31 July 2004

WMDs, right here, in East Anglia

By Rupert Read

The "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of … a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances", is a crime against peace (Nuremberg Principle VI.a).

Sixty five years ago, Nazi Germany initiated a war of aggression. Two years later, Japan did the same. Their rulers were rightly found guilty of crimes against peace at Nuremberg and elsewhere.

Fifty nine years ago, next week, the first true weapons of mass destruction dropped on the unsuspecting civilian population of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with the most appalling results. Opinions differ about whether this was a war crime, for which the American President and military should have been held criminally responsible, under the Nuremberg principles. I believe it was, but I can see the counter-arguments.

Two years ago, the British people were told that Iraq had WMDs, and that therefore we should support the Americans in their pre-emptive war against Iraq.

Given that we now know that there was no reliable intelligence that Iraq had any WMDs, what is the difference between a war of aggression and a 'pre-emptive' war?

We were seriously misled over Iraq's alleged WMDs. With 40 MPs writing to Kofi Annan, this week, calling for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to rule on the UK involvement in Iraq, this unprovoked attack on Iraq may yet be judged internationally for what is was - a war crime.

But it gets worse. Iraq had no WMDs, only lots of oil. But America and Britain DO have WMDs. Hundreds - thousands - of them. Where? All over Britain, in nuclear bases. Like the pretty village of Lakenheath, where the EDP is sold next door to an ugly American military base.

Last month, some brave friends of mine, most of them former UEA students, decided to inspect Britain's WMDs. They cut their way into Burghfield , near Aldermaston, distributing leaflets informing the base personnel of the criminality of the Trident nuclear weapons at Burghfield.

Why is Trident illegal?

The laws of war require military force to be proportionate to the objective. The use of nuclear weapons can never be justified. They cannot distinguish between civilians and military targets. The horrific effects of nuclear weapons cross borders. In 1996, the ICJ ruled that even the 'mere' threat of use of nuclear weapons would be unlawful except possibly if the very survival of the State was at stake.

The Trident weapons system threatens the rest of the world. It says, even to countries which, like Iraq, pose no threat to the survival of Britain, "You!: Damn well do as we, and our American allies, say; otherwise, you're dead." In March 2002, our Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, threatened explicitly to use nuclear weapons against Iraq.

Trident is a war crime waiting to happen - its possession without any serious attempt to negotiate it away, is illegal, for exactly the same reason that it was illegal for Hitler to plan to attack Poland, for Japan to plan to attack Pearl Harbour, and for America and Britain to plan to attack Iraq.

The UK signed the (nuclear) Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968, agreeing "in good faith" to work to cease the nuclear arms race leading to complete disarmament. That's probably the same "good faith" that Tony Bliar has shown, over Iraq's supposed WMDs! But, I hear you ask, if we do not keep our "deterrent", how will we stop the threats of 'terrorism' and of 'rogue states'?

The first step would be to stop terrorising the world, ourselves. To stop being the poodle - or rather, rottweiler - of the world's leading rogue state, a state that shows no interest whatsoever in abiding by any international agreements, be they on climate change, WMDs, or Iraq. I am referring, of course, to the USA.

It is time for, we, the citizens of Britain to say "We will not be hypocrites any longer". If we are to deny Iraq the right to hold onto its (non-existent!) WMDs, we must give up our own.

The 'Burghfield six' go on trial in September. You can go to court, listen to their powerful arguments for why they should be found 'Not Guilty'. Or: you can do as they did. If our government will not let go of its WMDs, oughtn't we to take matters into our own hands? Isn't that what our shared humanity calls us to do? If we believe in the rule of international law, mustn't we take all necessary measures to rid the world of WMDs that might one day be used - in our name?

Thanks to Maggie Charnley, Zina Zelter and Kathryn Amos for research - and inspiration - for this column.