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The nuclear family

4 July 2005

Over 2,000 protesters blockaded Faslane nuclear base today, demanding Britain adhere to its commitments to decommission its nuclear arsenal. While police clashed with a handful of anarchists in central Edinburgh, peaceniks and hippies from the Faslane Peace Camp joined anti-war campaigners to picket the base locals call “Scotland’s shame”.

"This is to highlight the relationship of poverty and war. Seven of the G8 nations are in the world's top ten arms traders," said Joss Garman, a veteran breecher of Faslane's formidable security fences. "Nuclear weapons are the symbol of militarism. They're used to support destructive globalisation."

Behind the 10' barbed-wire fences, under the lapping of the waters and the seagulls, lurks at least one of Britain’s four Trident submarines. They contain, at best guess, 184 nuclear warheads - enough for 1,000 Hiroshimas. They hit the taxpayer for a cool £48 per second.

As the USSR sank to its knees in the eighties, nuclear disarmament became a real possibility, explained Kate Hudson, chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. But with the advent of George Bush and the reinvigoration of the military-industrial complex (not that, of course, it never really went away), that hope has all but vanished. With the focus of mainstream G8 protesters trained on poverty, Hudson how the UK’s development programme is dwarfed by its militarism. “Last year, the government spent £25 billion on arms, and only £4 billion on trade,” she said.

That theme was picked up by Green party MEP Caroline Lucas. “Not only are nukes illegal under international law, in the context of the G8, they cost so much money. The debt relief promised under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative, the G8 has promised £40 billion. Last year, the G8 nations spent £40 billion on arms.”

Lucas is among the most lucid polemicists here who are struggling to remind armchair crusaders of their complicity in the structures they denounce.  Our demand for ever-lower prices, as the unions have been saying for years, drives down wages for manufacturing workers everywhere; our high-energy culture fuels demand for oil, contributing to climate change but also investing the Middle East with the strategic significance that has been the region’s curse. “We have to overhaul our lifestyles,” said Lucas. “The idea of ‘sustainable growth’ in itself is ridiculous, and technological fixes will not make us happy. I imagine a world of sustainability, democracy and equity.”

Protesters were quick to pounce on the demonstration's symbolic values. On Independence Day, Garman pointed out that US corporations like Halliburton and Lockheed-Martin enjoy effective control of British nuclear and star wars sites through service contracts. With the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing next month, CND activists wondered whence the only nation ever to use the bomb in anger  - and the country that, with British backing, has scratched nuclear disarmament from the agenda, preferring to talk about non-proliferation and nuclear power - found the moral authority to launch a pre-emptive invasion on a pretext of removing a threat of weapons of mass distraction. "That we can allow ourselves to keep nuclear weapons undermines the whole moral fabric of our society," said Angie Zelter, a founding member of Trident Ploughshares.

Rebecca Johnson, a senior advisor to the International WMD Commission, headed by Hans Blix, said British policy was grossly at odds with international law. "There is an illegitimacy here. The British government has agreed under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to an unequivocal undertaking to eliminate nuclear arsenals." She condemned Tony Blair for waiting until after May's general election to announce a project to replace Trident with the "next generation" of nuclear weapons - targeted, tactical, and much more militarily viable than those at Faslane.

Johnny Barton, 33, a care worker from Aberdeenshire, achieved the day's best stunt when he scaled the Faslane fence. From a perch between two pillars, he cracked jokes, denounced militarism as "a horrendous waste of money" and fielded calls from the ITN and BBC newsrooms. There were whoops of glee from gathered protesters when a policeman accepted Barton's offer of a hob-nob, though the officer declined once Barton asked if anyone had a brown envelope. Needless to say, Barton was repeatedly accused of sitting on the fence.

As 2,000 protesters sealed off every entrance to the site, a scheduled shift change came and went with no personnel entering or leaving the site, leading protesters to claim victory in their efforts to close the base. One man was arrested after breeching the perimeter of the oil depot adjacent to the base.

Rev. Ainslie Walton, a semi-retired Church of Scotland minister and co-founder of Clergy Action. The radical prelates competed for the crowd’s attention with the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army, which, under the command of General Panic, staged a spoof parade (Operation Mass Distraction) in front of baffled ranks of police officers.

Nuclear disarmament has been ousted from the top of the protest agenda by global trade reform. It is testament to the force with which civil society has made the case against the barons of global finance that nuclear weapons, climate change and militarism are now talked about in the context of economic hegemony. As anyone in the Halliburton boradroom would no doubt tell you, that makes a lot of sense.

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