Message to Service personnel

Refuse to be a War Criminal

November 1999

The deliberate killing of innocent people is wrong. This basic principle can help us to think more clearly about nuclear weapons.

General Lee Butler, who retired in 1994 as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Strategic Command, is now calling for nuclear weapons abolition. He says, “We have yet to grasp the monstrous effects of these weapons, that the consequences of their use defy reason, transcending time and space, poisoning the earth and deforming its inhabitants.”

Judge Christopher Weeramantry, Vice President of the World Court, has said: “One wonders whether, in the light of common sense, it can be doubted that to exterminate vast numbers of the enemy population, to poison their atmosphere, to induce in them cancers, keloids and leukaemias, to cause congenital defects and mental retardation in large numbers of unborn children, to devastate their territory and render their food supply unfit for human consumption – whether acts such as these can conceivably be compatible with elementary considerations of humanity”. British Nuclear Forces are Criminal

You may be one of many people involved with British nuclear weapons – by operating them, planning for their use, designing them, or by transporting, maintaining, or guarding them. Even office workers and cleaners are part of this. You may therefore now be violating the law and also be involved in a criminal act.

The law you would break is international humanitarian law. This is about what can, and cannot, be done to people in war.

The threatened use of British Trident warheads violates the following laws:

  • Declaration of St Petersburg 1868 because there would be no minimising of incidental loss of human life and unnecessary suffering would be caused.
  • Hague Convention 1907 because unnecessary suffering would be caused and the rights of neutral nations would be violated.
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 because long-lasting radioactive contamination would interfere with innocent people’s right to life and health.
  • Geneva Conventions 1949 because protection of the wounded, sick, infirm, pregnant women, civilian hospitals and health workers would not be ensured.
  • Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions 1977 because there would be massive incidental loss of civilian life and widespread, long-term and severe damage to the environment.
  • Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty 1968 because the UK is not seriously negotiating immediate and complete nuclear disarmament.

Serious violations of these treaties and declarations are defined as criminal acts under the Nuremberg Principles 1946 which defines crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Principle VI(a) says that “participation in a common plan or conspiracy” is also criminal.

In 1996 the International Court of Justice identified the key principle of International Law: “States must never make civilians the object of attack and must consequently never use weapons that are incapable of distinguishing between civilian and military targets”.

This applies even when a state is acting in justifiable self-defence.

Trident: the Facts

Britain’s only nuclear weapons system consists of 4 Trident submarines. Each submarine carries 16 Trident II D-5 missiles. Each missile can fire at least 3 warheads which can strike separate targets. Each warhead has the explosive power of 100,000 tons of high explosive – 100 kilotons. That is 8 times the Hiroshima bomb which killed 200,000 people in 1945. It incinerated people with a temperature higher than the sun’s. Most of the victims were civilians. And then there was radiation which causes cancers and deformities for generations. People from Hiroshima still suffer from radiation effects.

Could a Trident warhead be less damaging than the Hiroshima Bomb? Could it destroy a military target, such as an airfield, without killing large numbers of civilians over a huge area?

Common sense suggests the obvious answer: No! Even one Trident warhead could never be used lawfully.

International Law Applies in Britain

In 1996 the International Court of Justice, the highest court in the world, found no realistic situation in which nuclear weapons could be used legally. Nor could any country giving evidence to the Court, including the UK. Asked, time and again, for legal justification of British nuclear policy, ministers simply state that it is legal; but they never explain how this could be.

A recent letter from the Ministry of Defence says: “… the Government is confident that Trident is consistent with international law, and that the personnel involved in its operation and support are acting entirely legally. Unless the British Courts were to decide otherwise, the civil police and Service personnel are therefore equally obliged at law to prevent access to … defence facilities”.

A British Court has decided otherwise. In September 1999 three women were put on trial at a Sheriff and jury court in Greenock, Scotland, for causing £80,000 worth of damage to Maytime, a floating laboratory and part of the Trident nuclear weapon system. Their defence was that they were preventing nuclear crime by dismantling a vital part of the Trident system themselves. After hearing evidence from several recognised experts on international law and nuclear weapons, the court acquitted them.

The Crown presented no expert witnesses to argue for the legality of Trident. We can only assume that there are no such arguments – none that a British judge and jury would believe.

Your Personal Responsibility

No one is above the law. Political and military leaders are also citizens; and all citizens have the duty to uphold the law. If a criminal act is committed then a tribunal could find that people involved in its preparation also acted criminally.

In 1945-6 the victors of World War 2 tried the Nazis at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. The rules used became the Nuremberg Principles. These were adopted by the United Nations and became part of international law.

For individuals the most important Principle says that obeying orders is no excuse for committing War Crimes or Crimes against Humanity. The individual must accept personal responsibility for his or her own actions. Everyone, military and civilian, has the legal right and civic duty to make sure that they are not involved in serious wrongdoing.

The Nuremberg Principles say we have a “moral choice”. Whatever our personal or professional responsibilities, we must think about all the innocent people who would be vaporised, maimed, or poisoned by radiation if Trident were ever launched.

Please be very careful and think seriously about your position.

The British Manual of Military Law says that “manifestly illegal” orders must be disobeyed. If you receive an order to launch a Trident missile, or to help prepare a launch, you should disregard it. Even if you are only helping in Trident’s manufacture or research, you could still be held accountable. The people who made the Zyklon B gas for the Nazi death camps were businessmen: but they were condemned to death at Nuremberg.

A basic Nuremberg Principle is personal responsibility for what you do. Because Trident’s targets are coded and therefore unknown, how can its crew be behaving responsibly? You should find out more about the law and how it applies to Trident. You could try writing to the Chief Naval Judge Advocate at The Ministry of Defence, Whitehall, London SW1A 2HB.