April 16, 2006

From Bangor to Iran - The Threat of Nuclear Weapons

Last August I was one of 19 protesters arrested at the gates of the Trident Submarine Base in Bangor, Washington. The protest, sponsored by Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, was intended to call attention to the nuclear weapons based here on the scenic Hood Canal. The Cold War may be over but these Cold War weapons still set sail from here to cruise the world's oceans, ready to inflict unimaginable destruction on the world. Each one of the 9 nuclear armed submarines based here carries 24 missiles. Each missile carries 6-8 nuclear warheads. Another group of 5 Tridents is based on the East Coast. A Seattle Times article says, "scientists believe a single Trident submarine could destroy all life on Earth".

For the past 30 years, the Ground Zero Center has maintained their protest against this horror with a peace park on property they own just down the street from the main gate. On Martin Luther King's birthday, Mother's Day and the anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, people can be counted on to block the entrance to the base and risk arrest. In the late 90s three successive groups of protesters were acquitted in Kitsap County courts and prosecutors had declined to press charges since February 2000.

We chose to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings by calling attention to these all too real weapons of mass destruction in our own backyard. This time 4 of the 19 arrested were brought to trial on charges of Failure to Disperse. This charge requires that the action creates a "substantial risk" of injury to persons or to property. The trial on April 10-12, ended in a mistrial when the jury of 6 found itself split 3-3. Those voting to acquit were apparently convinced by testimony showing the great concern for safety that went into the planning for this action and all the Ground Zero actions. The government had tried to exclude all mention of why we were there, the destructive power of nuclear weapons and international law but the 4 on trial were able to speak about their deeply held beliefs about the threat of nuclear weapons and the Trident submarines. After failing to convict protesters for the fourth time in a row, county prosecutors have to decide whether to retry these four, select another group from the 15 still uncharged in the August 2005 protest or the 17 arrested January 16, 2006, or save their time and money for more important things.

The Bush administration has informed us that Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons, which could threaten us, or Israel. There isn't actually any evidence that this is so, just repeated assertions. Of course we have heard this story before with Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction. There was nothing that Saddam Hussein could say to deny it, since any denial was just taken as proof that he was lying. Iran finds itself in a similar situation today when they assert that they want nuclear power but not weapons. They can hardly be blamed for resisting intrusive inspections when they have heard Scott Ritter and others explain how inspections, even under UN auspices, in Iraq were used as cover for US spies to plan bombing campaigns and even back a coup attempt. Bush denies leaks from his administration that he is contemplating an attack on suspected nuclear sites with the statement that he is pursuing diplomatic solutions so he won't have to use force. This can hardly be reassuring to a regime that Bush wants to change. On the other hand, the Iranian government seems to delight in defying the US and probably finds these threats useful as they rally Iranians to defend their country. Internal opposition appears to have quieted down recently. Who knows, maybe they are coming to the conclusion that they should have a secret nuclear program because an actual bomb is apparently the only thing that will stop the US administration from "preemptive" attacks any time they think they will get some political advantage out of it.

Perhaps the leaks about attacks on Iran are no accident but are intended to plant the idea of an attack in the American public's mind. Just as with Iraq, repeated assertions are intended to convince people of its inevitability, and to cement the idea of Iranian nuclear weapons into the American mind. They may have leaked and quickly denied the nuclear plan just to make a "conventional" attack more palatable.

The United States is in a very weak position when it comes to opposing nuclear proliferation. They have by far the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, any one bomb being capable of destruction on a scale almost beyond imagining. They have never given up the option of being the first to use nuclear weapons. They are the only country that has ever used them. They tacitly support Israel's nuclear weapons, despite its destabilizing effect on the Middle East. They support the wide use of nuclear power, which can be a stepping stone to acquire weapons, if a country decides to go that route. They are developing a new generation of "smaller" weapons that will be more likely to actually be used. And they have done nothing to live up to their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. While the treaty prohibits non-nuclear countries from developing them, it also requires countries that already have them to move towards abolition.

The Ground Zero Actions call attention to the necessity for all countries to renounce the use of nuclear weapons, including the United States. It is discouraging that political leaders of both of the major political parties refuse to even discuss this issue but public opinion is firmly against the first use of nuclear weapons and would like to see fewer of them. Perhaps that is why juries won't convict Ground Zero protesters.

The Union of Concerned Scientists discuss many of these issues in their back grounder U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy: Dangerous and Counterproductive.

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