Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement

By Lawrence S. Wittner | Go to book overview
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Conclusion: Reflections on
the Past and the future

This study indicates that nuclear arms control and disarmament measures have resulted primarily from the efforts of a worldwide nuclear disarmament campaign, the biggest mass movement of modern history. Admittedly, this citizens' crusade was uneven—stronger in some countries than in others, addressing a variety of national circumstances, and waxing and waning over time. But, in the context of the nuclear arms race and threats of nuclear war, it had enough strength and cohesion to mobilize key institutions within civil society, including professional associations, unions, religious bodies, and political parties. Even within communist-ruled Eastern Europe, where civil society barely existed, the movement gradually emerged as a force to be reckoned with—challenging dictatorial regimes and, ultimately, helping to sweep them away. At the core of the movement lay the educated middle class, particularly the liberal intelligentsia. at its periphery stood the general public, which, by and large, agreed with the movement's critique of the arms race and its demand for nuclear disarmament. thus, at an exceptionally dangerous juncture in history, when numerous governments scrambled to build nuclear weapons and threatened to employ them for purposes of annihilation, concerned citizens played a central role in curbing the nuclear arms race and preventing nuclear war.

Furthermore, this book suggests that most government officials—particularly those of the major powers—had no intention of adopting nuclear arms control and disarmament policies. Instead, they grudgingly accepted such policies thanks to emergence of popular pressure. to be sure, a small group of government officials—among them Jawaharlal nehru, Olof Palme, and Mikhail Gorbachev—did not need pressuring. They welcomed the antinuclear movement, either because they already shared its perspective or found its arguments convincing. But most officials had a more negative view of the nuclear disarmament campaign, for it challenged their reliance upon nuclear weapons

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