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From Trained Nuclear Killer to Peace Activist - the story of Commander Robert Green formerly of the British Navy

Part 4

Citizen campaigns to persuade nuclear state governments to comply with the World Court Decision

Dorothy - 25/06/03

Rob is facilitating and supporting new ways to promote peace.

Just Defence to World Court Project
The British anti-nuclear movement gave Rob a lot of media coverage. He needed support, but knew that it was useless to ask the British to give up their sense of security, which successive British governments had assured them depended upon their so-called "independent nuclear deterrent", unless there was something to put in its place. An alternative form of defence was needed - one which had no need of nuclear weapons and would not make enemies.

The idea of non-provocative defence strongly attracted Rob. He joined a pressure group called Just Defence - a title which made play on the two meanings of 'Just', only defence, and defence which is lawful. From there he was plunged into the World Court Project (WCP).

A New Zealand initiative, the WCP aimed to get the United Nations to ask the International Court of Justice, or World Court, to give its advisory opinion on the legal status of nuclear weapons. Chemical and biological weapons are banned by treaty. Nuclear weapons are not, yet nuclear weapons are worse.

This legal avenue had not been tried before, and Rob quickly saw that it could be a winner. A few months later he went to a meeting of the WCP as an observer from Just Defence and came out as Chair of the British branch of WCP.

Working outside Britain - The New Zealand Peace Foundation
In July 1991, Kate Dewes, a New Zealand peace activist and WCP pioneer, had travelled to Britain to promote the WCP. Rob attended the WCP's international launch in May 1992 in Geneva where Kate Dewes was a speaker.

In New Zealand at that time there was an inquiry into the safety of nuclear-powered warships. Kate asked Rob, with his naval connections, if he could help the anti-nuclear case. He recalled a British television programme about the banning of UK nuclear submarines from foreign port visits in case they had an accident. He sent a transcript of this programme to her. In August and September 1992 the movement organised a New Zealand speaking tour for Rob.

World Court advisory opinion
With Kate and Rob representatives on the WCP International Steering Committee, they continued to meet around the world. In 1993 Kate visited Europe to help the campaign; and they lobbied the UN in New York when the Non-Aligned Movement of 113 member states tabled a General Assembly resolution asking the World Court to clarify the law on nuclear weapons. The resolution was adopted in December 1994, and the Court gave its advisory opinion on 8 July 1996, in which it confirmed that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be illegal.

Spreading the word about the World Court Decision
Rob sees his role now as spreading the word about the World Court's decision and its implications, and to use it to help inspire new citizen campaigns to make progress towards a nuclear weapon-free world.

Rob and Kate were married in Christchurch in 1997 and in 1998 they established a Disarmament & Security Centre in their home, which is the South Island office of the NZ Peace Foundation. Rob is also working to encourage governments of the nuclear weapon states to comply with the Court's judgment. This involves promoting debate at grassroots level and discussion with decision makers: a two-level activity.

As International Chair of WCPUK, Rob is helping to develop legal support for activists who wish to challenge the nuclear strategies, particularly in NATO countries, in the domestic courts, using the Court decision as a defence. This requires careful planning. Teams of advisers have been formed in Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and the USA. In several cases there has been acknowledgement that the Court decision is relevant - an important achievement as a starting point in the legal campaign.

Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan
Work needs to be done in countries where there is a chance of making progress - like Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan.

Canada is important as a NATO member and neighbour of the USA, where grassroots consultation has achieved results. In September 1996, round table discussions were held in eighteen Canadian cities where leaders of civil society were briefed on the Court's decision and encouraged to express their feelings on the issue. These people were representatives of a complete cross-section of society - political parties, trade unions, women's organisations, Rotary and many others - not just anti- nuclear groups. They decided to advise the government to take the Court's decision very seriously and review their whole policy on nuclear weapons. This is of great importance as Canada, though not a nuclear weapon state, is a member of a nuclear-armed alliance and allows within its borders nuclear weapon-related activity such as the mining and refining of uranium. In April 1999, in response to a report by Canada's Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, the government of Canada requested NATO to review its nuclear policy.

Trident Ploughshares - a citizen campaign
In 1999, the UK government came under pressure from the Trident Ploughshares non-violent direct action campaign to symbolically "disarm" the British Trident submarine force by disrupting activities at the submarine bases and nuclear weapon storage and refurbishment establishments. Inspired by US actions invoking the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah (2:4) and Micah (4:3) to "beat swords into ploughshares", the leading Trident Ploughshares spokeswoman Angie Zelter decided to act after seeing that the UK government had rejected the World Court Opinion.

The campaign's argument is simply that nuclear weapons eight times as destructive as the one which devastated Hiroshima could never be used lawfully, so their threatened use must also be illegal. Campaigners are deliberately attempting to be arrested in order to argue in court that they are upholding the law - and they are prepared to be imprisoned for doing so. They are gaining support among legislators and church leaders, particularly in Scotland, where the Faslane naval base on the River Clyde is home to the Trident submarine force. As with the campaigns to ban slavery and landmines, and to establish an International Criminal Court, it is tapping into a deep and growing awareness that it is on the right side of morality, commonsense, the law and public opinion. Also, for the first time, the Nuremberg Principles are being brought to bear on the Royal Navy.

Trident Ploughshares v Scottish High Court
Rob commented on the issues under debate in the cases involving Trident Ploughshares which has achieved several acquittals in jury trials of activists in both Scotland and England.

"The most important of these so far was at Greenock Sheriff's Court on 21 October 1999, when the Sheriff instructed the jury to acquit three activists indicted for causing damage to equipment on a barge moored in Loch Goil used for minimising the underwater noise signatures of Trident submarines. Because of this serious legal challenge to UK nuclear policy, the top Scottish law official, the Lord Advocate, requested the Scottish High Court in Edinburgh to rule on various points of law arising in the case, in a clear attempt to prevent other judges from following this dangerous precedent. During nine days of hearings, Angie Zelter was able to make detailed submissions on the specifics of UK Trident and international law - which the UK government and courts would rather have avoided. In so doing, Zelter became the first ordinary citizen to address the Scottish Law Lords directly in such a hearing.

"On 30 March 2001, under what is called a Lord Advocate's Reference, the Scottish High Court issued its findings. It found that the Sheriff had been wrong on the law; the deployment of UK Trident under the policy of nuclear deterrence was not unlawful, and that the defendants' actions were not justified under the doctrine of necessity or under international law. In so doing, the High Court surprisingly assumed the following facts about UK Trident nuclear warheads:

  • The warheads are '100 to 120 kilotons each, approximately eight or ten times larger than the weapons used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki'.

  • The blast, heat and radioactive effects of detonation of such a warhead would be extreme, with 'inevitably uncontainable radioactive effects, in terms of both space and time'.

  • '(T)he damage done, and the suffering caused, could not be other than indiscriminate'.

  • It was not possible to use the weapons 'in restricted ways, defensively or tactically" or to direct them 'only against specific types of targets'.

  • It was not possible to use the weapons in such a way as 'to remove this element of being indiscriminate in the suffering and damage which they would cause'.

  • The weapons would be 'inevitably indiscriminate as between military personnel and civilians who could not be excluded from the uncontainable effects'.

  • Even if much smaller warheads were used (and the possibility of this was not accepted in the context of the UK's deployment of Trident) 'one was still dealing with weapons of mass destruction, with uncontainable consequences'.

  • The foregoing effects would be 'inevitable and indiscriminate'.

"As to UK nuclear policy and intentions, the Court assumed the following:

  • The Government's actual willingness and intention to use Trident nuclear weapons

  • '(T)he familiar facts of deterrence and also statements in various forms from high Government sources indicating a willingness and intention to use these weapons in response not only to nuclear attack but in certain other circumstances'

  • The risk that if certain circumstances were to emerge there would be a risk of threat and actual use

  • The continuing and continuous risk of actual use and indiscriminate consequences that are inherent in deployment of Trident nuclear weapons

"The High Court stated that its role was to reach 'its own conclusions as to the rules of customary international law, taking full account of, but not being bound by, the conclusions reached by the International Court of Justice.' It concluded that there were two 'fundamental flaws' in the contention that UK deployment of Trident is in breach of customary international law:

1) International humanitarian law is not concerned with regulating the conduct of states in time of peace. It specifically relates to armed conflict, and regulates the conduct of belligerents.

2) The current deployment posture does not amount to 'threat of use'.

Errors in the Scottish High Court's findings
"The High Court's conclusions are insupportable under international law and controverted by the very authorities upon which it relied. It was wrong to claim that there are no restrictions on the use of force in time of peace.

"It also misinterpreted the International Court of Justice Opinion as to the circumstances in which nuclear deterrence constitutes an unlawful threat under international law. Moreover, the High Court ignored the facts it had assumed on the effects of nuclear weapons.

Why peacetime deployment is unlawful
"The World Court held that it is unlawful under international law for a state even to signal its readiness to use force which it would be unlawful to use. It can be argued, therefore, that even deployment of a UK Trident-armed submarine on so-called 'deterrent' patrol in peacetime is unlawful.

"The basic argument follows:

  • Use of nuclear weapons would be unlawful, because the explosive power of each warhead plus radioactive effects make them incapable of use without violating international humanitarian law.

  • In paragraph 47 of its Opinion the World Court stated: 'If the envisaged use of force is itself unlawful, the stated readiness to use it would be a threat prohibited under Article 2, paragraph 4.' The UN Charter is applicable at all times.

  • UK Trident is deployed under a policy of 'stated readiness to use', in order that nuclear deterrence is credible.

  • Nuremberg Principle VI states: 'The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law:

  1. Crimes against peace:

  1. Planning, preparation ... of a war .... in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances

  2. Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i)

  1. War crimes ....

  2. Crimes against humanity ...'

"Besides, the Scottish High Court cannot have it both ways: an attack on the UK which warranted a nuclear response under extreme self-defence at least implies a state of war, making humanitarian law applicable even under the High Court's disingenuous view of the matter.

Why Trident Deployment is "Threat of Use"
"Turning to the High Court's argument that the current deployment posture in peacetime does not amount to threat of use, this implies that targeting is required before such a condition is valid. As a measure to minimise the risk of inadvertent launch, de-targeting (removing the target coordinates from the launch system computer) is commendable, although unverifiable. However, the notion that nuclear deterrence may be unthreatening because nuclear delivery systems are deployed at low alert status is illusory. Only if the warheads were verifiably separated from delivery systems and stored ashore could such a claim be made. The reality from a potential target's point of view is that UK Trident warheads can be directed against specific targets within about a minute, and delivered from up to 5,000 miles in less than 30 minutes.

"The threatening nature of the UK policy of nuclear deterrence is also evident from its substantial integration into US policy, including leasing Trident missiles, use of US satellite intelligence and communications, and recent announcements echoing US threats to use nuclear weapons in Iraq. Indeed, it would appear that the US/UK invasion of Iraq qualified as a more immediate and specific level of threat which even the High Court recognised possibly would be 'equivalent to use' and therefore would be unlawful.

"The High Court's principle error lay in following UK government policy on a central issue that it had been called upon to decide. Whatever UK or US government policies on nuclear deterrence might be, the requirements of the law, at least as defined by the World Court, are beyond reasonable dispute. Yet the Scottish High Court, purporting to apply the World Court Opinion, emasculated it. The High Court made a serious mistake, therefore, in trying to find ways around the law in order to neutralise a fundamentally sound challenge to the UK government's nuclear deterrence policy."

Future of nuclear industry could be decided in Japan
Rob sees Japan as "where the future of the nuclear industry could be decided. Apart from France it is the only developed country in the world now where the nuclear industry is continuing to expand. With no indigenous fuel supplies, Japan is in great need of energy, and nuclear power offers a high-tech solution to the problem. Because of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings, and the US/Japan security treaty which puts them under the American nuclear umbrella, there is a deep schizophrenia in the Japanese attitude to nuclear issues. Plutonium, the best raw material for nuclear bombs, is being extracted from Japanese spent nuclear reactor fuel in Britain and France and brought back by ship to Japan for use in "fast breeder" reactors which are accident-prone. With the volatile situation in Korea and a history of enmity with China, all the pressures are there for Japan to build its own nuclear weapons - which it could do quickly. There is a great need of help for anti-nuclear campaigners inJapan who, while very active and strong, have not managed to achieve nuclear-free status as in New Zealand."

Now read Part 5 Disarmament & Security Centre publications and Rob's closing reflections

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