Trident Ploughshares

(2001, UK)

...for providing a practical model of principled, transparent and non-violent direct action dedicated to ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

About

Trident Ploughshares (TP) is a non-violent, direct campaign aiming at disarming the UK Trident nuclear weapons system. It starts from the premise that this system is not only immoral, but also illegal. Officially founded in 1998, it requested not just the immediate removal of British Trident submarines, but also that Britain and its NATO allies worked together to free Europe from all the tactical nuclear weapons on its territory.

Contact Details

TRIDENT PLOUGHSHARES
42-46 Bethel Street
Norwich
Norfolk NR 2 1 NR
UK

Website

Biography

The UK has four nuclear submarines (as of 2011), each carrying up to 16 missiles, each with 3 nuclear bombs; that is 48 warheads, each of which can be sent to a different target. Each warhead has an explosive power of up to 100 kilotons, the equivalent of 100,000 tons of conventional high explosive. This is 8 times the power of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. The submarines are based at Faslane, near Glasgow, in Scotland and there is one Trident submarine on patrol at all times.

Trident Ploughshares (TP) is a campaign to disarm the UK Trident nuclear weapons system in a non-violent, open, peaceful and fully accountable manner. It began in 1997 when peace activist Angie Zelter wrote to 100 people in 15 countries, inviting them to participate. In 2011, TP had 103 signed up active members organised into small affinity groups. In addition, there are many supporters who get involved with direct action, who help with legal support, care for those arrested or in prison, work with press relations, and so on.

TP was officially launched in 1998, shortly after its representatives had written an open letter to the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, setting out their "nine requests" for the controlled disarmament of British nuclear forces. These requests included:

  • that the British Trident submarine system be immediately taken off 24-hour patrols;
  • that all British nuclear warheads be removed from their delivery systems and stored separately;
  • that Britain should work with its NATO allies for the withdrawal of all tactical nuclear weapons from Europe;
  • that the government should commit itself to a timetable for the decommissioning of British nuclear weapons as fast as is feasible and safe, with a target date for completion of 2010 at the latest.
The Prime Minister was told that if a substantial portion of these requests were met, TP would stop its disarmament actions. Otherwise, it would feel bound to pursue its non-violent direct action.

The campaign held its first mass action in August 1998 and at varying times since then. In February 1999, two women campaigners managed to board a nuclear submarine and caused damage to its testing equipment. Then in June 1999, three women campaigners succeeded in putting a Trident-related research laboratory out of action. By 2009, TP actions had led to over 2240 arrests, 520 trials and 2197 days in prison.

An important argument of TP is that the UK is not only acting immorally in its policy on nuclear weapons, but also illegally. The grounds for the latter opinion are:

  • The Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of July 8th, 1996 "that confirmed the general illegality of modern weapons and concluded that States are under an obligation to bring to a conclusion negotiations on nuclear disarmament in all its aspects".
  • The failure of the British Government to implement Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which promised nuclear disarmament by the nuclear powers.

In a number of cases these arguments have been accepted by British judges and juries. In one case the judge stated: "I have to conclude that the [defendants] were justified in thinking that Great Britain in the use of Trident ... could be construed as a threat and as such is an infringement of international and customary law... I have heard nothing which would make it seem to me that the accused acted with criminal intent."

More recently Angie Zelter and many Trident Ploughshares activists organised and took part in Faslane 365 which was a whole year of blockades at Faslane and which helped in the process of getting an anti-nuclear government elected in the Scottish Parliament.

There is an ongoing process of providing the tool of international law to help the Scottish Government rid itself of nuclear weapons in the face of UK intransigence. The direct action of Trident Ploughshares has mainly shifted to England with actions at Aldermaston (the bomb making factory in Berkshire) to try to stop the renewing and modernisation of Trident which would be in breach of Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Speeches

Acceptance Speech by Angie Zelter

December 7th, 2001

PEOPLE'S DISARMAMENT

Our planet is dying - both spiritually and physically. Fear, aggression and greed, narrow-minded national interests and immature dominance and control over others is a common theme in most countries. However, there are more and more people who define themselves as global citizens, who know that life is intimately interconnected, and that we can never be fully human whilst others continue to suffer, and who know that love, justice and nonviolence is the very essence of life. And what gives me hope is the very many different ways in which ordinary people are taking responsibility. They are creating the changes needed to pass beyond war and injustice, control and dominance and towards a free, just, loving, and diverse world.

I would like to share with you just one small part of this web of life and summarise our story of People's Disarmament. 

I come from a nuclear weapon state, where many of us have decided that, as a first step to ending war and encouraging nonviolent conflict resolution, we need to engage in the nuclear disarmament process ourselves - on a very practical level. We cannot wait for our state to disarm. We therefore started a campaign, called Trident Ploughshares, based upon international law which challenges the legitimacy of the UK Nuclear Forces. 

The UK nuclear weapon system consists of four Trident submarines, each of which has 48 100 kiloton warheads - that is 192 independently targetable nuclear bombs - each 8 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. The use of even one of these warheads would be illegal because it is too powerful and indiscriminate to be capable of being used without violating international humanitarian law. When any envisaged use of force is unlawful then any stated readiness to use such force is a prohibited threat. The UK Trident system is deployed under a policy of  "stated readiness to use" - that is what a "credible minimum deterrence" means. 

The 7 other nuclear weapon states are also committing crimes against peace which undermine the international legal system. The non-nuclear weapon states seem unable to join together effectively to confront the powerful states and so we are entering a new arms race in space as international law unravels before our eyes.

We have all learnt by now that if we want nuclear disarmament then it is no good waiting for our Governments to do it. They have signed many international treaties and agreements promising to disarm their nuclear weapons - the most recent being at the Review Conference of the Non Proliferation Treaty last year. But what do these promises mean when at the very same time they are researching the successors to the Trident nuclear weapons system, are backing the USA in its Star Wars and National Missile Defence systems and continuing to say that they rely upon nuclear deterrence?

The Government's promises to disarm their nuclear weapons are useless, just as a Trident Ploughshares activist painted on the side of a Trident submarine last April. If we want nuclear disarmament then we, the people, have to take on this responsibility ourselves. This is what People's Disarmament is all about. This is why we started Trident Ploughshares, and this is why we work together with the wider peace movement that has been struggling for over 50 years now to rid the world of these monstrous killing machines. 

In 1998, Trident Ploughshares issued a direct challenge to Prime Minister Tony Blair to implement international law by disarming all British nuclear weapons or that the campaign's members would do it. We have organised people to make a personal pledge to disarm the nuclear weapon system themselves and have stated that we will continue with this task until the government takes over the disarmament work and fulfils its promise of complete nuclear disarmament.

Our dedication to peaceful acts of practical disarmament is based on international law and the basic human right to life. People from many different nations come together as 'global citizens' and begin the task of peacefully dismantling the nuclear system. This is not violent, or criminal damage, or vandalism, or a breach of the peace but practical and lawful 'people's disarmament'.

Of course, the UK Government and its institutions do not see it this way. Since Trident Ploughshares began in August 1998 - there have been over 1500 arrests, mainly at the blockades and disarmament camps at Coulport and Faslane. There have been over 220 trials completed and over 1400 days have been spent in prison, not including the days in police custody. And the vast bulk of the fines so far imposed remain unpaid as a matter of principle, leading to bailiffs confiscating property and to the threat of more prison sentences.

The people, engaged in practical nuclear disarmament, are bringing a breath of fresh air into the antiquated legal systems, bluntly naming nuclear weapons as terroristic murder machines and stating that the law is not worthy of any respect if it refuses to outlaw state-blackmail and mass-destruction. The district court at Helensburgh in Scotland is the scene of an inspiring historical peoples confrontation with the evil of a nuclear weapon state. The potential for change in the UK is immense as more and more people discover they are prepared to stand up for their beliefs and say clearly and loudly No to nuclear weapons, Yes to non-violent conflict resolution.

Trident Ploughshares currently have 158 'global citizens' from 14 different countries who have Pledged to Prevent Nuclear Crime and have taken part in a two-day workshop on nonviolence. Having citizens from other countries joining in our disarmament work with us, appearing in the courts and spending time in our prisons, has been much harder for the authorities to deal with. The Government and the Courts like to pretend that British nuclear weapons are purely a British affair but they find this position untenable when foreigners appear in court to explain why they feel threatened by Britain and why they are joining with many other nationalities as "global citizens" and why they have pledged to peacefully disarm British Trident. I am talking here of fully pledged members of TP. But of course we have several thousand active supporters and of these there are quite large groups from Ireland, Belgium and Holland, who come over and join our blockades.

We make sure our plans, motivations and organisational structures are open to the public, the government and military. We have a freely-accessible web-site which contains all our materials including our Tri-Denting It Handbook and our letters to and from the Government. We continually ask the UK government a question they have never been able to answer, "How can a 100 kiloton nuclear warhead ever be used in a way that can distinguish between a military target and innocent civilians?"

We encourage Parliamentarians to sign our Petition of Support, which around 80 have now done. They help get answers to our letters, ask questions for us in their various parliaments and are now beginning to join us in our disarmament actions. At the last mass blockade we organised at Faslane in October, when over a thousand people joined in, there were Members of the Scottish, UK and European Parliaments arrested for peacefully blockading the base. We have also been joined in past blockades by over 30 Scottish Church Ministers and a respected senior Scottish criminal lawyer. They sat with us and were arrested for "breach of the peace". Tommy Sheridan, MSP, was recently acquitted on this charge in yet another court victory. The Crown will undoubtedly appeal which may mean another approach to the European Court. But such follow-through is essential in any campaign and gives us more opportunity to challenge the twisted logic of "nuclear terrorism".

This kind of support, along with that given by well-known authors, actors, and many hundreds of individuals, shows a wide spectrum of support which prevents the pledgers from being easily marginalised. 

We work in this safe, open and accountable manner because we want our methods for opposing Trident to be consistent with our vision of what we would like to see in its place. We see our method as part of a process of good conflict resolution. We do not want to have to do this work but hope to persuade our state to do it for us. Therefore, we keep them fully briefed and keep open to dialogue and negotiation. In the longer term we see our method of disarmament as being an experiment in forming sustainable networks of "nonviolent resistance to oppression" and hope that these will eventually replace military force all over the globe.

All Trident Ploughshares Pledgers must be in affinity groups and agree to the safety and nonviolence ground-rules but thereafter they work as autonomously as they wish. They have chosen various kinds of disarmament actions which have ranged from blockades, to fence-cutting, to swimming onto the submarines and destroying equipment, to dismantling a research lab, disabling military vehicles, to painting War Crime Warnings on military equipment and handing out leaflets to military base workers urging them to "Refuse to be a War Criminal". The majority of these disarmament actions involve people in blockades and fence cutting and have caused minimal damage for maximum court-clogging disruption. 

However, there have also been at least nine attempts at substantial disarmament damage in the last 18 months, with three groups managing to complete their actions causing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage and delaying the operation of the Trident related equipment. For instance, Susan and Martin, in November 2000, cut through security fencing at Wittering, broke into a hangar and damaged one of the nuclear convoy vehicles, making it unfit to transport nuclear warheads up to Faslane. We call all of this damage "disarmament" and "nuclear crime prevention". 

Our actions are leading to many hundreds of trials. Every trial is important because each one confronts the state and the legal system where they are most vulnerable - on a major law and order issue. This is why our campaign is causing such political and legal ripples. Traditionally the law has been used against the "people" rather than the "state" - predominantly against the poor and disadvantaged. Yet now, the people have turned this around and have openly challenged the whole legal basis, and thus legitimacy, of the Armed Forces - one of the pillars of the State. They are demanding a people-centred law not a state or corporation-centred law.

Our practical people's disarmament campaign has led to some spectacular actions that are challenging the whole legal system. To take just a couple of examples: In February 1999 two women swam into the docks at Barrow, climbed aboard "Vengeance" and dismantled testing equipment on the conning tower. This action delayed, by several months, the departure of "Vengeance" to the USA to collect its missiles. After three re-trials over two and a half years, the women eventually had their charges dropped because successive juries could not make up their minds whether their openly acknowledged action was criminal or was in fact justifiable as the women had argued. 

Then in June of the same year three of us disarmed a research barge called "Maytime" that maintains the "invisibility" of Trident under the oceans. We emptied the whole laboratory, by throwing everything into Loch Goil - the computers and monitoring and testing equipment - and then we smashed the control boxes for the model submarines and cut the electricity supplies to various other Trident research equipment. After five months in prison we explained that we were entitled to do this under international law.

Our acquittal at Greenock Sheriff's Court by direction of a brave and humane Sheriff, called Margaret Gimblett, caused a political and legal furore that led to the Lord Advocate asking the High Court to examine some of the international law issues around Trident in an attempt to prevent any other judges from acquitting in the future. The legal debate continues after an appalling opinion by the High Court that incorrectly stated that international law only applies in a time of war and implied that the ongoing bombing of Iraq was not a "war". 

While lawyers will no doubt continue to argue the rights and wrongs of the Scottish legal system denying the very foundation of the humanitarian law that came out of the War Crime Tribunals at Nuremberg and Tokyo, we, as ordinary citizens, are not letting the High Court undermine us. We continue to challenge this abuse and distortion of the law, that tries to protect an outdated and corrupt nuclear weapon system. We are attempting to reclaim the law through the common sense and simple morality of ordinary people who have no difficulty in recognising the simple fact that mass murder is a crime. We have filed an appeal at the European Court of Human Rights and continue with our disarmament actions in the faith that all tyrannies fail eventually and that the truth does finally prevail.

Such challenges have, of course, been mounted time and time again over the last 55 years of anti-nuclear campaigning. Nuclear weapons have always been unlawful and the Shimoda case in Tokyo, in the sixties, showed very clearly that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were war crimes. However, few citizens' campaigns have used the law in such a clear, pointed and consistent manner. Trident Ploughshares has based its whole campaign on international law and has used it to de-legitimise nuclear weapons and legitimise our own actions and we have done it in a highly public and confrontational manner so it cannot be ignored. We have kept the moral arguments to the fore as well, by emphasising the links between morality and law. 

The core of our argument is very straightforward. Nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction and thus cannot be used with any precision or any pretence at righting any wrong. Their use is basically mass murder on a catastrophic scale with the potential for escalation to the use of thousands of nuclear weapons, which could put an end to all life on earth. Law is based upon ethical values and is respected in so far, and only in so far, as it conforms to common human morality. Governments, soldiers and armed forces gain their legitimacy and power from the law and thus the law is of immense importance to them. The only thing that distinguishes a soldier from a common murderer is that he has been given legal permission to do certain kinds of killing on behalf of society. This legalised killing is meant to be carefully controlled by laws - the most important of which are international humanitarian laws, which outlaw indiscriminate mass murder. The acquittals at Greenock and the two at Manchester, cleared us of criminal intent and at the same time clearly pointed out the criminal intent of the British nuclear forces.

Trident Ploughshares is based on taking power back and transforming it into processes capable of enhancing fundamental human morality. We are not ashamed but proud that our message can be understood by a five year old.

This is our message - killing is wrong. Mass killing is wrong. Threatening mass destruction is a denial of our own humanity and is suicidal. When something is wrong we have to stop it. Dismantling the machinery of destruction is thus a practical act of love that we can all join in. Please join us - together we are unstoppable.

  Pictures
 Videos

AWE Burghfield Summer Disarmament Camp

Interview with Angie Zelter

Interviews

FAQ about Trident Ploughshares

Questions asked in 2005, answered by Angie Zelter

1. How do you reconcile your work for TP and your responsibility for your family?

Responsibility for my family includes working for global peace and justice and showing (giving) an example of global citizenship. Thus I try to keep a balance between inner and outer work, close family time and "global/local" work. The two are intermingled and deeply connected. Deep personal family connections are important but are a part of my deep connection to the human family as a whole.

2. How do you ensure the safety and the transparency of your actions?

I try never to engage in any physical activity that I do not know the consequences of. I put myself imaginatively to the position of the soldiers, security guards, police or authorities or treat them like my brothers, sisters, children - as I would like to be treated, politely and with respect and love. I make sure the "authorities" are aware of who I am and what I have done. I do not hide after the action but bear responsibility for the action.

3. Imagine you would succeed in disarming the UK's nuclear weapons programme. Would like to live in a world with North Korea being the only country to own nuclear weapons?

I would work on disarming other nuclear, biological, chemical and conventional weapon systems. But I need to take prime responsibility for my own nation's nuclear weapons first.

4. Aren't you encouraging lawlessness by breaking the law?

Prevention of international war crimes is not a crime and is not breaking the law even though the courts and judicial systems are ruling otherwise. It is the police and justice system encouraging lawlessness by threaten mass destruction.

5. You have not stopped the UK having nuclear weapons - isn't your work a waste of time?

It is never a waste of time to protest against great evil. Even standing alone and saying no is better than nothing. We must keep alive our hope and strength and make it possible for more people to join in the work of people's disarmament.

6. What effect has the RLA had on your work?

It has given us international recognition; the money has helped us organise better.

The contact between laureates is beginning to become useful.

Publications

Publications and Speeches by Angie Zelter

World in Chains. Ed. by Angie Zelter. Luath Press, June 2014.

Faslane 365: A year of anti-nuclear blockades. Luath Press, Edinburgh, 2008. Read Angie Zelter's introduction (pdf).

War, Peace and Terrorism and the Public Response. Speech at a public meeting, November 4, 2003. Download (pdf) Civil Society and Global Responsibility: The Arms Trade and East Timor. International Relations, Volume 18 (1) 2004. Download (pdf) Spring in the countryside. 1st of the Occasional Reports from Angie Zelter in the West Bank. March 22, 2004. Download (pdf)

Links

Contact

Right Livelihood Award Foundation

Head office:
Stockholmsvägen 23
122 62 Enskede
Sweden

Phone: +46 (0)8 70 20 340
Fax: +46 (0)8 70 20 338

Geneva office:
Maison de la Paix
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1202 Geneva
Switzerland

Phone: +41 (0)22 555 09 55

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