A mass nuclear Ploughshares campaign focussed on Trident-related sites in the U.K.
The TRIDENT PLOUGHSHARES campaign is part of the international peace movement that has been struggling for nuclear disarmament since the first use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki over 50 years ago. For our part in the abolition of nuclear weapons, we will endeavour to peacefully, openly and accountably disarm the British Trident nuclear weapon system. Our acts of disarmament are intended to stop ongoing criminal activity under well-recognised principles of international humanitarian law.
A Ploughshares action is one in which we make a commitment to peace and to disarmament through the nonviolent, open and accountable disabling of a war machine or system so that it can no longer harm people. Although the name comes from the Biblical prophecy to ’beat swords into ploughshares’ the movement embraces people from many different belief systems. The underlying appeal is the universal call to peace, to abolish war and to find nonviolent ways to resolve our conflicts. It recognises that war is always an abuse of power and that threats to kill are deeply immoral. Over 200 international activists have already signed the ’Trident Ploughshares Pledge To Prevent Nuclear Crime’.
We are organised into small autonomous support groups called Affinity Groups made up of between 2 and 15 people. Everyone joining the Trident Ploughshares campaign signs the Pledge to Prevent Nuclear Crime and the Nonviolence and Safety Pledge. This is a public commitment to take part in or actively support peaceful attempts to disarm the British Trident nuclear weapon system.
Dialogue and Negotiation
We first approached the British Government in March 1998 asking them to disarm the Trident submarines themselves in accordance with the many international agreements they have made. For instance, Article VI of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) states,
“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
We set up a group of independent advisors and formed a dialogue and negotiation team who outlined a series of nine feasible and verifiable steps that would commit the government to a practical process of nuclear disarmament. In addition to the British government, NATO Heads of State and Foreign Ministers have also been approached. There has, however, been no constructive reply to any of this dialogue and we have consistently been refused meetings with senior policy makers. Despite the unpromising response, this work will continue throughout the life of Trident Ploughshares. We continue the exchange of letters and are keeping the doors open for any dialogue and negotiation. We are making it clear that we would prefer the ’authorities’ to disarm Trident and that we are only making our own attempts because they continue to prevaricate.
We are also involved in negotiation with civilian and ministry of defence police. This has involved practical liaison relating to our disarmament camps and mass-actions, as well as making them aware of our philosophy and rationale, and their obligations under international law.
The authorities that we are in dialogue with are given a full and up to date list of those people who have signed the Pledge to Prevent Nuclear Crime. The list is also available on the website.. This is an important part of our commitment to openness and accountability for our actions.
Trident Ploughshares actions so far…
Trident Ploughshares was publicly launched on May 2nd 1998 in London, Edinburgh, Gothenburg, Gent and Hiroshima. The first of the open disarmament camps took place in August of that year when several hundred people attended a two week camp near to Coulport (nuclear warhead depot) and Faslane (Trident submarine base) in Scotland. There were 99 arrests for blockading the bases, cutting the fences, and trespassing into the bases by land and by water. By the end of the camp nine people from England, Scotland, Finland, the Netherlands and Australia were on remand in Scottish jails. Tens of cases were being heard in the local Helensburgh District Court.
Over the past 5 years, there have been regular disarmament camps at Coulport as well as at Aldermaston (where the nuclear bombs are made) and Devonport (where one of the Trident nuclear submarines is currently being refitted). These camps are a chance to get to know the bases, try out new tactics, and to form affinity groups. The increased security presence during the camps makes those actions that rely on an element of surprise more difficult, but it keeps the public and political pressure on the bases.
Many affinity groups have also carried out unannounced disarmament actions. They do not inform anyone of their exact plans and dates, although they explain their actions and take the legal consequences afterwards. Many Trident-related sites have been the target of such Ploughshares actions. Affinity groups may well do their follow-up actions and ’secret’ disarmament actions nearer to their homes, or if they are from abroad, at NATO sites near them.
Trident Ploughshares has also organised several mass-blockades of Faslane and Aldermaston bases, often working with other local groups. The ’Big Blockade’ of Faslane in February 2001, for example, attracted around 1000 people, and led to 385 arrests. The most recent blockade in April 2003 successfully closed all the entrances of Faslane for 5 hours, and succeeded in keeping the main entrance closed for over 8 hours.
Trident Ploughshares activists have also managed to penetrate the high security Trident area at Faslane on a number of occasions. Swimming actions have proved particularly effective, and on two occasions activists have actually managed to reach the Trident submarines in the dock at Faslane. On both occasions, activists managed to leave their mark by painting slogans on the side of the submarine.
Taking nuclear weapons to court
Since 1998, there have been a number of high-profile court-room trials which provided the opportunity for experts in International Law to explain the general illegality of all nuclear weapons. One of the most successful of these cases was the ground-breaking trial in Greenock in Scotland, in October 1999. The trial ended when Sheriff Margaret Gimblett found the ’Loch Goil Three’ (Angie Zelter, Ellen Moxley and Ulla Roder) not guilty of malicious damage to a Trident submarine testing station and uttered the immortal words: “I have heard nothing which would make it seem to me that the accused acted with such criminal intent.” By acquitting them and by recognising that international law applies to Britain’s nuclear deterrent, she opened up a huge crack in official complacency about our weapons of mass destruction.
Four of the legal points raised in this trial were subject to a ’Lord Advocates Reference’, a process by which specific legal issues can be clarified. The judgement gave a very partial and negative interpretation of international law, and ducked many of the crucial points raised in the original trial and in the LAR hearing. Lord Prosser and the other high court judges who issued the judgement showed the British establishment again closing ranks to defend its illegal nuclear policy. Immediately after the judgement, however, we renewed our commitment to the importance and validity of nonviolent direct action with actions at the gates of Faslane Naval Base and in the public gallery of the Scottish Parliament.
In May 2001, two ’Jubilee Ploughshares 2000’ activists were sentenced to time equivalent to that which they already served on remand, after being found guilty of disarming a nuclear warhead convoy lorry.
River and Sylvia were found not guilty by a jury of conspiracy to cause criminal damage after being arrested during an attempt to disarm HMS Vengeance (the latest Trident nuclear submarine) while it was still in the shipyard in Barrow. The trial of Rosie and Rachel – from the ’Aldermaston Women Trash Trident’ affinity group, who boarded and damaged HMS Vengeance, delaying it for a month in February 1999, finally had their charges dropped after a third re-trial and yet another hung-jury.
Several Trident Ploughshares activists have served time in prison as a result of non-payment of fines imposed for taking part in disarmament actions.
As well as the high profile disarmament actions, there are also very many different types of action with greater or lesser risks of imprisonment attached. There are also many active support roles that are just as important as the active disarmament roles, and each affinity group needs both.
Although many Ploughshares activists use purely moral or political defences in their court cases, and when explaining their actions, we have a very strong legal defence based on international law. This was summarised by the International Court of Justice in their Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons (issued on 8th July 1996). Several examples of such legal defences that have been through the courts have been written up and are available on the website. There is also a permanent legal support team able to support all of those appearing before the Scottish courts. A similar team exists to cover English court cases. It is stressed however, that each affinity group should be as autonomous and self-supporting as possible so that the burden of support work is shared, and the campaign does not fall apart if there are mass arrests at any stage in the future.
Even though we have a good defence in law and we believe we are upholding the law, the courts do not often agree with us. Each activist must understand that theoretically we may face possible imprisonment of up to 10 years if we are found guilty of actual criminal damage or of conspiracy to commit massive criminal damage. In theory, signing the pledge to prevent nuclear crime could be considered part of such a conspiracy. We get a great deal of moral and political strength from demonstrating just how many ordinary people are willing to make this personal sacrifice in order to disarm nuclear weapons.
Despite this risk, the sentences in the Scottish courts have so far proved to be minor. Only about 40% of people arrested are charged or taken to court. Most people who are taken to court have been admonished or given minor fines. But we cannot rely on this continuing. The English system is proving more repressive than its Scottish counterpart, although there is more likelihood of getting a jury trial (and therefore the possibility of an acquittal) than in Scotland.
Nonviolence and safety training
Before signing the Pledge to Prevent Nuclear Crime, and taking part in direct action, each affinity group takes part in a nonviolence and safety workshop. The aim is to help individuals and groups to prepare themselves emotionally, physically and legally for their actions as well as clarifying the nonviolence and safety guidelines.
A member of the Trident Ploughshares Core Group liases with each affinity group to check progress and give support. They also ensure that pledgers are responsible, and committed to nonviolence. We are dealing with extremely dangerous and radioactive nuclear weapon systems and must ensure everyone’s safety.
To support individual pledgers and affinity groups, we have produced the ’Tri-denting It Handbook- an Open Guide to Trident Ploughshares’. This handbook (now in its third edition) gives a fairly comprehensive overview of the philosophy, background and structure of Trident Ploughshares. It also contains useful chapters on nuclear weapons inventories, the legal status of Trident and tools to help affinity groups work. It includes sections on court and prison preparation, as well as practical ideas on how to disarm various parts of the Trident system. It is advisable to read this thoroughly and also to view the 16 minute video entitled ’Tri-denting the Nuclear Conspiracy – Uphold International Law’, which gives a visual tour of Faslane. The website (http://www.tridentploughshares.org) contains up to date information from the campaign, as well as the latest news of actions, court cases, and an electronic version of the Handbook.
If you are interested in taking part, please fill in the form and return it to the Trident Ploughshares office. We will help you find an affinity group, and keep you in touch with details of the forthcoming nonviolence and safety workshops. If you have a new affinity group we can arrange a workshop at a convenient time and place. If you have concerns that you want to discuss involving health or disability, then please contact Morag Balfour on 01592 770280.
Help fund Trident Ploughshares
The project is designed to be as financially self-sufficient as possible, which is why each activist is asked to donate ten pounds to an account called ’Trident Ploughshares’. This money covers the small administrative costs involved in sending out mailings, doing court and legal support, etc. Cheques can be sent to the Trident Ploughshares office. The public are also being asked to donate funds to us. Even if you decide you do not wish to take an active part we would be grateful for donations.