When President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev meet in Geneva next week for the first superpower summit in six years, arms control will be high on the agenda. But the European peace movement's message of pacifism and disarmament is not likely to be heard. The reason is that the peace movement has become deeply divided and no longer completely certain of its role.
James Hinton, a leader of Britain's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, says the peace movement has been ``thrashing around'' ever since it lost its key battle on deployment of new NATO missiles on the Continent at the end of 1983. Another activist says, ``There is little agreement on how to take the campaign forward over the next few years.''
There is, however, agreement among many leaders that the movement must move quickly to broaden its field of concern and activity if it is to continue to attract Europe's left-of-center rank and file -- and keep the movement alive.
The peace movement in Europe reached a peak of visibility during the ``hot autumn'' of 1983.
More than a quarter of a million people poured out onto the streets of London; 400,000 did the same in Brussels. An estimated 1 million marched in several West German cities. Hundreds of thousands said ``no to nukes'' in Amsterdam and The Hague.
In October 1983, it was only weeks before the first of 572 new United States-built, NATO-sponsored nuclear missiles were due to be deployed in Western Europe, and the European peace movement was buoyant, growing, and full of hope.
Peace activists were confident they could prevent deployment from going ahead if only they were able to mobilized enough public pressure. They believed they were about to strike a blow for peace which would be heard in the halls of the White House and the Kremlin.
Today, however, that blow for peace has become a measure of defeat.
The best efforts of peace activists from Scandinavia to Spain failed to prevent the 1979 NATO plan for modernizing the alliance's nuclear forces from proceeding on schedule. This has been the focal point of pacifist activism for years.
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