West European leaders have launched a campaign designed to win back popular support for deploying medium-range nuclear missiles in key NATO countries. The campaign is designed to counter the arguments of antinuclear groups who oppose the deployment.
The keynote for what promises to be a determined counterattack on the opponents of plans to equip NATO countries with cruise and Pershing II missiles was struck in Luxembourg by British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington, current chairman of the European Community Council of Ministers.
Delivering the Churchill Memorial Lecture, Lord Carrington contended that the policies of opponents of nuclear weapons in Europe would make war more likely.
In an address carefully crafted to meet the arguments of the unilateral disarmers, he insisted that a weakening of NATO's deterrent strength would tempt the Soviet Union into aggressive policies. His remarks have been warmly applauded by senior European diplomats in London and seem likely to act as a focus for efforts in other European countries to combat the antinuclear lobby.
Already his spirited defense of NATO's 1979 decision to deploy cruise and Pershing II missiles in response to the Soviet SS-20 missile buildup has struck favorable echoes in West Germany.
Bonn's defense minister, Hans Apel, declared that he and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt would step down if their Social Democratic Party decided to reverse the 1979 decision. At the same time, West German television viewers for the first time have been shown film of an SS-20 missile being launched. The film is thought to have come from US intelligence sources. Earlier, senior West German military officers saw satellite pictures of an SS-20 launching.
Publicity given to the weapon is calculated to counter the case of antinuclear protestors who say the alliance does not need to match the Soviet missile buildup. Advocates of the cruise and Pershing program are ready to concede that it will be an uphill struggle trying to convince voters in some West European countries that the SS-20 poses a threat.
This is particularly so in the Netherlands and Belgium, where the antinuclear protest is strong and governments are delicately balanced at the best of times. An opinion poll in Belgium, where parliamentary elections will be held on Nov. 8 , showed two-thirds of those questioned opposed to NATO's theater missile plans. The Netherlands is in the grip of a political crisis, and no party seeking to head a new coalition is likely to come out in support of the missile deployment program.
This means that most of the current burden of persisting with the program in the face of opposition is falling on British and West Germany. The French government is offering quiet support.
Part of the campaign to turn antinuclear arguments against their advocates consists of a new readiness to debate the case in public.
West German government ministers are saying their case is strong enough to prevail in open discussion, and that the best way to muster popular support for it is to recognize the sincerity of the doubters and attempt to persuade them by rational arguments. Lord Carrington's deputy at the British Foreign Office, Douglas Hurd, has been carrying the argument to leaders of the peace movement in broadcast discussions in Britain.
Part of the argument is to lay stress on NATO's genuine wish to open up constructive talks with the Soviet Union on arms limitation.
Many West European officials concede that part of the problem of countering the antinuclear protest in the past has been failure to take the protestor's arguments seriously and to make it plain that arms limitation is as much NATO policy as seeking to match the Soviet Union's undeniable buildup of missile power.