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Digital Archive International History Declassified

January, 1972


This document was made possible with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY)

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    This document provides an extensive analysis and critique of the balance of nuclear deterrence. Analysis includes objections to the balance of nuclear deterrence theory. This marks the first time that the IKV ever articulated such objections.
    "Interchurch Peace Council (IKV) Internal Paper, 'The Power of Europe'," January, 1972, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, International Institute for Social History, Amersterdam, Archief Interkerkelijk Vredesberaad, Notulen en Vergaderstukken 1972, Box 4.
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January 1972


THE POWER OF EUROPE (militarily and economically)

The Peace Week of 1972 highlights two questions:

Does the balance of deterrence (NATO v. Warsaw Pact) really contribute to peace in the world?

What contribution does the European Economic Community (EEC) make to the prosperity and well-being of the entire world?


In our society it is very natural to use violence or to threaten with it, either on a large or on a small scale, when people want to influence and control the behavior of our fellow men. Coercion and (threatening with) violence are very important in human relations on any level.

In the superpower relations too they try to deprive the other of all its desire to attack. Its arms must deter the adversary. This deterrence fails, when one could eliminate the other’s arms in one single surprise attack. That is why both superpowers have equipped themselves with weapons with which they can destroy the enemy, even after they have endured the worst possible atomic attack. Missiles placed in silos, submarines and airplanes perform this task.

This is what we call the balance of deterrence: both parties possess invulnerable retaliation power and they both know it.

The balance of deterrence is (like every form of power balance) connected to the system of military alliances and political spheres of influence. Smaller countries secure their security by placing themselves under the nuclear umbrella of one of the superpowers.

In the Peace Week of 1972 the Interchuch Peace Council wants to state clearly that this system of deterrence, in which people threaten each other with extinction and within which numerous human values are being sacrificed, is an immoral system.

At the same time, the IKV wants to express that it trusts and believes that the security in this world can be organized in a more humane way.

This confidence is not primarily based on human reason. Rather on deeper and further-reaching capacities granted to human beings: faith, hope and love.

It is these gifts that give humans energy and stir their imagination and ingenuity. Rational ability, of course, is indispensable to be effective on this path.

The IKV has been developing this difficult theme for several months now. This elaboration proceeds in three phases:

  1. Gathering the objections against the balance of deterrence;
  2. What vision do we have for the future of Europe?
  3. What steps could the Netherlands take to break through and overcome the situation of the balance of deterrence?  

The IKV is aware of its vulnerability while asking these questions. Not everybody will like to hear this fundamental critique on the balance of deterrence. At the same time, there is the question of the alternative. In formulating one, the IKV can use studies by others.

In this information sheet, the IKV would like to inform its permanent circle of local partners (in the meantime grown into 10,000 people) about the plans, but also to encourage to take part in IKV’s discussion about the balance of deterrence.

Before the Peace Week there will appear some new information sheets, in which one can find the state of the discussion. In the Peace Week this discussion should result in a few examples of steps that could be taken by the Netherlands.

That is what our peace action in the coming Peace Week will be aimed at.


  1. Even though we should perhaps recognize that the balance of deterrence has functioned in the period that lies behind us (impossible to prove however), however, this balance is not in the least a watertight guarantee against a big nuclear war. The most important reason why the balance of deterrence does not offer security, is the fact that underneath the atomic umbrella the power struggle between the superpowers continues without interruption.

In this struggle, the fear of a nuclear war undoubtedly has a restraining influence, but the fear of being overwhelmed in a conflict or a crisis situation certainly could be felt more strongly at a certain time than the fear of nuclear war. In that case, one of the powers will use more violence. Especially because the decision makers could always delude themselves with the thought that the other will probably yield at the last minute.

And exactly in this process there is the chance that at a certain moment one misjudges the other’s calculations and what he considers vital interests. That is why we could imagine situations in which it comes to the war everyone wanted to avoid, through a process of partial and complete miscalculations. It could have gone that way in Cuba in 1962, it could go like this in the Middle East.

  1. The balance of deterrence is strongly influenced by new technical developments. Every technological development must directly be transformed into new weapons, out of fear that the opponent will devote himself to the development of these new weapons. That is why there are uncertain periods again and again, in which the danger of war increases. The fear that the enemy technically can get the lead, gradually becomes an autonomous factor in the arms race.

QUOTATION: “Many of our military strategists and doomsayers live in a nightmare, created by themselves. Neither of both parties in the pointless nuclear arms race needs to exceed the other on all terrains. As long as each of both parties possesses an invulnerable core of strategic arms with which tremendous damage can be inflicted on the opposing party, that is sufficient, i.e. there is “sufficiency.” The rest is embellishment, luxury, unnecessary for real protection, only able to increase the fear and further armament of the opposing party and only suited to strengthen the several military sectors in the boundless exaggeration to which we have accustomed them.”

(Charles W. Yost in The Christian Science Monitor, 20 August 1971. Ch. W. Yost is a former ambassador of the United States at the United Nations Organization (UNO)).

  1. The balance of deterrence functions best and is most credible when the opponent is clearly to be imagined as a sworn enemy, one should watch out for. When this image of the enemy is not so clear anymore, it is a big challenge to keep people prepared to pay for defense. Reports about the growing power of the Soviet Union and the threatening penetration by the Soviet Union of the northern Mediterranean are used eagerly as arguments for more defense spending.

Generally, people living “under the protection of the atomic umbrella” aren’t told anything sensible on the question when this system of deterrence will end. There is apparently no prospect, only talk of a system dragging itself from crisis to crisis, and of attempts to control its most dangerous aspects.

  1. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has (sponsored by the Club of Rome) stated the following, based on computer calculations: “If the worldwide population growth is not stopped soon, industrial growth brought to a halt, the quality of food production improved, if pollution is not contained drastically and natural sources integrated in our recycling economy, then modern industrial society will collapse.” Even though there is not yet total agreement about this conclusion, the countries of Western and Eastern Europe will face some of the same problems. When they accept these as shared challenges, one will have to stop spending billions of guilders on the arms race that devours irreplaceable materials. At the same time it still turns out that it is easier to provide money for weapons than for the very necessary capital transfer from the North to the South. For social tasks in rich countries there continues to be too little money, resulting in even fewer opportunities for people with limited options.


  1. The present system means that the leading powers have gathered their smaller allies in a tight union.

The division of the world in alliances and spheres of influence may freeze the conflicts between the great powers, but at the same time enables these great powers to preserve very unfair political and economic relations within the countries in their sphere of influence.

The actions of the Soviet Union in Czechoslovakia and of the United States in South America are very clear examples.

  1. Because we belong to an alliance, we are constantly made a so-called unwanted accomplice in the misconduct of one of our allies: America in Vietnam, Portugal in Southern Africa and Greece in its own country.

In the Warsaw Pact people in Poland are ashamed of their forced complicity in the raid on Czechoslovakia.

Third World

  1. When we classify the wars fought since the Second World War in accordance with the different parts of the world, we get the following image:

EUROPE: 4 wars,  more than 6 years

ASIA: 29 wars,  more than 112 years

MIDDLE EAST: 25 wars,  more than 52 years

AMERICA: 23 wars,  more than 36 years

AFRICA 16 wars,  more than 54 years

This classification clearly indicates that the wars primarily take place in the Third World. Another feature is that by far the most wars are fought out inside one state and not between states, as was common before the Second World War.[i]

Sometimes these wars relate directly to the inevitable quest for power of the  great powers, and serve especially to demarcate spheres of influence (sometimes through direct interventions). Other wars originate in other sources, but the great powers get involved and easily end up facing each other. Because of this, the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations are powerless. The conflict between India and Pakistan has been another good example of this. Every expansion of UN power is nearly impossible in the present system.

Conflict of values

Lifestyle and perception of values of younger generations seem to correspond less and less to style and values that necessarily underlie (at least are considered to underlie) the current international system of deterrence. Out of this alienation, the result of broad societal trends, follows a polarization in parliamentary, but especially in extraparliamentary politics that, in the short or medium term, could become dangerous for our societal peace and human rights.

[i] (Cf. I Kende, ‘Twenty-five years of local war’, Journal of Peace Research JPR 1971, nr 1, 5-22.)

We can speak of war when the following features are present:

  1. The use of armed force;
  2. A certain degree of organization and an organized battle between the parties;
  3. A certain continuity in the armed conflict.


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