This paper and presentation begin with an analysis of the text of the ‘Steps to Peace’ platform of Christians and Social Democrats from 1982/83 as a historical source. Retrospective and socio-historical discussions on platform proposals and on the causes that ended the Cold War are intended. Central considerations and aims ... (Show more)
This paper and presentation begin with an analysis of the text of the ‘Steps to Peace’ platform of Christians and Social Democrats from 1982/83 as a historical source. Retrospective and socio-historical discussions on platform proposals and on the causes that ended the Cold War are intended. Central considerations and aims of the platform were also supported by Egon Bahr, together with the former chancellor Willy Brandt the leading German détente politicians. The complete platform was published as documentation in the German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau.
This platform was a contribution to German and international discussions on nuclear rearmament in the early 1980s and it influenced these discussions. The intention of the German chancellor Helmut Schmidt and his London speech of 1977 may have been originally and primarily to stimulate negotiation on disarmament of the soviet SS 20, but also on further nuclear arms control and on general disarmament steps in East and West. But the new Conservative British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher, the new U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and their advisors, from 1979/81 onwards focused primarily on a nuclear rearmament of NATO in Europe through Pershing II and new cruise missiles.
‘Steps to Peace’ combined Christian and social democratic ethical values and arguments for peace with results of international peace research. It referred to documents of the EKD and Pax-Christi, to the American peace movement with Senator Edward Kennedy and to the Christian peace movement in the GDR with their biblical slogan ‘Swords to Plowshares’. The issue was to stop the deployment of the Pershing II and the cruise missiles in Europe, but also to disarm the SS 20. The main political arguments of the platform were that the prevailing system of deterrence was instable. The very short warning times of the Pershing II in Europe, together with a possible error in the Soviet computer warning systems, could lead to a devastating nuclear strike and war by accident. Moreover, the system and ideology of deterrence created and stabilized enemy images, promoted the arms race between East and West, jeopardized the policy of détente and made steps toward international disarmament more difficult. The platform proposed initial, first steps by one side towards nuclear and conventional disarmament to encourage the other side to take similar steps, thus initiating and setting in motion a disarmament spiral and dynamics instead of an arms race. Another suggested step was the declaration and installation of regional nuclear-weapons-free zones. In this and other points the platform was inspired by the 1982 ‘Olof Palme Report’ of the ‘Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues’. A new formula of security policy was brought into discussion: “security = détente + disarmament steps + defensive defense + reduction of international causes of conflict”.
With the support of Willy Brandt and Egon Bahr, members who had demonstrated together with German trade unionists and Christians against nuclear rearmament prevailed in the SPD. With a more than overwhelming majority the 1983 party conference of the SPD, now the opposition party, voted against the deployment of Pershing II and cruise missiles in Germany and Europe. Egon Bahr pleaded in the discussions for a system of “common security”, because a nuclear war would totally destroy Germany and large parts of Europe and unite East and West in doom. German Historian Georg Schild and authors in the U.S. and U.K. argue that 1983, the year of the beginning of deployment of Pershing II in Western Europe, was the “most dangerous year of the cold war” and the world was “at the brink” because among others of a malfunction of the Soviet early warning system. Further sociohistorical research and also counterfactual considerations on this are indispensable.
A central historical controversy remains which factors and who caused and brought about the end of the Cold War: The economic weakness of the East, the military strength of the West and an intensified arms race, or peace movements in the West and also in the East? A possible and alternative thesis might be that there was some interaction between the influence of peace movements in the West, exerting pressure to negotiate disarmament, and the decision of Michel Gorbachev to gain a truce in the arms race by peace diplomacy and to use that pause for a restructuring of the Soviet Union (cf. Gustav Schmidt, ed., Ost-West-Beziehungen. Konfrontation und Détente 1945-1989, vol. 3, Bochum 1995). In the negotiations on nuclear arms control and international disarmament, Gorbachev employed key elements of gradualism as a successful strategy beginning in 1986. Originally, this strategy and theory was already developed in the 1960s by the social psychologist Charles Osgood and the sociologist Amitai Etzioni in the USA and then also discussed by the peace researcher Dieter Senghaas in Western Germany. Historical peace research and social science history can and should contribute to the historical controversies about the end of the Cold War by taking up and historicizing categories and theories of political and social science peace research. And methods of social science history can promote further studies, analyses and discussions on peace movements as social movements, on their intentions, including ethical ones, and on their failures as well as successes in a global, political and social context (Show less)