Randall Forsberg

Randall Forsberg


* Nuclear disarmament advocate
* During the Cold War, she launched the nuclear-freeze movement, a Soviet-inspired initiative that would have frozen Soviet nuclear and military superiority in place.
* Opposed U.S. plans to install a national missile-defense system
* Died in 2007

Randall Forsberg (born Randall Caroline Watson) was born in July 1943 in Huntsville, Alabama and grew up in Long Island, New York. After graduating with an English degree from Barnard College in 1965, she became an English teacher at a private school in Pennsylvania. In 1967 she married a Swedish student named Gunnar Forsberg and moved with him to Sweden, where she worked at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute from 1968 to 1974.

In 1974 Ms. Forsberg, who by then was divorced, relocated to Boston, Massachusetts with her five-year-old child and began studying political science (with a specialty in defense policy and arms control) at MIT, where she earned a Ph.D. in 1980.

In the 1970s Forsberg conceptualized the idea of a nuclear freeze¯a mutual and verifiable halt by both the United States and the Soviet Union on the testing, production, and deployment of all nuclear weapons. The idea gained increasing public support in the U.S. and Europe during the late Seventies and early Eighties.

In 1980 Forsberg established the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies (IDDS) in Brookline, Massachusetts and went on to serve as its executive director for the next 27 years. Also in 1980, Forsberg wrote “Call to Halt the Nuclear Arms Race,” a position paper that effectively launched the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign. At its root, this campaign was a Soviet-sponsored initiative that would have frozen the USSR’s nuclear and military superiority in place, and would have rendered the new American President, Ronald Reagan, unable to close the gap which the Soviets had opened in the post-Vietnam era. Representative Patricia Schroeder and Senator Ted Kennedy helped to promote the nuclear freeze movement in Congress.

The movement reached its apex on June 12, 1982, staging a mass march through Manhattan and then assembling more than 700,000 people in New York’s Central Park, where Forsberg was a keynote speaker. That same year, however, the movement was dealt a serious blow when a resolution urging President Reagan to negotiate a bilateral freeze with the Soviet Union failed by two votes in the House of Representatives.

In 1983 Forsberg received the so-called “genius award” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

On May 24, 1983, Forsberg participated in a “US-USSR Bilateral Exchange Conference” in Minneapolis, an event sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies. At this gathering, Forsberg advised the Soviet delegates to have their government make, for public-relations purposes, some sort of “meaningless gesture”¯such as to destroy some 250 obsolete missiles¯that would not compromise Soviet military capabilities but would serve as a useful “bargaining chip” with which to pressure the U.S. “to delay the deployment of [its own] new missiles … until November 1984, when we will elect a new government.” Reagan’s reelection in 1984, which derailed this plan, was described by Forsberg as a “shock” that left the nuclear-freeze movement “reeling.”

In 1986, Forsberg’s Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign merged with the Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy, which, according to a Senate Internal Subcommittee, had been infiltrated by Communists.

In 1988 Forsberg charged that America was “feed[ing]” Soviet “mistrust” by “deploy[ing] conventional forces” to “occup[y] the whole world outside of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union,” and by “intervening in civil wars in Third World countries, to try to make sure the non-communist side wins.” Depicting as a “great myth” the notion that the USSR wished to establish a worldwide empire, Forsberg held that the Soviets merely “want to win friends and influence people in the Third World”¯not unlike the United States. She chastised American leaders for not recognizing that “since the death of Stalin,” Soviet foreign policy had grown far “more open, more reasonable … more willing to make concessions, less reliant on military forces …” Forsberg further disputed the claim that the Soviets had been engaged in a massive military buildup; rather, she said, their activities could be characterized as nothing more ominous than “modernization” ¯ something which America likewise pursued “all the time.”

In 1989 Forsberg briefed President George H.W. Bush and cabinet officials on U.S.-Soviet arms-control issues.

In the fall of 1994, Forsberg was listed in a publication of the New Party (NP)¯a socialist political coalition¯which named more than 100 activists “who are building the NP.” Other notable names among the list of 100+ were: John Cavanagh, Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Maude Hurd, Manning Marable, Frances Fox Piven, Zach Polett, Wade Rathke, Mark Ritchie, Joel Rogers, Gloria Steinem, Cornel West, Quentin Young, and Howard Zinn.

In 1995 President Bill Clinton appointed Forsberg to the Director’s Advisory Committee of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

From the mid-1990s through the early 2000s, Forsberg criticized U.S. plans to develop and deploy a National Missile Defense system. She derided the scheme as both unnecessary (claiming that so-called “rogue states” such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea posed no serious nuclear threat to the United States) and counterproductive (warning that Russia and China would perceive the move as an existential threat).

In October 2002 Forsberg denounced U.S. Senator John Kerry‘s vote to give George W. Bush pre-approved authority to attack Iraq if the President felt that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to American national security. To protest Kerry’s vote, Forsberg in 2004 ran unsuccessfully as a write-in candidate for Kerry’s Senate seat in Massachusetts.

In 2005 Forsberg was appointed to the Anne and Bernard Spitzer chair in political science at City College of New York.

In addition to her work with IDDS, Forsberg also served as a board member for the Arms Control Association, the Journal of Peace Research, and Women’s Action for New Directions.

Over the years, Forsberg authored or edited a number of books on nuclear disarmament, including: Resources Devoted to Military Research and Development: An International Comparison (1972); The Price of Defense (1979); Peace Resource Book (1985); Cutting Conventional Forces (1989); The Arms Production Dilemma (1994);Nonproliferation Primer (1995); and Abolishing War: Culture and Institution (1998).

Forsberg died of cancer on October 19, 2007.

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