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New Left Review I/137, January-February 1983

Alexander Cockburn and James Ridgeway

The Freeze Movement Versus Reagan

Although of very recent origin, the ‘freeze’ movement in the United States has already stimulated the first successful rebellion against a major weapons programme in American history. Prior to December 1982, when Congress turned down Reagan’s request for the immediate manufacture of the mx missile, no modern president had ever lost a vote over an important weapons appropriation, nuclear or non-nuclear. [1] The December votes in the House and Senate did not vote down the mx programme outright. They merely held up money for the manufacture of five mx missiles until an adequate basing plan is produced by the Administration. Both the mobile system proposed by Carter and the ‘densepack’ basing mode proposed by Weinberger have now failed and it seems highly unlikely that Congress will accept as invulnerable any new proposed mode. The irony is that liberals should never have conceded the principle of silo ‘vulnerability’ in the first place. But having swept the board with absurd vulnerability scenarios and thus defeated salt ii, the hawks are now hoisted on their own petards. Their intended escape route had been anti-ballistic missiles (abms). But in the present political atmosphere it is unlikely that Reagan will push for an end to the abm Treaty. To appreciate the relative novelty of the new movement, it should be remembered that in the late 1970s it was a commonplace that the popular surge against civil nuclear power—most conspicuously expressed in the 150,000 turnout for the Washington demonstration in May 1978—was not matched by equivalent agitation about the evils of nuclear power in its military incarnation. Indeed disarmers were often shunned by anti-nuclear-power organizers as either politically compromising or kooky or both. A political context propitious for the rapid growth of a new peace movement only began to be established with the onset of the new cold war: specifically the transition phase from Carter’s midterm bellicosity to Reagan’s inauguration. If any single event was the watershed, it was the unanimous vote of the Senate Armed Services Committee in the fall of 1979 against ratification of the salt ii treaty. [2] The Armed Services Committee did not have jurisdiction over salt ii, but its opinion was obviously crucial. This was accompanied by nato’s agreement to the deployment of new ‘theatre nuclear’ weapons (the Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles) as well as Carter’s call for a 3% annual real increase in military spending.

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Alexander Cockburn, James Ridgeway, ‘The Freeze Movement Versus Reagan’, NLR I/137: £3

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