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Inspecting the Inspectors
Inspecting the Inspectors
By Vincent Romano
It is August 1998 and for the umpteenth time, a crisis with Iraq looms. The government of Saddam Hussein has barred UNSCOM inspectors from implementing their mandate to root out all suspected hidden weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. is enraged. Major media pontificate on the danger. Peace activists observe the 53rd anniversary of the 192,000 victims of the Hiroshima bomb and commemorate the 8th anniversary of the million-plus victims of the sanctions on Iraq.
If the inspectors are looking for weapons of mass destruction, they ought to start a little closer to home. The UN-maintained economic sanctions have already produced more than five times the Hiroshima body count through malnutrition and easily preventable diseases. Meanwhile, all of the member states of the Security Council cling to stockpiles of the most deadly weapons of mass destruction ever creatednuclear weapons.
At tremendous cost to national budgets and true world security, these states have so far avoided fulfilling their obligation to conclude a general convention on nuclear disarmament, as they are bound to do under Article VI of the Nonproliferation Treaty they have all signed. Consequently, activists are taking matters into their own hands. Peace groups are beginning to organize their own citizens weapons inspection teams to demand disarmament in their own countries on precisely the terms that are demanded abroad.
Citizens inspection teams are an innovative tool disarmament activists can use to shake up the military and political establishments in their communities. They are rapidly proliferating around the world. In the past year, there have been citizens inspections at NATO headquarters in Belgium, the Trident submarine base in Scotland, and the Dimona nuclear weapons facility in Israel. Also Lawrence Livermore Labs in California, Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, Bath Iron Works in Maine, Tucson Air Force Base in Arizona, Bangor Sub Base in Washington, and the ELF transmitters in Wisconsin were all treated to citizens inspection teams earlier this year. Each case concentrated attention on the nuclear states hypocritical position.
During the first week of August, the U.S. Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) applied this model to two sites in Groton, Connecticut, home of the General Dynamics Electric Boat Corporation, manufacturer of the U.S. Trident submarine fleet. Tridents carry over 100 nuclear warheads, each with many times the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb. The U.S. Navy Sub Base in Groton homeports Seawolf and other attack submarines that are capable of firing nuclear-armed cruise missiles, and deployed ships to the Persian Gulf during the last crisis over inspection teams in Iraq. FORs citizens weapons inspection teams disrupted business as usual at these facilities to investigate whether the U.S. government is preparing to commit war crimes.
Indeed, Clintons recent Presidential Decision Directive reserves an option for the U.S. to use nuclear weapons in a first strike against a non-nuclear state or to deter a chemical or biological attack. Yet, the United States is prohibited under international humanitarian law from using or threatening to use weapons which are indiscriminate, violate neutral states, or cause long-term damage to the environment. The World Court reaffirmed this law on July 8, 1996, and concluded that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is generally illegal.
Backed by the Nuremberg Principles, which make clear that citizens have a right and a duty to ensure that crimes against peace are not carried out in their name, a team of ten political and civic leaders from Canada, New Zealand, and the U.S. traveled to Electric Boat on August 3.
At the entrance to the facility, the inspection team was received by Kevin Cassidy, the companys vice president of public relations. Cassidy denied the team admission to the shipyard and the collection of documentation and photographic evidence of the submarines, but was duly informed by members of the team of Electric Boats responsibility under international law to cease producing or modifying ships armed with nuclear weapons. Before departing, the citizens weapons inspection team unfurled a sign in front of the assembled corporate officials and police that read: Warning: This Facility Produces Weapons of Mass Destruction.
The citizens inspection team then used an aerial flight over the shipyard to confirm that there were indeed submarines under construction at Electric Boat. Their overhead survey also revealed the presence of three rows of seven bunkers suspected of containing nuclear weapons at the Sub Base up the river. Another citizens inspection team returned to Groton on August 6 to investigate.
Like Electric Boat (and like the government of Iraq), the Navy Base rejected formal requests made in advance for high-level meetings with the team. Consequently, 75 people from New York and New England gathered at the base entrance to hear speeches calling for disarmament and de-linking the economic sanctions on Iraq from its weapons inspections. Then the ten-member inspection team approached the guard booth and was met by a base representative, who referred them to the Public Affairs office.
After the team warned that the base was out of compliance with international law, conversation with base officials stalled. The team attempted to carry out its inspection without the Navys assistance, walking with linked hands toward the line of soldiers blocking their way. The soldiers backpedaled several hundred feet before they were ordered to stop and pull the inspectors off the road to arrest them.
The team members were charged with criminal trespass and ordered to appear before a federal magistrate at a later date.
The citizens inspection teams have prompted both Electric Boat and the U.S. Navy to claim that there are no nuclear weapons present at the sites in Groton. However, just as in Iraq, without access by independent inspection teams there is no way of knowing the truth. What goes for one potential aggressor nation should go for all.
Citizens have a rightand also a responsibilityto know what their government is procuring with their tax dollars. Jayantha Dhanapala, UN Undersecretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, affirmed the importance of citizen responsibility in a meeting with FORs inspection team at the United Nations before the actions. Dhanapala offered his support for initiatives that increase the role of civil society in pressuring the nuclear weapons states to conclude a binding convention to eliminate nuclear weapons.
The FOR citizens inspection teams used their statements and actions as a platform from which to call upon the American people. It is American citizens who must demand that the U.S. government endorse the principle of the Abolition 2000 campaign: namely, to have a signed treaty by the end of the year 2000 that mandates the total elimination of nuclear weapons by a specific date.
The two FOR teams styled their inspections differently but both were successful. With citizens weapons inspections, peace and justice activists can shed their protest signs and take a more proactive role in ridding their countries of weapons of mass destruction
Vincent Romano organized the Fellowship of Reconciliations citizens inspection teams. He is a writer and activist currently residing in Nyack, New York.