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David Cortright, USA, Director of the Fourth Freedom Forum, has published extensively on peace and disarmament questions. From 1977 to 1988 he was executive director of SANE, the largest disarmament group in the US and from 1988 co-director of the newly merged SANE-Freeze organization. (More on: )


David Cortright,

Ronald Reagan once claimed that the western peace movements were, “all sponsored by a thing called the World Peace Council which is bought and paid for by the Soviet Union.” The President was repeating a common right-wing myth, that peace movements were controlled and manipulated from Moscow. This was not the case in the 1980’s, when both the Nuclear Freeze movement in the United States and the disarmament movements in Western Europe distanced themselves from the so-called Peace Councils and in most cases were critical of both Eastern and Western nuclear weapons. Indeed, one of the distinctive features of the peace movement in the 1980’s was its opposition to Cold War thinking and structures. We opposed militaristic thinking wherever it arose, in the East as well as the West.
Far from being influenced by Moscow, the peace movement may have exerted influence in the opposite direction. The Nuclear Freeze and European disarmament movements altered the political culture in the West in ways that made it easier for Soviet leaders to elect a reformer like Mikhail Gorbachev. The peace movements contributed several important disarmament initiatives that eventually became official Soviet policy. Ronald Reagan had it backwards. Perhaps it was the Kremlin that was influenced by the peace movement.
In awarding its 1996 Peace Prize to Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash movement of scientists, the Nobel Committee acknowledged the critical role of the East-West dialogue in helping to thaw Cold War tensions. From their beginnings in the late 1950’s, the Pugwash meetings became a valuable forum for communication and dialogue between Soviet scientists and their Western counterparts. A number of valuable initiatives on arms control and weapons verification flowed from these sessions.
One of the most influential Soviet scientists involved in this dialogue with the West was Yevgeny Velikhov, an early pioneer in computer technology and later the head of the Soviet fusion program. In the 1970s, Velikhov was asked to provide advice to the Minister of Agriculture on how computers might be used for farming. The two established a close working relationship which continued while the Minister kept rising in the Communist Party and ended up as leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev. Velikhov became his chief Science Advisor and founded the Committee of Soviet Scientists for Peace and Against the Nuclear Threat. He invited Western scientists to join with their Eastern colleagues in challenging the Star Wars strategic defense program and promoting arms control verification. It was Velikhov who proposed at a Pugwash meeting in Copenhagen in 1985 that independent Western scientific groups might play a role in verifying the Soviet nuclear testing moratorium. The proposal was later approved, and U.S. scientists subsequently visited a suspected ABM radar site in Central Asia and established an independent seismic monitoring post at the Soviet nuclear testing range in Kazakhstan. The Pugwash scientists provided a steady stream of creative ideas for tension reduction between West and East.
In the 1980’s right-wing politicians tried to claim that the Nuclear Freeze proposal was invented in Moscow. Again, the reverse was the case. The idea of a bilateral halt to the production, testing, and deployment of nuclear weapons emerged among peace activists in the United States and was later taken to the Soviet Union by a delegation of religious and peace activists. In 1979 representatives of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and other groups presented what was then called the Nuclear Moratorium proposal to Soviet officials in Moscow. The bureaucrats they met at the Soviet Foreign