled by the defeatist talk of Anker Jörgensen, the Danish prime minister. A freeze on the Danish defense budget would mean that the Danish army would lose one-quarter of its effective strength (which amounts altogether to 20,000 men) and one-third of its ships. Aware of the fact that Denmark and Holland are now the weakest links in NATO, Soviet propaganda has concentrated its activities on these two countries. (Not far behind are the two “independent” Washington think tanks, the Institute for Policy Studies and the Center for Defense Information, both of which have been arranging international conferences, planting articles in the local press, and undertaking other efforts to weaken the alliance.)
Norway was, and partly still is, a staunch pillar of Western defense, but there has been a palpable change in that country too within the last year. It began with the publication of Atomvapen og usikkerhetspolitik (“Atomic Weapons and the Politics of Insecurity”), a book by a socialist leader named Jens Evensen which came out in favor of Norwegian neutralism on the lines advocated for many years by the Finnish president, Urho Kekkonen. The book and its programs were at first sharply criticized by the ruling Labor party, but then “Women for Peace” and other such organizations got into the act; the leader of that group, Eva Nordland, declared that “if women had their way in running the world, we would never have had nuclear weapons”—an interesting thought in the light of the political record of female leaders like Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, and Golda Meir, not to mention La Passionaria and Eva Perón.
Thanks to such agitation in Norway, within a short time a “large and once responsible party was reduced to a flock of distracted chickens.”2 Retreating from its previous position, the Labor party decided to include a plan for a Nordic nuclear-free zone as a major item in its program. To be sure, some suggested that such a nuclear-free zone also include the (Soviet) Kola peninsula with its enormous military installations. Others maintained that the Russians would hardly be likely to pay this price, but advocated instead some Soviet gestures such as a thinning out of the weapons system in the Leningrad military district. Soviet reaction was predictable: the Norwegians were told to mind their own business. Some seemed perfectly content with this answer. The head of the anti-nuclear movement, Eric Alfsen, noted that it was realistic to initiate the plan with the four Nordic countries; since the atomic weapons in the Soviet Union were aimed at targets other than Norway, there was no particular urgency about including the Russians.
The whole debate was reminiscent of a conversation between Alice and the mad hatter; there are no nuclear weapons in Norway, or anywhere else in Scandinavia. So why the agitation to abolish what does not exist in the first place? “‘Take some more tea,’ the March Hare said to Alice very earnestly. ‘I’ve nothing yet,’ Alice replied in an offended tone, ‘so I can’t take more.’ ‘You mean you can’t take less,’ said the Hatter.’”
In mid-March 1981, a meeting of the Scandinavian and Benelux Socialist parties was convened in Oslo to coordinate their efforts in the light of their common (critical) attitudes toward European defense.3 The meeting was also attended by representatives of the British Labor party and the German Social Democrats. The British delegates did not have much to say, because they too favor unilateral disarmament. The one Socialist leader who read the riot act to his comrades was the German: without a military balance, he said, there was no hope for détente between East and West, and that balance had been undermined. The German representative was none other than Egon Behr, the most outspoken advocate of Ostpolitik among German Social Democrats. The episode showed just how far the Socialist parties of Benelux and Scandinavia have moved on the road to unilateralism.
A curious dichotomy has thus developed in Europe: NATO ministers of defense solemnly affirm in the presence of Reagan administration officials that major efforts will be made to reduce the advantage gained by the Soviet Union in the military field during the last decade. Yet at the same time it emerges that there will be substantial cuts in British defense and the Danish government coalition debates whether to stick to a “zero solution” or to increase the budget by 1 percent. That less will be spent on defense in France under Mitterrand than under Giscard seems highly likely. But perhaps most ominous of all is the growth of the anti-defense campaign in West Germany. Prime Minister Schmidt announced on several occasions in May that he would resign if the neutralist forces in his party gained the upper hand. Since Schmidt can hardly be considered a hawk—he has been one of the most persistent advocates of détente despite all that has happened in recent years—the stand he has taken shows how far those opposing him have moved from the very concept of a Western defensive alliance. It is no longer a question of deploying this weapon or another, but more fundamentally, of whether the defense of Europe should be continued—or written off.
The campaign against nuclear weapons (and the use of nuclear energy in general) has been described by sympathetic European observers as an “explosion of fear,” and such fears are certainly not misplaced in view of the presence of unprecedented arsenals of destruction. Yet it cannot be taken for granted that, to use the terminology commonly invoked to express the alternatives before Europe, choosing “red” would necessarily preclude being “dead.” Even if Europe opted out of the nuclear race it could still be devastated in a nuclear war, and even if America should follow Europe’s example there still might be nuclear wars between Communist states, unimpeded by public pressures to ban the bomb. It is not certain, in brief, that unilateral disarmament is a better avenue than multilateral efforts to prevent war. Of course no such argument will impress a pacifist tout court.
A case against the continuation of the nuclear arms race could also be made, and is indeed made, by some thoughtful strategists in Europe who have proposed instead a stronger conventional defense. It is true that Europe’s (and the West’s) desire in the 1950’s to have a “cheap” defense helped bring about the present dependence on nuclear weapons and also the stalemate in disarmament negotiations. The Soviet Union meanwhile did not choose the line of least resistance; it continued to strengthen both conventional and nuclear forces and is therefore now in a more powerful position in every respect. But the great majority of the supporters of the anti-nuclear campaign would not back a stronger conventional defense; they are against defense in principle. When a study came out in Holland proposing an increase in spending on conventional forces, members of the peace movement immediately argued that this alternative to nuclear arms would be too costly and that the funds involved could be used for much better purposes.
What sort of world do the unilateralists suppose they face? On rare occasions a fairly realistic picture will be given, such as in a recent editorial of the British Guardian (a paper on the whole sympathetic to the “peace” campaign) pointing to Moscow’s enormous expansion of its conventional forces:
It is almost as though Moscow is waiting for the day when unilateralism triumphs in Western Europe to advance along a broad non-nuclear front. The advance does not even have to be military. Without effective defense, which in the face of Soviet ground, air, and sea preponderance would have to be nuclear, Western Europe runs as big a risk as ever of being given the Polish treatment. For apart from Russia’s own national interest, history, remember, is supposed to be on the Soviet side.
A genuine pacifist will reply that all this may be true but since the alternative is so utterly horrible, the analysis does not affect his position. Such honesty does not make for good mass politics, however, and is therefore seldom found in publications of the unilateralists. Instead the truth is suppressed, realities are disregarded, promises are made which are clearly fraudulent. Thus, the organ of the Dutch social democrats has hailed a recent speech by Brezhnev, in which the Soviet leader promised exactly nothing, as an epoch-making event that demonstrated the sincerity of Russia’s desire to be on good terms with the West. Or again, Jens Evensen, the founder of the Norwegian campaign, has said:
Naive people have said to me: “You must be one of those who would rather be red than dead.” One can smile at such a statement but then I think: let me answer. I have lived a full life and I cannot imagine life under a dictatorship. We must all die, death is as natural as birth, but the question is posed incorrectly. There is a third alternative. We shall be neither red nor dead, we shall fight for disarmament.
The case of E.P. Thompson is also intructive. A Marxist literary scholar, biographer of William Morris, he left the British Communist party some twenty years ago and is now the guru of the West European anti-nuclear movement. No one has spoken and written so eloquently as he about overthrowing the “Satanic Kingdom,” about the “mendacity game” of NATO, about the nuclear “language of death.” Yet when it comes to the political implications of unilateralism, this Savonarola becomes a supplier of idyllic visions, with sweetness, harmony, and above all symmetry prevailing all around. Thus we are cautioned that each success of a unilateralist kind, “by Holland refusing NATO cruise missiles or by Poland distancing herself from Soviet strategies, will be met with an outcry that it serves the advantage of one or the other bloc.” But this outcry must be disregarded, says Thompson; even though initiatives on one side may not be met with instant reciprocity, in the longer run they will reinforce the pressures for peace. They “will provide those conditions of relaxation of tension which will weaken the rationale and legitimacy of repressive state measures and will allow the pressures for democracy and détente to assert themselves in more active and open ways.”4
The juxtaposition of Holland and Poland is of course not merely ridiculous, it is fraudulent, for Holland—just like any NATO country—may “distance itself” with impunity from American strategies, whereas if Poland or any other East European country distanced itself from Soviet strategies there would not just be an “outcry” but immediate action. No doubt Thompson and his friends would protest such action and no doubt they would continue to speak confidently of “latent support and profound pressures” in the Soviet Union for nuclear disarmament. The political effect would be precisely nil, and they know it. By pretending there is symmetry where there is none, by knowingly holding out false hope, the guru turns charlatan.
How much further will European neutralism advance and what can America do about it? The movement consists at present of various groups. There is a small minority of well-informed people who believe that Western strategy with its great and growing dependence on nuclear arms is basically mistaken and has led to a dead end. There is a somewhat larger minority of Communists, Trotskyites, militant anarchists, and sundry fellow travelers who wish to manipulate the movement so as to bring about the rapid downfall of the Western alliance. There is a majority of confused but well-meaning “troops”: idealists in search of a cause, ecologists fearful of irreversible changes on earth and in the atmosphere, churchmen in pursuit of a new faith, young people bored by the absence of genuine challenges and attracted by any movement promising action. There are the products of the permissive age, repelled by sundry trashy subcultures yet also decisively formed by them. There are the anti-Americans of both the far Left and the extreme Right. And there are the many citizens of smaller countries genuinely longing to opt out of world politics. Geography has placed them at the crossroads of history; they are small and vulnerable; and they believe that their prospects of survival would greatly improve if they returned to their traditional neutrality.
The predicament of the smaller states, exposed to icy winds from various directions, is not enviable. These are small peoples but their contribution to civilization has been remarkable. In the speech by Churchill from which I have already quoted he said, “We have the greatest sympathy for these forlorn countries and we understand their dangers,” and referred specifically to the Dutch “whose services to European freedom will be remembered long after the smear of Hitler has been wiped from the human path.” Yet, while one must sympathize with the situation of a country like Holland, one must also acknowledge that it can no more play the role of a “pilot country” today than it could forty years ago.
The tensions in the Western alliance may be suppressed for some time to come by an aggressive Soviet foreign policy which will make the members of the alliance draw closer together. But this is no certainty, and in any case it will offer only temporary respite. Sooner or later the old conflicts between the U.S. and some of the European allies will again come to the fore. American diplomats are told by their European colleagues that arms talks with Moscow should be resumed immediately, for unless this is done, “unilateralism in Europe will become irresistible.” A curious argument, for if unilateralism is indeed so overwhelmingly strong in Europe this cannot have escaped the Russians. What incentive is there then for them to negotiate?
There may be a good case for resuming talks with Moscow, if only to reduce somewhat the domestic pressures on some European governments. A case could also perhaps be made for a radical change in the structure of the alliance: those with misgivings about stationing cruise missiles on their territory could be released from such duties, on condition that they undertake to strengthen substantially their conventional forces. But this would, again, involve higher defense spending, and dozens of reasons will be adduced to prove that this is impossible.
There may be technical solutions to some of the questions which have bothered the Dutch and the other small nations in Western Europe, as well as some of the larger. But there is no American cure for European neutralism. This is an issue for Europe to decide. Attempts on America’s part to exert pressure on its European allies may only reinforce the delusion that America somehow has a greater stake in the defense of Europe than the Europeans themselves and that if their territory were invaded, America would come to their rescue, treaty or no treaty. But a duty the United States does have is to make it clear that there will be no defense of Europe without European participation. The mistakes of 1940, at the very least, should not be repeated.
1 The present neutralist movement in Europe is restricted, on the whole, to Protestant countries. Schmidt observed in the same interview that there seems to be less faith in God or in the future in Protestant Europe than in Catholic.
2 Nils Orvik, Aftenposten, February 2, 1981.
3 Almost exactly forty years earlier the very same governments had met to consider their common attitude in the early phase of World War II. Through Dr. A. Koht, the Norwegian foreign minister, they conveyed a message to the Western allies that with due respect to the idealism of Churchill and Léon Blum the war against Hitler was a war for power, and in such a war neutrality was the prescribed course for small states.
4 Nation, January 24, 1981.