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The Handbook of Global Security Policy by Mary Kaldor, Iavor Rangelov

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Chapter 27 Protest and Politics: How Peace Movements Shape History

David Cortright

Movements against war and nuclear weapons have generated some of the largest social mobilizations in modern history, yet their impacts on policy change are seldom acknowledged. Social movement scholars tend to focus more on mobilization tactics and framing strategies than on the evaluation of political effectiveness. Political scientists rarely acknowledge the role of peace movements in helping to shape security policy. National leaders deny that their decisions are influenced by public pressure and often dismiss the impact of peace activism. Myopia exists even within the peace movement. Because activists rarely see their specific demands met by government officials, they sometimes fail to recognize the policy changes their actions make possible.

In this paper, I examine the largest peace movements of recent decades – the Vietnam antiwar movement, the disarmament campaigns of the 1980s, and the worldwide mobilization against war in Iraq – and trace the ways in which these movements were able to exert impact on US and international policy. Resistance to the Vietnam War limited US war-making options and ultimately forced the withdrawal of American troops. The disarmament campaigns of the 1980s resulted in a partial nuclear freeze and a ban on intermediate nuclear forces and contributed to the ending of the Cold War. Opposition to the war in Iraq produced the largest single-day social mobilization ...

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