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Synthesis/Regeneration 15   (Winter 1998)


NATO on Notice: Get Rid of Illegal Nukes

by Jack Cohen-Joppa, the Nuclear Resister

A new phase of anti-nuclear civil disobedience has begun. Under the banner of Nuclear Weapons Abolition Days, activists in at least six nations have been arrested while carrying out "war crimes inspections" and "enforcement" actions at military bases and weapons plants. To justify and defend their nonviolent direct actions in court, they cite the July 8, 1996 World Court opinion that "the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict."

One year later on July 8, 1997, NATO leaders met in Madrid, where they were legally and publicly served a Citizens' Summons. The Summons declared that unless NATO leaders "take immediate action to review NATO's illegal nuclear policy" in light of the World Court decision, "we shall use all means in our power, including direct nonviolent resistance, to intervene against all preparations for nuclear war at all the places where they are carried out."

The international delegation of nuclear abolitionists who delivered the Summonses points to the fact that the controversial NATO expansion okayed at Madrid carries the threat to use nuclear weapons first against any member nation's foes, as well as a commitment to defend non-nuclear member states with nuclear weapons. With these commitments, NATO nuclear policy strikes far from even the notable loopholes in the detailed Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ or World Court).* But can an appeal to international law help bring about nuclear disarmament? What will really change if nukes are outlawed?

I was the only American among three dozen internationals who carried the Citizens' Summons to the NATO summit in Madrid. We were joined by Spanish conscientious objectors (hundreds have been imprisoned in Spain in recent years) and peace and environmental activists.

On the morning of July 8, we assembled in the presence of dozens of Spanish police and a number of international and local journalists. Wearing white radiation suits, some marchers unfurled three large, colorful banners declaring "Nuclear Weapons Off Alert Now" and "NATO Nuclear Plans Illegal." Enlargements of the Citizens' Summonses were displayed, each individually addressed and decorated with the flag of the recipient country and a sunflower, symbol of Abolition 2000, a global network to eliminate nuclear weapons.

...campaigners cite the July 8, 1996 World Court opinion that "the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict."

Under a cloudless sky, police and media accompanied our three kilometer march to the NATO summit. Once there, delegates signed the impressive documents, which were also endorsed by more than 60 international and national peace groups, plus several members of the Belgian, British, Spanish, and European Parliaments.

After persistent and gentle persuasion, three delegates were received on the steps of the conference center by Seņor Angel Sancho Ampudia, director of the Spanish NATO Summit Organizing Committee. Seņor Ampudia volunteered that he would personally give the documents to NATO Secretary General Solano, and ask that they be delivered to the individual heads of government.

Anticipating no change in NATO nuclear policy, self-appointed citizen inspectors had earlier in the day entered Volkel Air Force Base in the Netherlands to verify the deployment there of U.S. nuclear weapons for NATO use. Officials resisted the inspection and arrested the inspectors.

The international nonviolent resistance campaign accelerated in August. In Brussels, the Nuclear Weapons Abolition Days network requested a meeting with officials at NATO headquarters. Request denied, the network decided to close down the headquarters on Hiroshima Day. Pol D'Huyvetter explained:

NATO member states continue to oppose the worldwide call by, among others, the U.N. General Assembly, for starting multilateral negotiations to ban nuclear weapons. As citizens we have the obligation to act under the Nuremberg Principles to uphold international law. We have no choice but to engage in actions of civil resistance.

About 60 activists with banners reading "Closed due to War Crimes Preparations" blocked the headquarters gate for several hours. A "war crimes inspection team" cut through the fence and entered the compound in search of documents about NATO nuclear targets.

Instead of arrest, the four inspectors were briefly met by Mr. Merrill, a secretary for NATO chief Solano, before being escorted from the building. "NATO acts within the law," he told them. "If you have a problem with nuclear policy, you will have to go to the individual member States."

Also on Hiroshima Day, 43 demonstrators were arrested at Livermore nuclear weapons lab in California as they delivered an "Order to Cease and Desist Illegal Activity." In Pennsylvania, a "Notice of Violation" was posted at the headquarters of space war giant Lockheed-Martin. Nine people were cited for trespass.

Three days later, and 52 years after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, "honorary marshals of the World Court" and self-appointed "inspectors" turned up at weapons factories and military bases in Europe, Great Britain and the United States. Eviction notices were posted at Britain's Aldermaston nuclear bomb factory, and at the Faslane nuclear submarine base and nearby Coulport nuclear weapons store in Scotland.

Angie Zelter, one of the four who met with the NATO official in Belgium on Hiroshima Day, was arrested August 10 while entering Faslane by canoe, then later while swimming around a fence into Coulport. She concluded that while NATO officials know about the ICJ opinion and allegations of NATO violation, authorities at other sites of the crime do not; so abolitionists must inform them.

After 12 women sealed the gates of the U.S. spy base at Menwith Hill in England, 2 were arrested inside, prepared with bolt-cutters to terminate suspected criminal communications. Activists were also arrested at nearby Forest Moor, transmitter site for the illegal orders sent to British nuclear submarines.

Citizen inspectors were arrested at NATO nuclear bases in Belgium and Germany. Others were just turned back by authorities at Volkel AFB in the Netherlands and France's nuclear sub base at Cherbourg. In July and September, people arrested at the Nevada Test Site protested the illegality of the "subcritical" nuclear tests now underway. The seventh annual de-fence action at the European Command Center (EUCOM) in Stuttgart, September 14, resulted in 10 arrests for protesting illegal nukes commanded from and based on German soil. In the spring of 1997, EUCOM resisters were acquitted of two-year-old de-fence charges after citing the ICJ opinion.

Still, for many nuclear resisters, international law is a troubled, if not doomed, concept. The legal history is that only losing war criminals are prosecuted.

The legal history is that only losing war criminals are prosecuted.

Furthermore, as technology advances and the distinction between "nuclear" and "conventional" war becomes ever less clear, outlawing nuclear weapons may only provide good PR for warriors already gone post-nuclear. The Air Force envisions a post-nuclear arsenal of dominating space-based offensive weapons to guarantee U.S. global hegemony. The US Space Command motto boasts that they are the "Masters of Space."

A treaty banning nuclear weapons could easily leave the peace movement trumped by advancing war technology and rhetoric. Attitudes, particularly illegitimate ones like "global domination" or "mutually assured destruction," are not changed by new laws.

Nonetheless, international war crime and humanitarian law evolved as an attempt to limit the devastation of war and ensure that some remnant of society would remain to rebuild. To the extent that it provides a platform to bring humanity into the legal equation, an appeal to international law educates both the courts and the public for future struggle against all forms of militarism.

...an appeal to international law educates both the courts and the public for future struggle against all forms of militarism.

Nuclear resisters who raise a defense based on necessity and supported by international law have often been stymied. Judges routinely reject the defense, sometimes because options for legal protest remain, or because international judgment specific to nuclear arms is lacking.

The Madrid action provides documentary evidence that one legal protest option was concluded. On the day of the public action, Spanish legal authorities delivered the same Citizens' Summonses, notarized and individually addressed to each head of government. Legal documents with specific reference to international legal opinion on nuclear arms now verify that citizens have put the offending nuclear powers and their NATO sycophants on notice. (Copies of these documents and strategy suggestions for nonviolent direct action are available from For Mother Earth International-address below.)

While international law usually cuts for the powers that be, it is now a double edged sword. But to cut for nuclear abolition, that other edge must be honed. The whetstone is federal and local courts. With the weight of international legal opinion, disarmament advocates can cite a new obligation to inspect sites of nuclear crime and impede the continuing preparations for nuclear war. Laws regarding trespass, obstruction, or destruction of property should be challenged when they are used to protect nuclear crimes, so that our jury peers and neighbors can learn of the World Court opinion, and weigh it on the scales of justice.

* The ICJ Advisory Opinion on Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, including all the Separate Opinions of all the Judges, the Canberra Report and the CTBT Text and Protocol can be found at:http://www.inter.nl.net/hcc/A.Malten/docs.html

More information about the ICJ opinion is available from the World Court Project UK, (George Farebrother, UK Secretary) 67 Summerheath Rd., Hailsham, Sussex BN27 3DR, United Kingdom/Phone & Fax 01323 844269 Email: geowcpuk@gn.apc.org

Jack Cohen-Joppa is co-editor of the Nuclear Resister newsletter, a comprehensive chronicle of anti-nuclear civil resistance and peace prisoner support. The views expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the editorial position of the Nuclear Resister. The Nuclear Resister, P.O. Box 43383, Tucson, AZ 85733, Email: nukeresister@igc.org (520)323-8697. Free sample issue on request.

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