The Origins of the IKV's Campaign Against Nuclear Arms, 1975-77

In June 1977, protests from lawmakers, national security experts, and activists arose almost instantly in response to US plans to produce enhanced radiation weapons (neutron bombs). It was a seemingly sudden beginning to what was, in hindsight, a decade of widespread Western resistance to the nuclear arms race and NATO’s modernization plans. In truth, the eruption of resistance was less sudden than it appeared at the time.

By mid-1977, the start of the “neutron bomb” affair, a crisis of confidence had been simmering for several years in the West. Activists, politicians, and some members of the national security establishment in Western capitals increasingly questioned the traditional logic of the arms race, while NATO military planners debated the credibility of Western military capabilities and planned for their enhancement.

Dutch peace activist Mient Jan Faber’s memoir reveals that as early as 1976, he and several colleagues in the leadership of the Interchurch Peace Council (IKV) began discussions about a campaign against the nuclear arms race (launched in 1977 under the slogan: “Help rid the world of nuclear weapons, beginning with the Netherlands”).[1] The IKV, the leading Dutch organization against NATO modernization plans in the early 1980s, began to plan its campaign well before the revelations about neutron weapons in 1977 (to say nothing of NATO’s Dual Track decision of December 1979).

Faber explains how he and his colleagues became convinced in the mid-1970s that, in spite of expectations earlier in the decade, the nuclear arms race was not slowing. On the contrary, the world was becoming a more dangerous place—the threat of nuclear war was growing, not declining. 

Faber and his colleagues were not the only actors—the Dutch communist party organized the mass protests against neutron weapons in 1977–1978. Nor was the Netherlands the only country where concerns were mounting , although when compared to many Western countries, the Dutch were early comers in outspoken and organized resistance against Western policies.[2]

Furthermore, all concerns did not point in the same direction, as evidenced by the growing hardline opposition in the United States to détente and the SALT process in particular. However, the IKV strategists are important representatives of a phenomenon (the “peace movement”) that, by the late 1970s, would dominate the headlines and characterize what is often referred to as the “Euromissile Crisis.” Narrowly defined, this was a political contest between the Soviet Union and NATO, which had plans to deploy 572 intermediate nuclear missiles in Western Europe. But it was also a clash between large sections of the public (including quite a few elected representatives) and the traditional national security policy  apparatus over the rationale and direction of the nuclear arms race. NATO’s efforts to cite Soviet deployments (the SS-20) as strategic grounds for new Western deployments had little effect in appeasing the growing and increasingly disgruntled portion of the Western public opposed to nuclear weapons. Hundreds of thousands of people in several Western countries were ready to actively oppose NATO’s plans.

As a case study, the origins of the IKV campaign inform our understanding of the wider debate over nuclear weapons in the 1970s, détente and the Cold War, and a shift in thinking about the importance of nuclear weapons in international politics.[3] Protesters did need to be mobilized—demonstrations did not materialize spontaneously—and the IKV played a crucial part here.[4] However, the resonance of the IKV’s message with the public was equally important. The IKV’s mobilization after 1977 was successful because it gave voice to often unarticulated, but nonetheless sincere concerns shared by many people about the nuclear arms race.

Literature on the IKV exists primarily in Dutch, and most of it focuses on the course of events after the group launched its campaign to put the nuclear arms race in reverse, especially the period after 1979. Although several IKV leaders refer to the origins of the campaign in their memoirs, there is no systematic, archive-based treatment.[5]

The substance of popular concerns, as well as the IKV’s message, is the primary focus of this dossier—not the group’s strategy. What were the arguments used by IKV strategists, and what sources did Faber and his colleagues use? What developments in the arms race observed by the general public did they refer to; which fellow activists or critics did they reference?[6]

The IKV's archive contains many, though not all, of the materials necessary to reconstruct the origins, emergence, and uses of the group’s message. As Faber also reveals in his memoir, he and his colleagues not only read newspaper articles relating to the nuclear arms race, they also kept up with US Congressional reports and hearings on the subject. Furthermore, they collaborated closely with sympathetic academic experts in the Netherlands, several of whom formally served in IKV positions. IKV leaders eventually used this research to formulate their own positions, such as their own alternative vision to the alleged necessity of Western counter-deployments to Soviet SS-20 missiles.

IKV views on the nuclear arms race were communicated through several channels: dissemination via IKV publications, submission to newspapers and magazines in order to influence the public debate, private appeals to government officials and politicians, and IKV mobilization of constituents through its network of church communities in the Netherlands.

The genesis of the IKV message (1975–1978)  and its deployment (starting in 1977) can be traced with the help of the group’s archive, which is housed at the International Institute of Social History (IISH) in Amsterdam.[7] Inevitably, this research will touch on the group’s mobilization strategy. However, the main focus of this Research Update is on the intellectual origins of the IKV’s message, and the substance of the arguments employed once the campaign got underway in 1977.

Questions that have guided this initial foray into the archives are: To what extent is the account in Faber’s memoir an accurate description of the origins of the IKV’s campaign?

Who in the IKV leadership were influential in moving the organization toward its later campaign? Is it correct to locate the origins of the IKV campaign in 1976, or should we emphasize continuity with earlier activities? What were the sources for the IKV principals’ views on the nuclear arms race in the mid-1970s? What were the core views behind the eventual IKV campaign, and in what representative documents (internal and public) did these emerge?

Looking back to the 1977 launch of the IKV’s anti-nuclear campaign, one can find much continuity with earlier views and activities. Several documents collected from the 1972–1976 period contradict, or at least modify, the thesis of a radical change posed by Faber in winter 1976–1977. Discussions and internal papers from 1972 on point to a longer gestation period for the final 1977 campaign.


Document Appendix

Document 1—IKV Internal Paper January 1972. (IKV Archive, International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam. Notulen en Vergaderstukken 1972, Folder 4).

This internal paper was produced to recall the founding of the IKV in 1966. Furthermore, it covers its official mandate from the churches, its tasks and main goals, and the Peace Weeks it organized annually. Every year, the Peace Week had a new thematic accent, in which a clear stand was taken on a certain social or political cause. More and more, it marked the beginning of long-term actions by local IKV-branches, and for many people, it meant their first contact with peace and war issues in general. Concerning the content of these early Peace Weeks, we can see some analogies with the anti-nuclear campaign of 1977. Ideas about the immorality of the balance of deterrence and concrete steps which could break through this balance existed at least as early as 1972. These ideas partly followed from the newly formulated Christian "macro-ethics of acting correctly and creating good structures in society."[8]The IKV believed that the churches had a responsibility to solve political problems. As is evident on pages 5 and 6 of this document, this is a controversial position. It is good to keep in mind that the council’s relationship to its constituting churches became more problematic when it politicized (or became a “rebellious element”).

Document 2—IKV Internal Paper “The Power of Europe”—January 1972. (IKV Archive. Notulen en Vergaderstukken 1972, Folder 4).

The ideas for the 1972 Peace Week are set forth in this document. The balance of nuclear deterrence is explicitly and extensively analyzed and critiqued. This definition and this critique would remain dominant through the 1977 campaign. In this internal paper, objections to the balance of nuclear deterrence are explicitly articulated for the first time. In formulating these objections, the IKV used scientific and political sources, such as the writings of Charles Yost, the former United States ambassador at the United Nations. The possibility of unilateral Dutch steps to break through the balance of deterrence is also articulated for the first time in this paper. This idea would be one of the most important aspects of the later campaign. There was, in short, a certain continuity to the IKV’s thinking about the nuclear arms race. In this paper, the IKV urged its members to join the discussion about the objections to the system and plans to overcome it. This “bottom up” approach, strengthened by the founding of local branches, would be more and more characteristic of  the IKV in the coming decade, at least where it concerned the implementation of IKV activities.

Document 3—Meeting 17 April 1974,  #4: Brainstorming about IKV’s work. (IKV Archive. Secretariaat 1974–1976, Folder 42).

This report on a part of the council’s meeting gives a clear view of the internal structures, relations, and tensions of the IKV—specifically the ties between the local branches and the national umbrella organization, between the IKV and the churches, and those between the main characters inside the council. Some members of the council are outspokenly critical of the concept of the Peace Week, arguing that it should be less about “just organizing an evening” and “collecting some money” and more about “supplying concrete living models.” Others are critical of the still dominant top-down model, in which the local branches are overruled by the national council. In any case, this report shows that there are internal causes and critiques that probably contributed as much to the new campaign in 1977 as objections to the balance of nuclear deterrence. Interestingly, this discussion already takes place before Mient Jan Faber becomes the IKV’s secretary (in June 1974). In his memoir, Faber recalls the decisive discussions over the 1977 Peace Week from the brainstorming sessions of winter 1976–1977. These, he writes, led directly to the new campaign. From this 1974 document, it appears as though that which will become the anti-nuclear campaign of 1977 has a longer gestation period within the council.[9]

In June 1975, and in the following months, the IKV’s attention was particularly focused on the recently published “Memorandum on Disarmament, Security and Peace,” formulated by Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Max van der Stoel. The following documents give insight into the critiques and discussions that unfolded inside the IKV as a result of this memorandum.

Document 4—“Disarmament and Security,” CCADD—1976. (IKV Archive. Notulen en vergaderstukken 1976, Folder 12).

This English-language summary is a translation of the final section of the June 1975

Dutch government Memorandum on Disarmament, Security, and Peace. The provenance of this translation is not entirely clear, although it was likely prepared by the author of the original memorandum, i.e. the foreign ministry. .[10] Regarding the substance of the memorandum, it is clear that the government, as the representative of the status quo, has a different point of departure than the IKV. For example, the memorandum speaks of the desirability of a nonviolent and peaceful world, but then a “reality check” follows, e.g. that the “current security system, characterized by nuclear deterrence, cannot be improved by sudden and radical changes, outside the alliance.”[11] Another example: “Continuously we must weigh the risks that would be avoided by abandoning of the current system of war prevention and the risks caused by a new security system.”[12] Throughout the memorandum, one can see a government that pays lip-service to a less dangerous world but is ultimately tied to existing structures and alliances. This is contrary and highly unsatisfactory to the IKV, which reasons from a less constrained position, and questions the exact structures that bind the government.

Document 5—“A disappointing paper.” IKV’s commentary on the Memorandum on Disarmament—June 1975. (IKV Archive. Notulen en Vergaderstukken 1975, Folder 10).

This official reaction by the IKV contains a thorough critique of the government memorandum. It is not just a negative commentary: positive aspects of the memorandum are noted as well. The main part of the commentary however is quite critical. Several times, (sometimes one-sided) scientific sources are cited, such as the SIPRI-yearbook on World Armaments and Disarmament and a summary of the NIVV [Dutch Institute for Peace Issues]. This may not come as a surprise, because the commentary’s author was a political scientist, Philip Everts. At that time, Everts was director of the Institute of International Studies, affiliated with the University of Leiden, and as such he was an authority in the field of international relations and war and peace. He was a member of the council and in that capacity, very important, because he provided a lot of intellectual input in meetings and through papers. Interestingly, Faber does not mention Everts at all in his reflections on the time, but might be because he is focused more on strategy than content, as we are here.

The question is to what extent the arguments in this reaction foreshadow the arguments central in the 1977 campaign. The commentary emphasizes a range of issues: (objections to the) balance of nuclear deterrence, related subjects of MBFR,[13] denuclearized zones, no-first-use-declarations and the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and is not as singularly focused on specific steps to reverse the nuclear arms race as the later campaign. This commentary can also be seen as an example of the approach—taking one's lead from policy-making elites—explicitly rejected in 1977.

Document 6—Meeting 12 November 1975,  #5: Memorandum on Disarmament. (IKV Archive. Notulen en Vergaderstukken 1975, Folder 10).

In [this part of] the report of the IKV-meeting, it becomes clear that the fault line between policy makers and civil servants on the one hand and social activists on the other, was less rigid than is often presumed. A clear example is the secretary’s report on his meeting with a civil servant, Kok, who has declared that people at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense are interested in the IKV and Pax Christi’s so-called “small-steps-theory” (gradual disarmament through a process of small unilateral steps, to which the opponent was expected to respond with small steps of his own). Another example is the proposal to form a study group of both interested civil servants and peace activists, to formulate an alternative policy. Cooperation with other interest groups (like the NIVV), scientific institutions (like the Polemological Institute) or sympathetic political parties (like the Labour Party) is also supported by the IKV. The Polemological Institute at the University of Groningen was founded in 1962 by the jurist B.V.A. Röling, and studied the issues of war and peace from various disciplinary angles. By studying war, it wanted to contribute to an enduring peace. Ben ter Veer, IKV’s president from 1977 to 1985, was a polemologist himself.

Document 7—Letter from A.J. Meerburg to Faber—9 June 1976. (IKV Archive. Notulen en Vergaderstukken 1976, Folder 12).

This letter, from A.J. Meerburg, a diplomat stationed at the Dutch mission at the United Nations in Geneva, is another example of the blurred dividing line in the Netherlands between policy-making elites and social movements like the IKV. Faber had written this Dutch diplomat (also active on behalf of the center-left political party, Democrats ‘66) with several questions on the nuclear issues that preoccupied the IKV in this time period. This answer is not a formal letter, but mostly an exposition of personal comments and opinion. It is quite open towards the IKV and supportive of its general aims, which demonstrates how friendly relations could exist between national security professionals and activists. This is also one of the documents in which Mient Jan Faber’s prominent role becomes clear.

The following documents are all common in that they emerged in the aftermath of the 1976 Peace Week. According to Faber's memoir, dissatisfaction with the way it had been handled was a major impetus behind the design of the later anti-nuclear campaign. The first document shows that initially, the focus is not exclusively on the development of a campaign centered solely on reversing the nuclear arms race.[14]

Document 8—IKV Standpoint—2 December 1976. (IKV Archive. Notulen en Vergaderstukken 1976, Folder 12).

This “first attempt at an outline” is actually the start of a process to compose a new, general vision for the council, the first one after the Standpunt of 1972, De toekomst van Europa (The Future of Europe). Important themes other than the nuclear arms race play a role here, for example development cooperation and human rights. The balance of nuclear deterrence, SALT, MBFR and defensive deterrence are important, as they were in 1972 and 1974.

Document 9—Long term plans—5 December 1976. (IKV Archive. Notulen en Vergaderstukken 1976, Folder 12).

This document, prepared by IKV Secretary Mient Jan Faber, offers an overview of the work of the IKV shortly before most attention would be directed to launching the anti-nuclear campaign during the 1977 Peace Week. Produced at the time when, according to his memoir, the council was engaged in its brainstorm about more effective ways to campaign against the nuclear arms race, this document does not yet speak of a new campaign. Instead, the council appears to be preparing for a wide range of activities in 1977, including the formulation of a new Standpoint.

Document 10—Concept Peace Week and Peace Paper 1977—9 March 1977. (IKV Archive. Secretariaat 1977, Folder 44).

In this concept paper, prepared by IKV chairman Ben ter Veer for discussion in the 9 March meeting of the council, the shift toward a major anti-nuclear campaign, to be launched during the Peace Week later that year, takes place. The contours of the later campaign are also visible: it should be more about action instead of talking. There has to be a visual change in the direction of abolition of nuclear weapons. The unilateral step the Netherlands should make, already formulated in January 1972 (Document 2), is concretized in this document: IKV will demand “the openly announced removal of all nuclear weapons from Dutch soil.” The risks will be limited, the potential gains significant: “What would be learned then, namely that the hellhounds do not immediately break loose, that the allies will respond less panicky than is often predicted , etc. etc. can perhaps also have a beneficial effect on talks between east and west.”[15] In his memoir, Faber portrays this new strategy as the outcome of brainstorming from the previous winter. These meetings held in response to the disappointing outcome of the 1976 Peace Week are important. However, the desire to act, not just talk, already existed in 1972.

This concept paper is also the first time that the 1977 Peace Week is presented as the beginning of a longer-running (longer than one year) and more concentrated anti-nuclear campaign. Again, contacts with and support from political parties are welcomed. At the same time, it is stated that the campaign is not primarily directed at foreign policy elites, but at the population: “We want to win people over for our vision: nuclear weapons out of the Netherlands. We know exactly what we want! We also talk about the accompanying risks. We do not pretend there aren't any dangers connected to what we want. We point out that real change may not be possible without suffering, but we strongly emphasize the bigger risks of other options.”[16]

Document 11—Letter of Faber to Peter Boskma—18 March 1977. (IKV Archive. Secretariaat 1977, Folder 44).

The Twente Polemological Institute played an important role in the IKV, by providing documentation and contributing to meetings. In this letter, Faber asks Boskma to write a pamphlet for the IKV about nuclear weapons and to help think about IKV’s strategy against these weapons (i.e. the coming campaign). Although direct action is the new strategy, writing publications is identified by IKV president Ter Veer as “one of the most important tasks of the peace movement. The organization had to show in what way the system worked. Only then people would come into action.”[17]

Document 12—‘IKV Reports’ 1976/77 nr 4—June 1977. (“IKV Berichten,” collection International Institute for Social History).

This information paper, directed at the local IKV-branches, was the first time the plans of the campaign were announced to a greater audience (although it was still an internal publication). The preparation for the campaign now reached its final phase: the form and content to a large extent would remain the same.

The final document is dated after the launch of the campaign when another campaign, against the neutron bomb, had gotten underway in the Netherlands.

Document 13—Meeting 23 November 1977, #2: Study groups and announcements. (IKV Archive, Secretariaat 1977, Folder 44).

At this meeting, the IKV's response to NATO discussions about a possible introduction of the “N-bomb” [neutron bomb], predominates. For the IKV's anti-nuclear campaign, Laurens Hogebrink emphasizes the neutron bomb controversy as a major stimulus.[18] However, it is the Dutch communist party that takes the lead in opposing it in the Netherlands, complicating the charting of the IKV's approach.  Members view the issue as a first test of the IKV's new campaign against the nuclear arms race but they are pessimistic about the chances for success. The neutron bomb will probably be introduced; however, “we cannot allow ourselves to let the N-bomb arrive without having done our utmost to prevent it.”[19] A major national rally is one obvious tool. It is notable that in spite of the determination in its new anti-nuclear campaign no longer to attempt to work through national security elites,[20] IKV council members still argue that for the exact timing of a demonstration, one should rely on information from defense ministry contacts. The IKV also worries about its independence, right after the launch of its own campaign. The communist-led national campaign to “Stop the Neutron Bomb” centers on a national petition drive against the neutron weapon. Substantially, the participants of the meeting agree, there can be no objection to the petition, but as an organization the IKV decides not to endorse it. 

* The authors would like to thank Gied ten Berge, Laurens Hogebrink, and Christie Miedema for their interest in this project, and for their help. Any errors of fact or judgment remain the responsibility of the authors.

[1] Vooruitgeschoven Spionnen: Bevrijd uit de boeien van de Koude Oorlog (Utrecht: Spectrum, 2007), 24-28.

[2] See for example, Philipp Gassert, Tim Geiger, Hermann Wentker, hrsg., Zweiter Kalter Krieg und Friedensbewegung: Der NATO-Doppelbeschluss in deutsch-deutscher und internationaler Perspektive (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2011).

[3] See Francis J. Gavin, “Wrestling with Parity: The Nuclear Revolution Revisited.” In Niall Ferguson et al, eds., The Shock of the Global: The 1970s in Perspective (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 189-204, especially 198-204. See also, Mient Jan Faber, “Bevolking in Oost én West beëindigde Koude Oorlog,” de Volkskrant, November 11, 1999.

[4] Beatrice de Graaf, Over de Muur: De DDR, de Nederlandse kerken en de vredesbeweging (Amsterdam: Boom, 2004), chapter 4.

[5] For useful surveys, see I.D. Verkuil, De Grote Illusie: De Nederlandse vredesbeweging na 1945 (Utrecht: HES, 1988); Ph. P. Everts & G. Walraven, Vredesbeweging (Utrecht/Antwerp: Het Spectrum, 1984). A history of the first twenty years of the IKV's existence by one of the group's leading activists and intellectuals, Philip Everts, vetted by several other IKV leaders is: Philip Everts and Guido Walraven, eds., In actie voor een vredesklimaat: twintig jaar IKV (Amersfoort/Leuven: De Horstink, 1987). Another in-house production, containing useful interviews with several key players is: Dion van den Berg, ed. IKV 1966-2006: veertig jaar mobiliseren voor vrede (The Hague: IKV, 2006).

[6] 1977, for example, was the year in which U.S. Cold War icon, George F. Kennan, published his The Cloud of Danger.

[7] The inventory can be found on the website of the IISH:

[8] See page 2, point c of this first document.

[9] Faber, Vooruitgeschoven spionnen, 24-28.

[10] The IKV appears to have used it in contacts with the British Council on Christian Approaches to Defence and Disarmament, an organisation not unlike itself.

[11] IISH, Archive IKV, ‘Notulen en Vergaderstukken,’ Folder 10, Dutch summary of the Memorandum on Disarmament, p. 2.

[12] Ibidem, p. 5.

[13] Mutual Balanced Force Reduction talks, ongoing between East and West about the conventional balance in Europe.

[14] Consulting his own appointment book from those days, council member Laurens Hogebrink, for one, has difficulty determining exactly when the anti-nuclear campaign took center stage at the expense, for example, of the completion of a new and thematically more diverse IKV Standpoint (Standpunt--see document 8). The shift occurred somewhere between early December 1976 and early March 1977. Hogebrink communication to the authors, November 6, 2014. In their semi-official history of the IKV's first two decades, Everts and Walraven place the turning point in January, 1977, when the study group Peace and Security (Vrede en Veiligheid), which had been working on the 1977 Standpunt, proposed to concentrate on nuclear weapons problems. In actie voor een vredesklimaat, 41. On the face of it, the on-line IKV archive inventory does contain any files for this particular study group. 

[15] Document 10, p.2.

[16] Document 10, p.4.

[17] Lou Brouwers and Jaap Rodenburg, Het doel en de middelen. De strategie van de Nederlandse Vredesbeweging (Amsterdam 1983), 23.

[18] Brouwers en Rodenburg, Het doel en de middelen, 60. Hogebrink to the authors, November 6, 2014.

[19] Document 13, p. 1.

[20] See for example Document 10.