Thirty years ago three Faslane Peace Campers eluded MOD security and boarded a UK nuclear Polaris submarine and got into the control room. Classified documents, released today under the 30 year rule and published today by the BBC and The Guardian, reveal that Margaret Thatcher scrawled on the top secret report that she was “utterly horrified” – and ordered that any similar intruders found in the high security area should be shot on sight. But the incident was not a one off.
Throughout the 1980s opposition to nuclear weapons in the UK was massive and intense, taking many forms. A CND march on London in 1983 drew some 300,000 people, with 3 million marching across Europe in opposition to US basing of Cruise and Pershing missiles at the height of the Cold War. People were terrified by what seemed to be an imminent nuclear war in the heart of Europe and outraged that the Thatcher government was welcoming US nuclear war fighting weapons. Twenty seven Peace Camps sprang up across Britain and were a focus for many acts of nonviolent direct action. The Women’s Peace Camp at Greenham Common continued until US Cruise missiles were removed. With the end of the Cold War, and the removal of Cruise and Pershing and the sense that nuclear war was no longer just about to happen at any time, opposition to nuclear weapons diminished, but nonviolent direct action against Polaris, and then Trident did not stop, especially in Scotland.
Faslane Peace Camp has held on, continuing a non stop presence of resistance just outside the Trident base for 34 years now.
And in the late 90’s Trident Ploughshares was formed, as a campaign to resist the UKs Trident nuclear weapons system with nonviolent direct action. TP activists succeeded numerous times in reaching the submarines. One campaigner swam across the Gareloch and painted Victorious, one of the four nuclear subs with the word EVIL. Two women entered the Barrow naval base where the submarines were built and hammered on the hull. And three women, Angie Zelter, Ulla Roder and Ellen Moxley boarded a research barge in Loch Goil and dropped £80,000 worth of sonar testing equipment, essential to the nuclear weapons system, into the loch. The Trident Three were acquitted in a landmark case that later went to the High Court of Scotland. None of these daring resisters were shot, as Margaret Thatcher and the MOD apparently called for. All were strictly nonviolent and accountable identifying themselves immediately as peace activists.
There have been hundreds of creative and spirited TP actions over the intervening years, including numerous Big Blockades that shut down all entrances to the Faslane and Devonport Naval Bases with over 300 people arrested in one day and thousands of arrests to date.
Resistance to the UK’s nuclear weapons is not just ancient history. It continues today and is as needed as ever, with the UK planning to replace the Trident fleet at a massive cost of £167 Billion insuring the UK continues to threaten the world with the use of nuclear weapons for 50 more years. In doing so the UK is in step with the other nuclear weapons states, the US, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and, yes, Israel, are all presently embarked on programmes to upgrade their nuclear weapons, with the US set to spend £1 Trillion on modernisation.
But these nuclear weapons possessors are out of step with the rest of the world. Just last month the 145 (of 192) countries voted at the UN to begin negotiations on a nuclear weapons ban treaty. Most countries in the world don’t rely on nuclear weapons for security and are fed up with waiting for the nuclear weapons states to complete negotiations on multilateral nuclear disarmament – a promise they made under the Non Proliferation Treaty way back in 1970.
Now, Donald Trump is poised to enter the White House and, yes, to become the man with his finger on the nuclear button. Last week, just hours after Putin warned the Russia will strengthen its nuclear forces if NATO and the US continue with plans to base destabilising missile defense systems on their borders in Eastern Europe. These systems are designed to knock Russian ballistic missiles out of the air and so would enable the US and its allies to launch a nuclear attack without fear of retaliation. Simply put that means our nuclear weapons are not just a a so-called “Deterrent” only to be used in response to an attack from Russia. That’s why Putin announced Russia will strengthen its nuclear forces. This scenario has been building quietly for several years with more former Eastern bloc countries joining NATO in an alliance that threatens Russia.
Just hours after Putin’s speech Trump tweeted that the US must “greatly strengthen its nuclear forces”. So, although Trump seems to admire Putin it looks as though a new Cold War is imminent. And that’s more worrying now than ever, because we now know that a limited exchange of just 100 of the more than 7000 nuclear weapons worldwide could lead to a “nuclear winter” that would result in global famine that would last ten years. Over two billion people would die. There would be unimaginable environmental devastation and untold numbers of cancers and birth defects for generations worldwide.
This is a risk that we must not allow governments to take. The first wave of opposition to “the Bomb” was in the 60’s with marches to Aldermaston. The second in the 80’s saw mass marches and peace camps. In the 90’s and Naugties came Trident Ploughshares with resistance to Trident.
Margaret Thatcher was “horrified” that a few ragtag peace campers breached the high security surrounding her nuclear arsenal. But the prospect of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in a new Cold War showdown with today’s arsenals of nukes terrifies us. That’s why Trident Ploughshares is calling for a new wave of resistance to Trident.
Trident Ploughshares is organising a Disarmament Camp at Coulport on the Clyde in Scotland from July 8th – 16th 2017. All peace lovers are invited to join us, to plan, and carry out multiple acts of resistance to Trident.