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Ideas, Homework, and Message

Charles Knight

Randall "Randy" Forsberg was best known as the creator of the Nuclear Freeze idea that blossomed into a movement in the early 1980. Randy passed away in the fall of 2007 after the recurrence of cancer that had first appeared twenty-some years earlier.

In today's political culture she would be seen as a great messenger. The idea of a "freeze" on the nuclear arms race was the right way to frame an issue for the times and, indeed, it took off as a popular movement in way that nothing had for arms control before that time.

Today it is important to remember that the Freeze did not come about as a result of a messaging exercise. Randy did not say to herself that she wished for disarmament and that the freeze might be a good way to market that dream. Rather, Randy came to the freeze idea from analysis of data. Randy was someone who believed passionately in the power of ideas when grounded in rigorous analysis of facts established by carefully assembled data.

After laboring for years over accounts of national holdings of armaments and delivery vehicles, in a sort of gestalt moment, she recognized the fact of essential parity in the arms race. Parity to her mind meant a precious moment when serious arms control measures could be pursued without one side in the Cold War exposing to the other a prolonged period of vulnerability to the other's advantage.

The moment could only be seized for the cause of disarmament if there was a "stop in place" for the arms race. Negotiations take time and an arms race 'stop' would be a necessary confidence building measure. From understanding the logic of the dynamics of the nuclear arms race, grounded as always in analysis of data, Randy came upon the notion of a Freeze.

The Freeze had its years in the '80s. Meanwhile Randy was already thinking beyond the Freeze. She moved to endorse the concepts of cooperative security and alternative defense which had been developed in Western Europe and ultimately helped end the Cold War when Gorbachev took up the core ideas in Moscow - thereby creating new opportunities for disengagement and disarmament in central Europe. Randy traveled to Moscow in those years and maintained regular contact with Gorbachev's security thinkers.

Randy wrote:

The ultimate goal of cooperative security policies is to demilitarize the international system and end large-scale conventional warfare.

Again and again she would tell all who would listen that the surest route to nuclear disarmament was through ending large-scale conventional warfare.

In 1987 she and Rob Leavitt wrote that:

Reducing the risk and fear of major conventional war is necessary in order to reduce the risk of nuclear war...

Popular attitudes continue to accept the legitimacy of using military force for purposes other than true national defense. Alternative defense policies challenge this status quo by looking to 1) end intervention, 2) de-legitimize the use of military force as a tool of international power politics, 3) increase proficiency at using nonmilitary means of resolving conflicts and crises, 4) reduce and restructure conventional forces so they are less threatening, less capable of aggression, less vulnerable to attack and more purely defensive.

In probably Randy's most ambitious engagement with ideas, her 1997 PhD thesis called "Toward a Theory of Peace: The Role of Moral Beliefs", Randy wrote:

...this essay attempts to articulate imaginable conditions under which war might end, and plausible paths - sequences of events reaching out from the present into the future - along which these conditions could be realized.

For too long, the general question of the conditions for peace has languished, leaving the field of war and peace studies to narrower issues.

Randy was a great believer in the power of ideas!!

Charles Knight is co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives at the Commonwealth Institute

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