By Leonard Cheshire (Letter)
The Tablet – 7 September 1985
Mgr Bruce Kent (13 July) says that he has never met anyone who urges immediate unilateral disarmament by the West, and that there is no essential difference between multilateralism and unilateralism, on the grounds that the latter is merely one step towards achieving the former. The term unilateralism, he maintains, is the greatest hindrance to clarity of thought in this crucial debate.
If there are some for whom this statement makes for clearer thinking, I have to say that for me it does the opposite. Yet it brings us to the very core of the subject, and therefore deserves to be pursued.
Unless he has changed his position since we debated the matter a few months ago, Mgr Kent is a committed pacifist, as he affirmed at the time. Pacifism denies to the state the right of armed defence, even against the likes of Hitler. It is a view based on high moral principles which appeals to many, especially the young; it is the logical, and for the time being the only, alternative to deterrence in the nuclear age, and should be looked at by everyone who seriously seeks a way through the moral dilemma we face. But I see little room for it in the description of unilateralism given above.
If the pacifist were to strive for anything less than total and early disarmament regardless of what the other side does, he would compromise the very essence of his convictions. Once this central issue becomes fudged, we are all the losers, for, pacifist and non-pacifist alike, we all have the same goal in mind – the priceless gift of freedom and peace.
Mgr Kent has told us the step he would now like us to take, but we also need to know where the steps he has in mind are intended to lead us. Just supposing we dismantle our independent deterrent, and then find that the Soviet Union does not reciprocate, what comes next? Do we restore the lost defences and renegotiate from a position of strength, or do we, as pacifism requires, continue disarming until finally, if there is still no similar response, we are totally and unilaterally disarmed?
If the latter, then multilateralism and unilateralism cannot be looked upon as similar; if the former, or some variant of it, then I do not think that Mgr Kent is any longer a pacifist.