NUCLEAR WEAPONS are illegal.
You may not have heard this news. It didn’t exactly receive wrap-around coverage in countries like the UK, presently engaged in an expensive renovation of the Trident nuclear weapons system based in Faslane, less than 40 miles outside of Glasgow.
The legal status of the weapons have always be challenged by their opponents, who now wield the final word on that controversy in the form of a legally binding UN ban, which finally came into effect on 22 January after many years of work spearheaded by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Scots have no official recognition at the UN, but many activists appeared anyway, to work for the ban, even as the UK’s ambassador opposed its introduction.
Of course, the British and US governments have continued to ignore the ban. On Wednesday (10 February) the US test-launched an unarmed Trident missile off the coast of Florida, from which its flight was clearly visible. The nuclear weapon tests of foreign powers like Iran and North Korea are often commented upon in western media – not so much our own.
Also little mentioned was the jailing of anti-Trident activist Clare Grady on the same day. Grady, a religious pacifist in the Catholic Worker tradition, was part of a group of seven activists who two years ago entered a naval base in Brunswick, Georgia and symbolically attempted to disarm the weapons. They could not, of course, actually do this. Their intention – as with the many anti-nuclear weapons activists who have entered the Faslane facilities over the years – was simply to draw attention to the danger in our midst.
The response of the state has been to make an example of the group, including by sending the 62-year-old Grady to a year in prison alongside her comrades: Father Steve Kelly, Carmen Trotta, Patrick O’Neill and Martha Hennessy.
Their Ploughshares movement is part of an international effort, with Faslane a kind of grim Mecca, attracting thousands of protestors to regular vigils and protests. The Catholic Worker Movement in Scotland sends regular correspondence to their co-religionists behind bars, and held a prayer meeting at Faslane on the same day as Grady’s imprisonment.
They released a statement in the same humble and graceful terms with which they have asserted peace against worldly corruption since the black decade of the 1930s: “To keep Lent is to confront the principalities and powers first of all in prayer. With Jesus we face the dark side of ourselves – this is so susceptible to capture and control by the powers. If it happens that we keep vigil publicly at the gates of economic, military, political or religious authority, we do so as an act of repentance, acknowledging the solidarity of sin.”
The Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (SCND) also paid tribute to the group, and stressed their common activities. This may seem par for the course, but it is based on a recognition that these are essentially punitive imprisonments, and that the movement must signal both its protests against, and willingness to endure, state repression.
Speaking to Source, SCND said: “The Ploughshares tradition to which the Kings Bay 7 belong has over the decades inspired peace activists worldwide and here in Scotland, with their rock-like commitment to non-violence and their willingness to risk their own personal safety in taking a stand against the ultimate violence of nuclear weapons.”
They added: “Sending such peaceful and gentle people to prison for a symbolic action of protest in the middle of a pandemic is both thoughtless and cruel. We know that the best expression of our love and solidarity is to continue the struggle for a nuclear free world, a struggle given new hope by the entry into force of the Nuclear Ban Treaty.”
Grady cut a dignified figure before the judge in her case late last year, when she said: “The trident at Kings Bay is killing and harming in my name,”
“To be clear, these weapons are not private property, they belong to the people of the United States. They belong to me, to you, to us.”
She could have been speaking for us in Scotland, because though the system is ultimately US in technology and strategic control, we all paid for it, and we are going to keep paying for it. Over the full lifetime of the new systems brought in for Trident renewal, we will have been charged an additional £205 billion, according to CND figures.
And these vast sums of money are paying for what is now, by the standards of international law that British leaders so often assert in favour of the geopolitical ventures like the War on Terror, an illegal activity. This reality, and the sharpening of the national question in Scotland – which could threaten the continued presence of the nuclear weapons in Scotland – mean that a more defensive and authoritarian stance from the US and UK states against the anti-bomb movement is growing.
For that reason, all those in Scotland who want to see the back of Trident would be wise to demand the speedy release of Grady and her fellow activists in the US.
Picture courtesy of Swithun Crowe