What if Western European Disarmanent Movements Had Triumphed?

A fairly bizarre Economist leader slams new EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton for her work in the 1980s on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. They argue that involvement in such groups ought to be considered on a par with involvement in apartheid South Africa:

The real scandal, though, is the West’s continuing amnesia about the cold war. Given the Soviet Union’s history of mass murder, subversion, and deceit, it is astonishing that even tangential association with Soviet-backed causes in the past does not arouse the moral outrage now that is still so readily evoked by connections with the (undisputedly revolting) regime in South Africa. Most CND veterans see their peacenik days, at worst, as romantic youthful idealism. Warm-hearted but soft-headed, maybe: but better than being cold-hearted and hard-headed.

That is a shameful cop-out. Imagine a 1980s Europe where CND had triumphed, with left-wing governments in Britain and Germany scrapping NATO, surrendering to Kremlin pressure and propping up the evil empire. Her opponents complain that Lady Ashton is ineffective. As a CND organiser, that may have been a blessing.

I find the reasoning here slightly bizarre on several levels, but I think the interesting question is the one they raise at the end.


I mean, suppose that in the 1980s the European left had triumphed. Suppose the Pershing missiles were withdrawn from West Germany in 1982, and then following the 1983 election a Labour government came to power in the UK committed to dismantling the British nuclear arsenal. Would this have resolved the underlying problems in the Soviet economy? Would it have changed the fact that exercising control over Central Europe had high costs and few benefits for Moscow? I think the peace movement in the 80s got a lot of things wrong, but I’m skeptical that the details of western foreign policy had all that much to do with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.