Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Watching NATO, 1985-1991

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Watching NATO, 1985-1991

Article excerpt

Abstract: From 1985 to 1991, a small project of North American and European Mennonites based in Brussels, Belgium, focused on "watching" the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This article tells the story of that project. It concludes by surveying the major developments in NATO and the United Nations after 1991. The essay briefly examines Mennonite responses to the increasing military activity of both NATO and the United Nations after the end of the Cold War, and the challenges that this activity posed for Mennonites.

Between 1985 and 1991 a group of North American and European Mennonites set their sights on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the military alliance of Western European and North American countries formed in the aftermath of World War II and located in the Belgian capital of Brussels. (1) The project, which became known as "NATO Watch," drew its inspiration from Mennonite Central Committee offices in Ottawa and Washington, D.C., as well as from Quaker monitoring and advocacy centers in a number of international capitals. (2)

The seeds of the initiative had been sown in January 1982 during a seminar in Brussels sponsored by the European office of Mennonite Central Committee that attracted thirty Mennonites from Western Europe, the United States, and Canada. (3) The colloquium took place at the height of the Cold War. In December of 1979 NATO's "dual-track decision" to deploy 572 U.S. Cruise and Pershing II missiles capable of striking the Soviet Union in five West European countries had spawned large-scale protest marches and heated political debate in many North Atlantic countries. Within the broader peace movement, European and North American Mennonites had joined with a variety of Christian peace groups to oppose the U.S. missile deployment, especially after the Reagan administration, which took office in January 1981, announced its opposition to detente and arms contro1. (4)

The three-day seminar, jointly organized by Walter Sawatsky, secretary of M.C.C. Europe, and Stephen Shank, a Mennonite Board of Missions worker at the recently-opened Brussels Mennonite Center, included visits to institutions such as the European Community and NATO, and to various church offices focusing on European issues. (5) During these visits representatives of both the Quaker Council on European Affairs and the European Ecumenical Commission for Church and Society in the European Community urged Mennonites to "do something here in Brussels" as a witness to their longstanding commitment to peace. Both the Quaker Council and Ecumenical Commission pointed to NATO as an institution outside of their respective mandates but meriting serious church interest and attention.

Although the M.C.C. Executive Committee rejected an ensuing proposal to support a Mennonite volunteer to work on NATO issues from the offices of the Quaker Council, M.C.C. Europe made available a modest subsidy to the European Mennonite Peace Committee to support a focus on NATO activities. In May of 1984 several European Mennonite Peace Committee members formed a "NATO Interest Group" and tested the idea of a "NATO Listening Post" later that summer in the Peace Resource Center at Mennonite World Conference Assembly XI, which met in Strasbourg, France. Immediately after the Assembly, a twenty-member Western European Peace Study Tour, organized by the International Mennonite Peace Committee, included a visit to the NATO military headquarters in southern Belgium, providing a further impetus to "do something." (6)

The following spring, Jan Piet van den Berg of the Dutch Mennonite Peace Group and J. Robert Charles, serving with Mennonite Board of Missions at the Brussels Mennonite Center, circulated a twelve-page NATO Watch newsletter, identified as an "occasional publication" of the European Mennonite Peace Committee. (7) The original mailing list of 150 persons included Mennonite peace group members, participants in the Church and Peace network, recent Quaker Council seminar visitors to NATO and officials who had briefed the group, and various peace activists. …

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