Inspecting the Inspectors


Disarmament

 

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 created—nuclear 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. FOR’s 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,
Clinton’s 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
company’s 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 Boat’s
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
Navy’s 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 right—and also a responsibility—to 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
FOR’s 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 Reconciliation’s
citizens inspection teams. He is a writer and activist currently residing in Nyack, New
York.