Trident Submarine's 5 Hour Blockade Of Downing St
Monday Oct. 11, 4.45 p.m.:
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A police officer tries to negotiate with those inside the ‘sub’ to get them to give up
Today, Monday 11 October, peace activists from all over Britain brought a huge model Trident submarine to the seat of British governance to challenge Labour to abandon its WMD and to comply fully with its international treaty obligations. International experts including Kate Hudson, the Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, watched as events unfolded. From 10a.m. til 3.30pm, the ‘sub’ blockaded the entrance to Downing Street, preventing vehicles from entering and leaving. Following a deal struck between the police and the 28 ‘submariners’ inside it, the sub was dismantled by the peace activists rather than destroyed by the police. “I’m delighted”, said one of the ‘Theatre of War’ members who helped build the ‘sub’; “because now we can reassemble this ‘sub’ again and do more street theatre with it, on a future occasion!”
During the final minutes of the blockade, at the gates of Downing Street, Trident Ploughshares spokespeople Angie Zelter and Cllr. Rupert Read handed in a letter to a representative of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, calling on him to ensure that Britain will refuse to renew the 1958 nuclear cooperation pact (Mutual Defence Agreement (‘MDA’)) with the United States, and will comply fully with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (‘NPT’), which requires Britain to take steps to engage in nuclear disarmament. (By contrast, renewing the MDA would see Britain continuing to work together with the world’s biggest nuclear nation, the U.S.A., which shows no sign at all of fomenting or participating in disarmament.) The letter urges the Prime Minister to uphold international law, reject the pact’s renewal and get rid of the Trident nuclear weapons system. This call follows publication of an authoritative legal opinion from Matrix Chambers, which concludes that Britain will be in breach of the NPT if it continues with the MDA with the US, which both parties are set to renew this year.
Trident Ploughshares spokesman Angie Zelter, said to the representative of Number 10 who accepted the letter, “Please take this personally to Mr. Blair, and remind him that when two treaties are incompatible, one has to give way! Britain cannot claim the moral high ground on proliferation while it plans to extend its own arsenal. The nuclear collaboration with the United States has to stop and both countries must face up to their obligations under the NPT.”
Norwich Green Party Councillor Rupert Read, who acted as a spokesperson for Trident Ploughshares today, added, “The intention of today’s event – an intention that has plainly succeeded -- was to help make it politically impossible for the government to stay in the nuclear-WMD business without at least a serious public and Parliamentary discussion of whether we in Britain ought to violate the NPT and hold onto our illegal nuclear weapons, or not. While Iraq has now been conclusively shown not to have had any WMDs, Britain has them aplenty, and -- in flagrant disregard of international law and treaty obligations, like an outlaw state -- is doing nothing to rid itself of them. On the contrary, it is co-operating with the reactionary Bush regime to expand its WMD capacity. This intolerable situation was graphically highlighted today by this large grou p of brave peaceful protesters prepared to put their bodies on the line, on Whitehall. All right thinking-people should support and salute them.”
Messages of support were received from numerous Parliamenatarians, including Green Party members of the Scottish Parliament, Green MEP Caroline Lucas, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists, and backbench Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn, Alice Mahon, and Alan Simpson. Kate Hudson, the Chair of CND, said at the scene, “The time has come to end our government’s WMD hypocrisy! Contact your MPs now, and urge them to seek to block the MDA, and to enforce the NPT.”
END of main body of press release.
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No to co-operation with the Bush regime on building and maintaining nuclear WMDs! Yes to Britain obeying international law!
An accessible summary of what happened today at Downing Street, and why:
Eminent lawyers, Rabinder Singh QC and Professor Christine Chinkin of Matrix Chambers advised in July that the NPT takes precedence over the MDA under international law. The advice, which found that the MDA was directed towards “improving the UK’s state of training and operational readiness …[and] atomic weapon design, development or fabrication capability”, was particularly concerned with Article I of the NPT, which forbids the transfer of nuclear weapons or devices, and Article VI, which requires that all NPT parties should pursue nuclear disarmament. Renewal of the MDA, intended to continue and enhance Britain’s nuclear programme, would hence breach the NPT.
Renewing the MDA would pave the way for replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system, options for which are already being considered. On June 14, President Bush recommended the amended US text for Congressional consideration, saying “it is in our interest to continue to assist [the United Kingdom] in maintaining a credible nuclear force”. This is in direct conflict with the “unequivocal undertaking” given by the nuclear weapon states in 2000 “to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament”, in accordance with their NPT obligations. The British government has ignored requests from MPs for a parliamentary debate, appearing anxious to rush through the renewal of this bilateral nuclear collaboration accord on the quiet.
And so, representatives of some leading radical peace groups today highlighted through non-violent direct action Britain’s utter failure to carry out its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (‘NPT’): namely, progressively to disarm itself of nuclear WMDs.
Said Rebecca Johnson, the director of ACRONYM and editor of the international journal ‘Disarmament and Diplomacy’, who stepped out of a major diplomatic conference on Whitehall to express her solidarity with the action, “I am pleased to see citizens endeavouring to prevent US-UK nuclear co-operation that is illegal under international law. It is high time that all responsible citizens took on this responsibility to uphold Britain’s legal and treaty commitments to their fullest extent.”
Notes and Links:
Rabinder Singh QC and Professor Christine Chinkin, ‘Mutual Defence Agreement and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Joint Advice’, July 20, 2004, available from
The original MDA, entitled “Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for Cooperation on the Uses of Atomic Energy for Mutual Defense Purposes”, was agreed on July 3, 1958. The last renewal was in 1994, for ten years, so both governments are pushing for a further 10 year extension before the end of 2004.
The text is available at
The 1968 Treaty on the
Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons entered into force in
1970. The next Review Conference of states parties will be
held in New York, May 2-27, 2005. For the NPT text and
reports on the Review Conferences and outcomes of 1995 and
George W. Bush, Message to the Congress of the United States, and Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Energy on Proposed Amendment to the United States/United Kingdom Agreement for Cooperation on the Use of Atomic Energy for Mutual Defense Purposes, June 14, 2004, available at
The US Congress, which adjourned until September 7, has 60 session days to consider the MDA.
‘US-UK nuclear weapons collaboration under the Mutual Defence Agreement: Shining a torch on the darker recesses of the special relationship’ BASIC report, available at
By the time the UK parliament recessed on July 22, 43 MPs had signed Early Day Motion (EDM) 1407, which raised concern that the MDA could undermine the NPT and called for a parliamentary debate on the MDA in advance of its possible ratification.
Key relevant points, selected from the Matrix Chambers lawyers’ ‘Joint Advice’:
“In our view, for the reasons set out below, it is strongly arguable that the renewal of the Mutual Defence Act is in breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.” (para 2)
The subject matter of the NPT and MDA are relevant to each other. Since the MDA has been amended and renewed several times since 1958, most recently in 1994, it becomes a treaty later in time to the NPT. Two or more parties to a multilateral treaty may conclude an agreement to modify the treaty as between themselves alone. “Such agreements inter se are therefore permissible only if they do not affect the enjoyment by other treaty parties of their rights under the multilateral treaty, or it does not relate to a provision essential to the effective execution of the object and purposes of the treaty.” (para 13)
“A Declaration of a Review Conference such as that adopted by consensus [in 1995 or 2000] would fall within the wording of article 31 (3) (a) [of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT)] and is thus an appropriate source of interpretation of the obligations of the NPT.” (para 20)
“The importance of Article VI to the objects and purposes of the NPT is shown both by the negotiation history of the NPT and by the reaffirmation of its significance by the 2000 Review Conference. The Review Conference also emphasised that strict observance of the NPT is required, that is observance with both the letter and spirit of its articles.” (para 36)
“In addition, in 1996 the ICJ [International Court of Justice] in an Advisory Opinion unanimously asserted that ‘There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective control.’” (para 37)
“Assertions about the importance of renewal of the MDA are not in conformity with the obligations of Article VI and the commitments made in the 2000 Review Conference. The MDA itself, as amended 1994, article 3 b, is directed towards ‘improving the UK’s state of training and operational readiness …[and] atomic weapon design, development or fabrication capability’. These both imply continuation and indeed enhancement of the nuclear programme, not progress towards its discontinuation”. (para 39)
“…determination of material breach of a multilateral treaty ‘entitles (a) the other parties by unanimous agreement to suspend the operation of the treaty in whole or in part or to terminate it either: (i) in the relations between themselves and the defaulting State, or (ii) as between all the parties.’ However performance and compliance are what is required, not termination of the [NPT] either as between all parties or between other parties and the UK.” (para 49)