Amidst the rise of Trump and right-wing nationalism in the United States, fearful concerns about the rise of similar right-wing populist movements within Europe have inevitably intensified, particularly within the international peace movement, which remains highly cautious of the increasing dangers of global militarism and nuclear threat accompanied with Trump’s right-wing nationalism. Responding to such concerns within the international peace movement, Reiner Braun, Europe’s leading peace activist since the 1980s and co-president of the International Peace Bureau, expounded on such topics in his talk on March 7, 2017, “Nukes, Nato, and Right-Wing Nationalism,” organized by the American Friends Committee, Peace Action, and United for Peace and Justice. Urging for a general call to action and advocacy, along with a growing need for respectful diplomacy, de-militarization, and common security within international relations, Braun spoke on four separate topics surrounding such concerns: the global rise of right-wing nationalism, the west and European Union’s relationship to Russia, the role of the international peace movement, and the United Nation’s upcoming nuclear-weapons ban treaty negotiations.
As the general elections of three major European powers, France, Germany, and Italy, are forthcoming alongside the rise of Trump and the American right-wing, Braun forewarns of the possibility of similar right-wing leaders coming to power in Europe. He attributed the rise of right-wing populism as being a consequence of the ongoing “neoliberalism’s authoritarian globalism,” which has led millions of Europeans, particularly the working class to feel “useless” and ignored, much as the mostly white working class Trump-supporters of America. In consequence, such “useless” individuals begin to trust right wing and populist leaders such as Trump, giving way to greater nationalism and political extremism. Notably however, immediately after the Trump election, European polls revealed decreased support of such right-wing populist parties, as the actual brutality and ignorance of such populism was displayed through Trump. Nonetheless, Braun warns that such polls may rise in support of right-wing populism once again, as the “useless” and ignored remain agitated, keeping the spirit of right-wing nationalism and hatred alive within the European backdrop.
Drawing further parallels to the rise of nationalistic sentiments in America, Braun metaphorically describes the “castle of Europe” being already surrounded by a “wall” at the border of Turkey and the Mediterranean Sea, blocking any refuge migration from the Middle East. In fact, refugees migrating to Europe already face harsh and brutal conditions, many dying from natural causes or being killed on their journey. In 2016 alone, over 4,000 Syrian refugees died during their journey to Europe, many being affected by the harsh conditions of the European “wall.” Potentially exacerbating such harsh conditions, certain European social democrats maintain similar ideas of the “castle of Europe,” suggesting the creation of refugee camps in Africa instead.
In regards to the European Union’s antagonizing relationship with Russia, Braun has warned of the increasing danger of another global war due to the hostile conflict dynamics between Russia and the western world. Braun particularly holds responsible the increasingly expansive behavior of NATO in creating such conflict dynamics. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has only expanded eastward towards the Russian border, despite the 1990 Paris Charter calling for a “common house of Europe” in which common interests would be diplomatically understood for an era of peace and cooperation. Instead, even as Russia began to revive itself as a superpower and sought acceptance into the international arena, the western powers failed to achieve common security, insisting that Russia was still only a “regional power” with little influence.
Moreover, NATO and the western powers hold even more unreasonable misconceptions of Russia, which create great difficulty in confronting the hostile relationship. In fact, it seems that NATO almost absurdly fears a Russian attack on the west, as Braun mentions a few figures revealing the actual military power positions between Russia and NATO. While NATO’s budget is around $800 billion a year, Russia’s military budget is $53 billion a year. A similarly large ratio exists in regards to military bases, as NATO holds 762 military bases around the globe, while Russia merely holds 3-4 military bases. Indeed, from the figures alone, it seems highly unlikely that Russia would dare attempt an attack on NATO and the western powers.
Further increasing the threat of conflict, NATO has insistently argued for a missile defense system with only “first use” capabilities at the Russian border in order to “protect Europe from Russia.” In reality, as Braun suggests, NATO has strategically placed the missile defense system in order to potentially attack Russia in the hopes that the Russian nuclear counterattack will be much weaker. Indeed, such dynamics pose a great threat to Russian national security and may easily be perceived by Russians as a strong act of aggression; Braun argues that such conflict dynamics may easily develop into larger confrontations, which may lead to reactions escalating to global war.
While no mechanism currently exists to avoid such confrontations escalating to war, Braun urges the peace movement to advocate against the use of such military dynamics and call for a move toward greater common security and understanding. Although the influence of the peace movement may reveal that “people’s power is the second superpower,” as evident by the strong support of the recent Women’s March, Braun criticizes young activists for not emphasizing the issue of militarism and the need for peace. Although events such as the Women’s March act as a good starting point for common action, Braun argues that in order for such social movements to truly prevail, it is essential to integrate the peace movement and issues of militarism with social concerns, such as racism, sexism, and climate change. Indeed, peace goes hand-in-hand with social progress, for as powers demilitarize, more attention and expenditure is spent on achieving social justice.
Similarly, in regards to the issue of nuclear weapons, Braun remains concerned that younger and more contemporary social movements do not acknowledge or place enough emphasis on the need for nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament. However, as the United Nation’s “Conference to Negotiate Ban on Nuclear Weapons” begins on March 27, 2017, Braun sees a step forward and a sign of hope for peace and progress. Even while Braun admits that negotiations may not ban nuclear weapons completely, he views the conference as an opportunity of further opening up the discussion within society, especially to the younger activists who remain seemingly unaware of the true dangers of nuclear weapons. Indeed, the negotiations offer a window to begin mobilizing and fueling the passion of the peace movement in support of a nuclear ban, helping to create a larger civil society coalition that would add greater pressure for peace.