Better red than dead?
Nov 26th 2009
The peacenik past of the EU's new foreign minister deserves scrutiny
Holding her past to account
IMAGINE a British Conservative politician—call her Catriona Aston—coming from obscurity to gain one of the top posts in the European Union, just as Lady (Catherine) Ashton (pictured) has emerged from the Labour ranks to be the EU’s new foreign minister. Imagine that on closer scrutiny it turns out that in the early 1980s the fictional Ms Aston worked for a cold-war think-tank called something like the “African Freedom Foundation”, which campaigned against the spread of communism in Africa. Imagine that on closer examination it turns out that this outfit enjoyed strong behind-the-scenes support from the then apartheid government in South Africa. Among its supporters and officials are unrepentant defenders of the fascist regimes in Spain and Portugal and even those who said that Nazism had been a lesser evil than communism.
It is easy to imagine what would happen. The hapless Ms Aston would be publicly disgraced and would have to resign forthwith. How could an EU representative credibly deal with the developing countries when she in the past had been a defender of a racist colonial regime? Nuance, context and balance would go out of the window. Nobody would ask if all causes supported by the former South African regime were equally evil, or if communism had maybe cost more African lives than apartheid.
Against that hypothetical background, the lack of fuss about the real life Catherine Ashton’s involvement with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the 1980s looks puzzling. Ms Ashton (as she was then) was a paid organiser for CND in the late 1970s and its treasurer from 1980-82.
It is worth remembering that CND was (and is) a legal organisation. It encompassed a wide range of views. Some supporters simply wanted Britain to get rid of its outdated and expensive “independent” nuclear deterrent. Others thought that the Reagan administration’s decision to put medium-range cruise and Pershing nuclear missiles in Europe was mistaken. Some idealists believed that a strong peace movement in Western Europe would inspire those behind the Iron Curtain to demand disarmament from their rulers too. Some were outright pacifists; others argued that nuclear weapons were so dangerous that “better red than dead” was the only rational approach.
Yet the fact remains that the Kremlin found CND and other “peace movements” useful ways of undermining the unity of NATO, weakening the West’s defence posture and stoking anti-Americanism. The ex-dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, an expert in Soviet penetration of the West, says: “the worldwide disarmament campaign in the early 1980s was covertly orchestrated from Moscow. To a substantial extent it was also funded by the Soviet bloc”.
As CND’s treasurer, Ms Ashton argued publicly for the organisation to produce audited accounts, to counter allegations of covert Soviet support. That does not convince Mr Bukovsky. CND funding, and who knew what when, may merit further investigation.
The real scandal, though, is the West’s continuing amnesia about the cold war. Given the Soviet Union’s history of mass murder, subversion, and deceit, it is astonishing that even tangential association with Soviet-backed causes in the past does not arouse the moral outrage now that is still so readily evoked by connections with the (undisputedly revolting) regime in South Africa. Most CND veterans see their peacenik days, at worst, as romantic youthful idealism. Warm-hearted but soft-headed, maybe: but better than being cold-hearted and hard-headed.
That is a shameful cop-out. Imagine a 1980s Europe where CND had triumphed, with left-wing governments in Britain and Germany scrapping NATO, surrendering to Kremlin pressure and propping up the evil empire. Her opponents complain that Lady Ashton is ineffective. As a CND organiser, that may have been a blessing.
Thursday, December 03, 2009