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Key Factors That Led To Reversal of the Accelerating Acquisition of Nuclear Weapons in the Eighties Essay

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Updated: Aug 28th, 2019


The end of the 1980 marked a new beginning in world history, with insurmountable efforts getting a boost from the talk associated with the then President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. In addition, a number of campaigns against nuclear war and nuclear disarmament were in the air.

In a press conference, the European Nuclear Disarmament had just been instigated in many cities across Europe. In the Great Britain for example, the House of Commons had launched an agreement regarding the disarmament (Haralambos, 2000, 7; Wittner, 2011, p. 12).

The appeal had mounted a number of claims and courses for action, in realization that the world citizenry all over were getting into a different period and that a ‘third world’ was not possible but increasingly likely. Indeed, economic as well as social difficulties in the industrialized west, for instance, were insurmountable.

In the third world countries, apart from its usual economic problems, other sets of predicaments including militarism and civil wars were the order of the day. This was more negatively anchored in political tensions characterized by the developing world (Wittner 2011 p.4).

In Australia, a great number of people had organized themselves into mass movement groups, which held a number of demonstrations and sit-ins in favor of policies that would dissuade governments against nuclear wars.

Indeed, the year 1983 saw about 5million people demonstrating against the vice en masse, while the number of physicians advocating for social responsibilities and recruitment into SANE movement have multiplied increasingly (Wittner, 2011:4)

Twenty-five years before then, a number of blocks had demonstrated their strength in nuclear weaponry. The Warsaw grouping and the North Atlantic had all had it amply to intimidate their adversaries and interestingly, to antagonize the civil life of innocent people. Moreover, accidents had been witnessed and often times, the majority of the victims on the receiving end were non-targeted people (Wittner 2011, p.7).

At that time, therefore, no member of the superpowers could command any moral obligation to influence any country to disarmament, and so, the best way was to for them to consider civil strife.

Besides, over the preceding years, opinion polls had indicated most people of the world were pressing for nuclear disarmament within a number of military blocks. Moreover, the fact is that, it was considered that more budgets, both in the East and the West, was now allocated to weapons at the expense of other needs (Wittner, 2011, p. 14).

This paper seeks to critically examine the historical factors and developments that informed nuclear disarmaments in the 1980s. It also seeks to illuminate, in equal measure, the developments in the earlier years particularly between the years 1975 to 1978, arguably the forgotten years, as a period that laid the groundwork for reforms that were later significant in 1980s.

In this period, the paper explores significantly the major developments, as well as illuminating on less influential ones to underscore the importance of the 1970s in this endeavor (Coats, 2004, p.4).

Factors leading to Nuclear Disarmament

Revival of Nuclear Disarmament Movements in 1980s

Medeiros (2007) reckons that, the early 1980 renaissance advocating nuclear disarmament was tailored on the revolution against the United Sates of America versus the Soviet Union confrontation that was a common feature in world history at that time.

Ronald Reagan, the U.S president at the time, had advocated for stronger nuclear weaponry in the United States and was a loose talker on these issues, egoistically championing for US with string of nuclear component (Medeiros, 2007 p.77).

The Soviet Union on the other hand had waged war against the republic of Afghanistan and had commissioned use of the ‘SS-20’ missiles. Both of these factors are perceived to have created a reasonable ground for the launch of ‘anti-nuclear weapons’ campaigns and movements (Medeiros, 1990, p. 75, Coats, 2004).

The launch of appeal for European Nuclear Disbarment

The instigation of an ‘appeal for European Nuclear Disarmament’ in April 1980 is seen by historians as significant step towards the acceleration of nuclear disarmament. This launch was done in the British House of Commons by virtue of a press conference and in many cities across Europe (Wittner, 2011).

The launch particularly explored a number of issues and was an eye opener to the salient issues surrounding nuclear weaponry, both directly and indirectly.

The House of Commons read statements that had explored a number of issues advocating for this worthy cause, and the statement had received incredible number of endorsement from several quarters. Moreover, the prominent people who ratified this included among others, University Lecturers, Members of Parliament from different political affiliation, Bishops, and artists (Coats, 2004).

Among the issues addressed by the statements was that the concentration on nuclear weaponry production, budget allocation and deployment were detrimental to the welfare of the third world nations. The third world, for instance, was facing greater economic and social dilemmas, while industrial society had its share of crises, ’militarism’.

Nuclear wars were seen not only as affecting the target groups, but also civilians across the world. Moreover, it recognized public opinion displeasure of governments (Coats, 2004, p. 3-8) both in the West and the East harboring nuclear weapons, and that saturated political strains were becoming a common practice (Medeiros, 2007, p. 89-90)

It also addressed the concerns that Pope had given in his New Year’s message to faithful, besides capturing the concerns that had been laid by the then president of Sweden, Olof Palme, the President of Yugoslavia, and Lord Mountbatten among others (Coats, 2004).

Historical Developments between 1975 an 1978

During this historical epoch, several developments took place to anchor the support and campaign against nuclear weaponry. During this time, a number of organizations agitating for nuclear disarmament had been formed in North America, the Pacific, and Europe (particularly Western Europe). Additionally, other parts of the world were likewise increasingly experiencing credible amount of advocacy (Coats, 2004).

This was more compounded with the emergence of a number of civil society groups and communist groupings reconstructing their set of agenda around nuclear disbarment programs in pronouncements and by projects, including awareness-creation campaigns, lobbying and civic education, and substantially laying foundations for demonstrations and upheavals against nuclear weaponry (Haralambos, 2007, p. 35).

These organizations were seen as a replacement of the once vibrant mass nuclear disarmament organizations, which had been witnessed in 1970s.

These included ‘West Germany Struggle Against Atomic Death, Scandinavia Campaigns against nuclear weapons, Switzerland and France Movement Against Atomic Armaments, Canada, and Ghana’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Canada’s Voice of Women, as well as the USA’s Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) and Women Strike for Peace (WSP)’ (Wittner, 2003).

In fact, Wittner (2003, p.3) argues that several of these organizations “had lost ‘salt’ and forgotten their mandate because of the people were getting more concerned with the ABM treaty and the Vietnam War” (Wittner, 2003, p. 6). The writer observes, however, that, nuclear war disbarment campaign got a boost with the union of a number of reasons. This included the end of the Vietnam War.

End of Vietnam War in 1975

The end of this war saw the re-emergence of a number of peace movements. The Social activists championing peace took a moment to interrogate their agenda, given the nature of the bloody Vietnam War and came to a conclusion that the best way forward was prioritizing nuclear disarmament campaign on top of their agenda.

This was more because of the dangerous nuclear weapons that had been witnessed in the war (Coats, 2004, p. 12)

Rise of Environmental Concerns

The period 1975 saw the emergence of ecological attention associated with nuclear weapons. This was largely because a number of organizations, people, as well as governments across the world had raised the environmental perils that nuclear plants would cause or were causing. Evidently, therefore, this notion triggered activists to campaign against the nuclear plans and weapons (Coats, 2004, p. 14).

United Nations Special Session on Disarmament

Historians observe that, with the United Nations holding a session of disarmament, ‘water was more boiled’ for activism and a number of inter-governmental organizations, as individual national governments inadvertently ‘ratified’ a number of conventions to these effects (Coats, 2004, p. 12).

This was more ‘supported’ by the United Sates and Soviet Union focus, more so when the latter began ‘interventionist programmes’ in other developing countries (Barnaby, 1982, p. 189).

Developments in Western Europe

Significantly, the pronounced disarmament agitations in the Netherlands were the centre of events occurring in Western Europe at that time. The Dutch churches had established an organization, the Interchurch Peace Council (IKV) in 1976. The views of the organization was that, rather than the ‘nuclear superpowers’ retooling for disarmament, they were more concerned with arms race.

The group having this in mind instituted programmes that were disarmament focused in the year 1977. Moreover, the slogan of the campaign was adopted, “Help rid the world of nuclear weapons and Let it begin in the Netherlands” (Coats, 2004).

Even though the Netherlands was not considered the centre of nuclear weapons, scholars and thinkers alike have observed that this was a strategic move because it was not to disconcert any side, but would then provide an incredible move towards disarmament for the whole world (Nanda, 1998).

Indeed, IKV had brought together a number of key movements about 200, and even though Dutch political arena had reservations for it, many people in the Netherlands had insurmountable support for it (Coats, 2004:15).

Later in 1977, IKV participated, even though less significantly in the ‘Halt the Neutron Bomb’ Campaign movement, which was against the United States program to constructing a new weapon. This led to a demonstrating by the Dutch population in 1978 and subsequent submission of a petition to the Dutch’s National Assembly (Haralambos, 1986: 115).

Arguably, the IKV movement ignited the movements in Britain. The CND, for example, held a protest match against the Nuclear Testing commissioned by the Chinese, and thus bringing on board the attention to the dangers associated with nuclear production. The CND even more significantly got a catholic priest and activist, Monsignor Bruce Kent, who was instrumental later on in a number of fronts (Wittner, 2003, p. 16).

Notably was the remarkable progress in influencing the University Students’ minds, as well as those of the public, with its climax being the launch of a film, I1erz game, which was to be banned by the BBC.

Ultimately, however, a good number of Britons based on this had become more interested in denouncing nuclear weapons, and together with environmentalists, the call for disarmament became even more pronounced (Coats, 2004: 99).

Further, the movement CND got involved in campaigning against the neutron bomb and they got involved in the production and distribution of leaflets and participation in demonstrating against it, the climax being a petition that saw 161, 000 signatures, making the issue so major (Medeories, 1999:15).

In fact, CND became very instrumental and attracted a number of other local groups with the same objectives. Other significant developments were in Germany and the United States during this period (Coats, 2004).

Developments Elsewhere

The period in the 1970s also saw several other developments significant in laying the ground for a disarmament take off in the 80s. The people of Brazil, through parliament, made a move to inhibit the Government of Brazil to develop nuclear Weapons. In Africa and elsewhere in the Arab world, people were categorical that they did not want nuclear associated armament.

Moreover, Russia and other Communist/Socialist Nations were continually pressured by other nations and their citizenry to abandon nuclear production and proliferations. Even more important was the fact that Peace Movement Internationals were concerned and gave more emphasis to nuclear matters and persuaded a number of countries and organizations to fuel the pressure for disarmament (Wittner, 2011, p. 15).

Public Pressure in the United States

The USA government was facing a lot to pressure to forego nuclear war and armament, and this affected its armament strategic policies. The US administration had built the MX missile, which laid a foundation for forecasting a plan to swiftly modernize and extend its ICBM System (Nogami, 2006: Wittner, 2011).

This plan was however not supported by a great number of the members of Congress, especially those with democratic affiliation who were for peace and thus the project could not be funded.

In fact, mass protest against Reagan’s deployment of the Pershing 2 missiles in Western Europe made him to think twice and he had proposed of consulting with the Soviet Union Premier for the total disbandment of nuclear weapons. Later, he gave a peace pact message encouraging the Soviet to consider disarmament in 1984. (Wittner, 2011: 8)


Broadly speaking, the factors that led to nuclear disarmament in most part of the world were informed by an array of reasons. As much as the disarmament in the 1980s can be seen within the context of the happenings in 1980s, the ground of it goes back in the 1970s. The corporation between different countries certainly played a major role as far as the East and the West was concerned.

In addition, nuclear arm reduction and limitation agreements were certainly seen as the best way in shaping the political destiny of many countries. Even though research indicates it as a factor not so well considered, a number of countries including the United States, India, Russia and other members of the ’nuclear club’ saw it as a fundamental reason.

Reference List

Barnaby, F., 1982. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. NY: Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science, Inc.

Coats, K., 2004. European Nuclear Disarmament. Web.

Haralambos, A., 2000. Nuclear Disarmament in International Law. Jefferson: McFarland and Company Inc. Publishers.

Medeiros, E., 2007. Reluctant Restraint: The Evolution of China’s Nonproliferation Policies and Practices. California: Stanford Junior University.

Nanda, L., 1998. History of the Modern World. 1919-1980. New Delhi: Anmol Publications PVT.

Nogami, Y., 2006. Nuclear Disarmament Education and the Experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Journal on Science and World Affairs, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 9-17. Web.

Wittner, L., 2010. The Forgotten Years of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1975-1978. Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 40, No. 4, pp. 435-456. Web.

Wittner, L., 2003. Towards Nuclear Abolition: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament. California: Stanford University Press.

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