British Lawmakers, Church Officials Join Anti-Nuke Demo

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

London ( - At least two British lawmakers were among some 160 protestors arrested Monday while blockading a nuclear submarine base in Scotland.

A number of Roman Catholic and Episcopalian churchmen also participated in the demonstration, staged on Valentine's Day and characterized by calls for love and peace.

Organizers released a copy of a fax received from the Scottish actor Sean Connery in Los Angeles, pledging his support for their action against the Faslane nuclear submarine base on the River Clyde, where Britain's Trident submarines are based.

Undeterred by wintry weather, protestors chained themselves together and to objects such as trucks, oil drums and fences, making it difficult for police to remove them. They managed to prevent vehicles entering or leaving the premises for just under two hours.

A union representing employees at Faslane said the protests threatened 8,000 jobs at the base.

The demonstrators said they were seeking to uphold international law, and were spurred on by a Scottish court's decision late last year to acquit three anti-nuclear campaigners who willfully caused $130,000 of damage at Faslane.

Conservatives at the time called "absurd" the court finding that the activists had not broken the law because they were acting against an illegal program. The defense had argued that an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling in 1996 made the use or threat of nuclear weapons illegal.

Judge Margaret Gimblett found the three had "an obligation in terms of international law to do whatever they could to stop the deployment and use of nuclear weapons in situations construed as a threat."

The Scottish Conservatives warned the decision was sending the wrong signal to "pacifist loonies," and Scotland's senior law officer asked the High Court to rule on whether Gimblett was right.

One of the three women acquitted last year, Angela Zelter, was among those arrested Monday.

The event was arranged by Trident Ploughshares, a coalition established to counter the Trident deterrent. A key component is the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

CND spokesman Nigel Chamberlain said that by signing up to the indefinite extension of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995, Britain obliged itself to begin the process of nuclear disarmament.

The government had failed to do so, he told, adding that while doing away with some aging, less effective warheads, the "much more accurate" and deadly warheads were in place.

Each of the three warheads on the 16 missiles carried on a Trident submarine has seven times the capacity of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, CND says.

Chamberlain dismissed the argument that anti-nuclear activists were left-wingers generally antagonistic to western democracy.

CND was a "broad church," he said, made up of many people with or without political views, who felt "very strongly" about the issue.

"Admittedly not many people are going to be of a conservative nature. But there are liberal as well as so-called left-wing people in there, and church leaders as well. I don't think it's a sustainable argument at all.

"I think it's an easy accusation to make, but without foundation. It also diverts people from the essence of what's being said."

Chamberlain said one of the lawmakers arrested, Member of the European Parliament Caroline Lucas, had said beforehand she would claim parliamentary immunity if charged.

Immunity could only be lifted by the European Parliament after a formal debate, which would give her the opportunity to argue that "disarming" Trident was legally permissible because of the ICJ ruling.

The ICJ found in 1996 that "the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law."

But the judges ruled further that the court could not "conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake."

Trident Ploughshares said in a statement Monday that Britain "could have a huge impact in pushing the whole nuclear disarmament agenda along by announcing now that it will mothball Trident, pending dismantling.

"By disarming our own nuclear weapon system we would set an important example and, without taint of hypocrisy, put ourselves in a leadership position for strengthening the non-proliferation regime and restraining states which are tempted to develop nuclear weapons."

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow