A European Walk for Disarmament


M. LaForge

Calling
itself "an international citizens inspection team to prevent war crimes,"
500 nonviolent activists from around the world who had walked more than 100
miles from The Hague, converged on the beleaguered NATO headquarters, where we
were met with water cannons and hundreds of baton-wielding riot police.

The marchers,
protesting NATO’s illegal nuclear weapons policies and its disregard for
civilian lives in its bombing of Yugoslavia, defied the mayor of Brussels’s
declaration that our final walk to the NATO facilities was illegal.

Over the course
of 3 days, some 272 "inspectors" were arrested on a variety of charges—or
no charge at all—and jailed for up to 12 hours. The May 27 arrests followed
NATO’s refusal to disclose records of its "Nuclear Planning Group"
regarding its weapons of mass destruction. This international delegation of
self- styled citizen inspectors had intended to provide the information to the
international press, the United Nations International Court of Justice, and the
International Criminal Court.

On Saturday, May
29, 63 activists were arrested without probable cause, miles away from the NATO
base, under a temporary edict issued by the mayor of Brussels who declared any
protest of NATO illegal. Fifty of those arrested had simply stepped from a
crowded public tram when national police and Belgian secret police detained and
carted them to jail.

The police
actions made a mockery of NATO’s routine championing of democratic freedoms
such as a free press. On May 29, to a publicized press conference, 15 marchers
were surrounded and ordered out of our cars after we stopped at a traffic light.
When I asked the chief officer why we’d been pulled over, he told me,
"You’re in a war zone." With my press badge displayed, I reminded him that
no declaration of war had been made by any party. When I then asked the name of
the charge against us, he answered, "Uh, the impression of the intention to
interfere with NATO." No one made it to the press conference, but instead we
were jailed without charges till midnight and then released.

Starting out
Sunday, May 16 from the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands, seat of the UN
International Court of Justice, about 250 of us walked, talked, danced, drummed,
and sang for 12 days in a spirited anti-war parade of flags, congas, whistles,
banners, and costumes. With participants from 31 countries, we walked a total of
124 miles carrying a demand for the immediate start of international
negotiations for a treaty banning all nuclear weapons (as required by the July
8, 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice), and for an end
to the U.S./NATO bombing raids against Yugoslavia. In the spirit of UN arms
inspections in Iraq and North Korea, we demanded that NATO’s Nuclear Planning
Group provide us "transparent" access to information about its European
nuclear arsenal including warhead numbers, types, yields, costs, and targets.

Organized by For
Mother Earth International, an anti-war network based in Gent, Belgium, the
"2000 Walk for Nuclear Disarmament" was planned many months prior to the
U.S.-led bombing of Yugoslavia. NATO currently threatens the "first-use" of
the 200 nuclear warheads and other weapons of mass destruction that it now
deploys in Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands,
and Turkey.

Germany and
Canada suggested last November that NATO renounce its nuclear first-use policy.
Defense Secretary William Cohen attacked the anti-nuclear proposal, saying the
current policy was "sound doctrine." A NATO delegate told the New York
Times,
November 24, "We have 200 nuclear weapons systems in [Europe] and
their credibility would be undone without the first-strike option."

Founded in 1949,
NATO members "agreed to settle disputes by peaceful means, develop individual
and collective capacity to resist armed attack, to regard an attack on one as an
attack on all, and take necessary action to repel an attack under Article 51 of
the UN Charter." The undeclared, immoral, and illegal U.S./NATO bombardment of
the former Yugoslavia added a mournful background and a dreadful urgency to the
march.

 Our
slow-paced, pedestrian experience of civil society—blooming agriculture,
manicured suburbs, bustling cities—was abruptly ended on reaching Brussels.

With NATO HQ, the
European Parliament, branch offices of the Fortune 500, and the embassies of the
G-8 all established here, Brussels is shadowed by the spirit of empire, haunted
by the machines and armor of national police, secret police, military police,
and riot police.

Dr. Fernand
Rochette, director of the Catholic high school who defied the mayor by hosting
us on his campus, told us, "I didn’t hesitate to welcome you. My students
will benefit from your commitment to the prevention of war."

The long, hot
days on the road were filled with meetings, often held after six hours of
walking. We met as a whole, in speakers’ councils, in affinity groups, as
organizers and as nonviolence trainers. The consequent solidarity and friendship
that was established over the course of 200 kilometers, across 25 languages and
30 cultures, came as a beautiful shared gift.

It was easy to
see why dozens of the participants in this disarmament walk were seasoned by
previous marches. They know from experience the love and power that a peace walk
generates.           Z


John LaForge is a staff member of Nukewatch, an anti-war and environmental
action group based in Wisconsin.