On 17 November the Basel Peace Office hosted an international symposium, held at the University of Basel, on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. The facts of the issue are indisputable. There are 19,000 nuclear in the world and enough fissile material to make thousands more. One nuke detonated in a city would be 1000 times worse than the Sep 11 terrorist bombing in New York city. 50 nukes used in a regional war would create climate change consequences that would dwarf the current climate crisis, causing global famine and financial and environmental collapse. The catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons render their use incompatible with international law applicable to war – including international humanitarian law and the laws of peace and security (such as the UN Charter).
As of 7:30 AM peace activists are using non-violent means to try to stop the departure of F16 airplanes from the base in Kleine Brogel. Starting today, Belgian pilots are training for the deployment of nuclear weapons together with their NATO-partners. Small groups of activists are going onto the runway to stop the taking off of the F-16s. Meanwhile, the main gate of the base is being blocked. In this way, Vredesactie and Action pour la Paix hope to prevent the preparation for war crimes.
From 15 to 26 October, Belgian F-16s from the military base of Kleine Brogel are participating in the NATO-exercise “Steadfast Noon” in the German air base of Büchel. This exercise is a way of training for the deployment of nuclear weapons. All NATO-countries that have American nuclear weapons on their territory are participating: Belgium, Germany, Italy, Holland and Turkey. Some other countries are taking on a supportive role.
“The American nuclear weapons stored in Kleine Brogel are not merely relics from the Cold War”, says Roel Stynen from Vredesactie. “This NATO-exercise makes it clear that the deployment of these weapons is being actively prepared. If these nuclear weapons no longer have any military purpose – as we are told – then which scenarios are being practiced?”
Benoit Calvi from Action pour la Paix: “The majority of the population wants these nuclear weapons removed from our country. But our minister dodges any attempt to a debate. Apparently being a member of NATO is more important than having a functioning democracy.”
Preventing the preparation of war crimes
Small groups of activists have entered the base. They head towards the hangars for aeroplanes to stop the departure of combat planes, risking life and limb. Meanwhile a colourful blockade at the main gate stops entry of personnel to the base.
With this action the activists are trying to prevent the preparation of war crimes in a non-violent way. The use of nuclear weapons and the preparation for said use is in violation of international humanitarian law. The International Court has pointed out the fundamental rules of the law of war as applicable to nuclear weapons in its verdict of 8 July 1996.
First of all a distinction must be made between enemy combatants and civilians. It follows that weapons that are incapable of making such a distinction can never be used. Second, it is forbidden to inflict unnecessary suffering to enemy combatants. Therefore, weapons that inflict such suffering can not be used. The consequences of using nuclear weapons cannot be limited in time and space. The nuclear weapons stationed in Kleine Brogel can never be deployed without violating these fundamental rules of the law of war and without committing war crimes.
Belgian criminal law also penalizes these acts of preparation, e.g. in art. 136 of the penal code: “the keeping of an object destined for such a crime or which facilitates the perpetration of such a crime”. Participation in this exercise amounts to an active preparation for the use of nuclear weapons and therefore for crimes of war. It also makes it clear that the storage of nuclear weapons in Kleine Brogel is a part of this active preparation.
Belgian peace organizations file a complaint
On October 9 several Belgian peace organizations – Vredesactie, Pax Christi Vlaanderen, Vrede vzw, CNAPD, Action pour la Paix en MIR-IRG – already filed a complaint with the police against this exercise. Tom Sauer (professor of International Politics at the University of Antwerp) participated in filing a complaint: “These weapons are useless and dangerous. It is unacceptable that Belgian pilots are practicing for the deployment of weapons of mass destruction.”
So far neither the department of defence, nor the judicial authorities have indicated that the participation in the nuclear exercise will be suspended, which is why Vredesactie and Action pour la Paix are taking their responsibility to try and prevent these war crimes.
Source: Press release by Vredesactie.
Images will appear after the action on:
NATO runs an annual exercise to train pilots in the use of nuclear weapons at bases in Europe under the title of “Steadfast Noon”. The next one is scheduled to take place from October 15th to 26th in Büchel, a German Bundeswehr base in Rheinland-Pfalz and will involve pilots from five European countries. The nuclear weapons are B61 gravity bombs, supplied by the USA. The aircraft and pilots are supplied by European NATO members: namely Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
The issue of “nuclear sharing” – the NATO practice of storing US nuclear bombs at air force bases in Europe belonging to other members, training and planning for the delivery of those weapons to targets using airplanes flown by non-US personnel – is controversial. Many countries hold the practice to be a violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty which expressly forbids nuclear weapon states from passing on nuclear weapons to non-nuclear weapon states. In the past two to three years, the existence of these weapons – about 180 altogether, 10-20 in each country in Belgium, Germany and Holland, 70-90 in Italy and possibly 50 in Turkey – has been the subject of debate in NATO. The populations in most of the “host” countries are opposed to the deployment of nuclear weapons and want their removal. However, finding consensus among all the member states of NATO is difficult and the “nuclear sharing” issue remains unsolved.
The campaign for the removal of the US nuclear bombs in Germany “nuclearfree.now” calls for the cancellation of the “Steadfast Noon” exercise. Spokesperson for the campaign and nuclear disarmament expert for the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Xanthe Hall, says: “The training of German and other European pilots in the use of nuclear weapons contravenes international law, as defined in the 1996 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice which states that the use and the threat of use is generally illegal.” The ICJ opinion was unable to rule on the legality of nuclear weapons’ use in a scenario where the very existence of the state was threatened. Hall says that this is patently not the case for Europe.
The last two “Steadfast Noon” exercises were held at Volkel in Belgium (2011) and Aviano in Italy (2010).
More information on non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe and nuclear sharing can be found in the new report from Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists “Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons“
Despite overall reductions in the numbers of nuclear weapons in the world – now at around 20.000 – a new report by the UK “Trident Commission” says that nuclear weapons programmes in all of the states possessing them are being modernised. This first discussion paper of the Trident Commission, an independent, cross-party commission to examine UK nuclear weapons policy and hosted by BASIC, summarises nuclear force modernisation and growth in all of the Nuclear Weapon States other than the UK. The paper, written by consultant Dr. Ian Kearns, concludes that none of the Nuclear Weapon States is actively contemplating a future without nuclear weapons. On the contrary, the potential for nuclear weapons use is growing.
Major development of nuclear force programmes or their modernisation are underway in China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea, Russia, and the United States. Most worryingly, Israel is planning to develop an inter-continental ballistic missile and India is building new missiles with longer ranges. Several more states are looking into smaller nuclear warheads for tactical use.
The author concludes that the evidence points to new nuclear arms races and a huge amount of money (hundreds of billions of US$) being spent over the coming decade. The report criticises major powers for not cooperatively addressing the challenges of globalisation, and allowing nuclear deterrence thinking to remain very evident in their defence policies.
The New START treaty is welcomed as a return to arms control but contains a number of loopholes, meaning that its effect on disarmament is minimal.
The United Kingdom has been the most successful of all the nuclear weapon states in terms of creating a minimum nuclear deterrent; in fact, there is reason to believe that the country is considering whether to move toward denuclearization. The authors assess the country’s nuclear forces, providing clear analysis on the British nuclear stockpile and its reductions, the modernization of its nuclear deterrent force, the British-French collaboration on defence and security matters, the country’s nuclear policy, and the country’s nuclear accidents.
Russia Today reports: «The new Russian liquid-fuel Liner missile is world’s most advanced submarine-based strategic weapon with range and payload capabilities surpassing every model deployed by any other country, its developer says. The submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) Liner can carry up to 12 low-yield MIRV nuclear warheads and has a payload/mass ratio surpassing any solid-fuel strategic missiles designed by the US, UK, France and China, the developer Makeyev State Rocket Center said in a statement. It is very flexible in terms of what its payload can be, varying and mixing warheads of different capabilities. »
The momentum towards abolishing nuclear weapons has been building over recent years. The level of debate is at its highest since the end of the Cold War. This has rightly re-focused attention on the urgent need to build strategies for limiting and abolishing nuclear arsenals. Insufficient attention, though, is being given to the role of certain non-nuclear or ‘conventional’ weapons (namely long-range conventional ballistic missiles and missile defence technology) in this area. In particular, there is a pressing need to mitigate the prospect of conventional weapons imbalances, hindering progress in getting all nine nuclear weapon states on the path of abolition.