The Forgotten Years of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1975–78

Journal article

Wittner, Lawrence S. (2003) The Forgotten Years of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1975–78, Journal of Peace Research 40 (4).

The great upsurge of anti-nuclear activism during the early 1980a is usually traced to either the dangerous Soviet—US nuclear confrontation of that era, or to NATO’s December 1979 decision to deploy cruise and Pershing II missiles in Western Europe. In reality, however, the nuclear disarmament campaign began in the preceding years. Despite two earlier waves of anti-nuclear agitation, the once-vigorous citizens’ movement for nuclear disarmament was dormant by the early 1970s. But, from 1975 to 1978, a variety of factors converged to awaken disarmament activists from their torpor, and to spark their return to anti-nuclear agitation. These included: the end of the Vietnam War, which enabled peace activists to turn their attention elsewhere; the rise of environmental concerns, especially the growing fear of nuclear power; the 1978 UN Special Session on Disarmament, which focused movement and popular attention upon the nuclear arms race; and the erosion of Soviet—US détente. Significantly, this blend of factors included a number that went beyond the reviving Soviet—US nuclear arms race of the 1970s. In this context, the nuclear disarmament movement began to emerge as a political force once again in Western Europe, North America, and the Pacific. It also showed stirrings of life in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Consequently, although the movement would grow far larger and more effective subsequently, by late 1978 it had created much of the structure that enabled it, in the early 1980s, to pose a substantial challenge to the nuclear policies of the great powers.

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