Cause for celebration: if the Greenham Common protesters had achieved their ultimate goal, the Cold War could have lasted a lot longer.
By Julian Lewis MP
Guardian Website – 6 September 2006
There are many things that the founders of the Greenham Common campsite should be celebrating this year, and only one thing they should not. They generated worldwide publicity for their cause. They boosted the profile of feminism within the United Kingdom. They showed the ease with which agile protestors can outmanoeuvre clumsy local authorities when setting up shop on public land; and many of them found personal fulfilment and greater meaning for their lives.
What they did not do was to achieve their ostensible aim: they failed to stop the deployment of NATO cruise missiles in the United Kingdom. Having failed to do that, they were thwarted in their fall-back aim of preventing cruise missiles from being deployed in the countryside. It was only long after these failures became apparent to all, that a multilateral agreement, based on a 1981 American initiative, succeeded in eliminating not only cruise (and Pershing II) missiles, but also the Soviet SS-20 missiles which had led to their deployment in the first place.
Let us consider some dates.
1977: Soviet deployment of the triple-headed SS-20s begins – unlike the preceding SS-4 and SS-5 intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF), these were accurate enough to target NATO's military infrastructure, leaving the alliance facing the deadly dilemma of accepting military disaster or escalating to all-out nuclear war by retaliation against Soviet cities.
1979: NATO announces that, failing agreement with the Soviet Union in the meantime, cruise missiles will be deployed in five NATO countries (with Pershing IIs also in West Germany) from 1983 onwards.
1981: President Reagan makes his Zero Option offer not to proceed with the cruise and Pershing II deployments, if the Soviet Union dismantles the SS-20s and remaining SS-4s and 5s. CND and the Greenham campaigners reject the Zero Option and continue to campaign for the unilateral rejection of NATO's proposed INF, irrespective of whether the Soviet missiles remain in being.
1983: CND's largest demonstration, on 22 October, fails to prevent the arrival of cruise.
1984–5: Mass anti-nuclear protests pass their peak as it becomes clear that the NATO deployments have not been prevented and will not be reversed under pressure.
- 1987: At the end of the year, the moderate leadership of the Soviet Union concludes an INF Treaty with NATO based explicitly on the Zero Option offer. The 572 NATO warheads and nearly 2,000 Soviet warheads are subsequently scrapped.
The removal of the cruise missiles thus occurred when the Kremlin realised that only a multilateral deal based on Reagan's offer would achieve this. If the Greenham women had had their way, a crucial step in ending the Cold War might never have occurred. Buoyed by such a victory over NATO, Soviet hardliners might have remained in control for longer and, even if they had not, it cannot be maintained that Mikhail Gorbachev could have abolished the huge Soviet SS-20 force for nothing in return.
Only the unilateralists of the 1980s now have the cheek to claim credit for the beneficial consequences of their own defeat.
[For David Fairhall's account of a Guardian debate between Julian and four supporters of the Greenham campaign, including Clare Short, click here.]
[For the audio of that debate: What did the women's protest against nuclear weapons at Greenham Common achieve? click here.]