NATO on Notice

Get Rid of Illegal Nukes nonviolent direct action campaign for nuclear abolition begins; World Court opinion cited.

A new phase of anti-nuclear civil disobedience has begun.

Over the next several months, nonviolent direct action for nuclear disarmament will be defended in the courts of seven nations, as part of an international citizens' campaign to enforce last year's International Court of Justice (the World Court, or ICJ) opinion on nuclear weapons. The ICJ Advisory Opinion of July 8, 1996 declared the threat or use of nuclear weapons to be generally contrary to international humanitarian law.

Exactly one year later, NATO heads of government meeting in Madrid, including the leaders of nuclear powers France, Great Britain and the United States, were legally and publicly served a Citizens' Summons.

Delivered by an international delegation of peace activists, 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 German government has responded to the summons in writing to For Mother Earth. They deny responsibility for nuclear crimes.

The U.S.-led expansion of NATO endorsed at the Madrid summit 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 ICJ's detailed opinion.

Nuclear resisters who raise a defense based on necessity and supported by international law are often 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 pursued one legal protest option to a conclusion.

Legal documents now verify that citizens have put the nuclear powers and their NATO sycophants on notice. A stronger case for citizen action bringing global justice to local courts is now suggested, and the promised nonviolent direct action at the sites of nuclear crime has begun. But can an appeal to international law help bring about nuclear disarmament? What will really change if nukes are outlawed?

This past summer, the generous support of friends and subscribers to the Nuclear Resister, sent me to join three dozen international disarmament campaigners who marched to the gates of NATO's Madrid summit.

Donors agreed it was important for an (U.S.) American to be present, and I was alone in that role.

The plan to serve the Citizens' Summons was initiated by For Mother Earth International and the Nuclear Weapons Abolition Days network.

Support came from Abolition 2000 (a global network to eliminate nuclear weapons), and activists who brought the case of nuclear arms before the World Court. In Madrid, Paz Ahora (Peace Now) and Aedenat (an environmental group) helped with people, language, and office use, and more support came from the young men and women of the MOC - the conscientious objectors' movement (there are about 250 conscientious objectors now in Spanish prisons.)

Spanish police had denied many other applications to demonstrate near the NATO summit site. We made no such application. Instead, the media, NATO officials and the police were merely informed when the nonviolent event would take place.

On the morning of July 8, we assembled in the presence of an imposing Spanish police detachment and a number of international and local journalists at the Canillejas Metro station. Some of us donned white radiation suits, while three large, colorful banners were unfurled. The banners declared "NUCLEAR WEAPONS OFF ALERT NOW" and "NATO NUCLEAR PLANS ILLEGAL." Formal enlargements of the Citizens' Summons, each individually addressed and decorated with the flag of the recipient country and a sunflower, symbol of the Abolition 2000 movement, were displayed for the media to photograph. Journalists also interviewed many of us.

Under a cloudless sky, we were permitted to proceed on foot, accompanied by police and media, nearly two miles to within 300 yards of the modern Palacio Municipal de Congresos, the site of the summit. There, delegates signed the impressive documents, the text of which had been endorsed by more than sixty international and national peace groups from around the globe, in addition to several members of the Belgian, British, Spanish, and European Parliaments.

After persistent and gentle persuasion, NATO finally agreed to receive three representatives: George Farebrother (World Court Project - United Kingdom), Florentina Carrasco (Associacion Libre de Abogades - Spain) and Pol D'Huyvetter (For Mother Earth International - Belgium) were escorted to the steps of the conference center, where they were met by Senor Angel Sancho Ampudia, director of the Spanish NATO Summit Organizing Committee.

The peace delegation informed the official that these were not mere petitions, but copies of documents that had been legally certified by a Spanish notary. Senor Ampudia volunteered that he would personally give the documents over to NATO Secretary General Solano, and ask that they be personally delivered to the individual heads of government.

The notarized documents were also officially delivered the same day, creating documentary evidence that NATO heads of government have been duly informed that their actions regarding nuclear policy are held to be in violation of the World Court judgment. (Copies of these documents and strategy suggestions for nonviolent direct action are available from For Mother Earth International - address below.)

As expected, a change in NATO nuclear policy did not follow the Madrid meeting. In early August the Nuclear Weapons Abolition Days network requested a meeting with NATO officials at their Brussels 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."

The headquarters doors were blocked for several hours by activists and banners reading "Closed due to War Crimes preparations." A "War crimes inspection team" entered the compound to search for documents about NATO nuclear targets. Instead of arrest, the four inspectors were given a brief audience with a secretary for NATO chief Solano, before being escorted from the building. Despite the day-long blockade, no arrests were made. Return inspections are likely.

In the United States, forty-three Hiroshima Day demonstrators were arrested at Livermore nuclear weapons lab in California as they delivered an "Order to Cease and Desist Illegal Activity." A similar action in Pennsylvania at the headquarters of space war giant Lockheed-Martin resulted in nine arrests.

Three days later, to mark the 52nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, self-appointed "inspectors" and "honorary marshals of the World Court" turned up at weapons factories and military bases in Europe, Great Britain and the United States. Eviction notices were posted at such sites of nuclear crime as the United Kingdom's Aldermaston nuclear bomb factory, and the Faslane nuclear submarine base and nearby Coulport nuclear weapons bunkers in Scotland. One inspector was arrested August 10 while entering Faslane by canoe, then later while swimming around a fence into Coulport. Arrests were also made at the U.S. spy base at Menwith Hill in England, and nearby Forest Moor, from where the British Trident nuclear submarines receive their illegal orders.

Citizens inspecting for evidence of nuclear crimes were turned back by authorities at Volkel air base in the Netherlands and France's nuclear submarine base in Cherbourg. Other inspectors were arrested at bases in Germany and Belgium where U.S. nuclear weapons are stockpiled for NATO use.

Reports on these citizens' inspections are being filed with the ICJ in The Hague.

At the Nevada Test Site, twenty-seven people were arrested as they entered to inspect the site for ICJ and test ban violations. Two women who opened the site up for inspection early in the day by removing a kilometre of the fence were jailed for several days. These followed resistance actions earlier in the summer, sparked by the first "subcritical" nuclear weapons test.

Still, for many nuclear resisters, international law is a troubled, if not doomed, concept. Throughout the history of international humanitarian and war crime law, only losing war criminals are prosecuted, while the crimes of the victorious have gone unchecked. Criminals were judged at Nuremberg and Tokyo, but not in Washington, London, or Los Alamos.

Ambivalence to international law is evidenced by the fact that while nuclear resisters raise the argument almost reflexively in words and action, the defense in court is often weakly developed.

Furthermore, as technology advances and the distinction between "nuclear" and "conventional" war becomes ever less clear, an international ban on nuclear weapons may only succeed in providing public relations cover and added government support for warriors already gone post-nuclear.

United States Air Force generals envision a world free of nuclear MADness but endowed with a new generation of dominating offensive weapons: the post-nuclear guarantors of US global hegemony. The U.S. space command motto boasts that they are the "Masters of Space."

Admitting the crime or not, the Pentagon may come to accept nuclear disarmament, even by the year 2000. But it plans to leave the peace movement in a position comparable to that at the signing of the Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty and now also, with subcritical tests, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: trumped by advancing technology and rhetoric.

Attitudes, particularly illegitimate ones like global domination or mutually assured destruction, are not changed by new laws.

Nonetheless, international 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, it educates the courts and public alike for future struggle against all forms of militarism.

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. 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 neighbours can learn of the ICJ opinion, and weigh it in the verdict.

The ICJ opinion and the Citizens' Summons presented in Madrid together make a solid footing and persuasive case for a renewed campaign of civil resistance to nuclear weapons. The time has come to bring it home to our own community.

Fifteen years after millions of anti-nuclear voices shook New York's Central Park and European capitols, we must reassert our right and accept our renewed obligation to inspect the sites of nuclear crime and impede the continuing preparations for nuclear war.

Jack Cohen-Joppa

Nuclear Weapons Abolition Days Network

c/o For Mother Earth International

Lange Steenstraat 16/D, 9000 Gent, Belgium, Phone/fax +32-9-233 84 39



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:

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, Great Britain.

Phone & Fax 01323 844269


From: The Nuclear Resister, P.O. Box 43383, Tucson, AZ 85733, Email: (520)323-8697. Free sample issue on request.