Ban bomb book

IssueMarch 2011
News by Brian Larkin

A new book, Trident and International Law: Scotland’s Obligations was launched on 1 February. The launch took place at the Scottish parliament and was hosted by Bill Kidd MSP. Edited by Rebecca Johnson and Angie Zelter, the book is a project of the Acronym Institute, Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre and Trident Ploughshares. The eminent judges and lawyers writing in the book, review the arguments for the illegality of nuclear weapons and support Scotland’s right to demand the disarmament of Trident.

The end of 2007 saw the completion of the Faslane365 yearlong blockade of Faslane and the convening of the Scottish government’s Working Group on Scotland Without Nuclear Weapons. In its official response to the Working Group’s Report the Scottish government concluded that the Lord Advocates Reference (LAR) No.1 2000 was binding and the presence of Trident in Scotland is legal. The opinions in Rebecca and Angie’s book show that this decision of the Scottish high court misinterpreted the Advisory Opinion of the ICJ (1996) which ruled that the threat or use of nuclear weapons “would generally be illegal.” This shows that the Scottish government is mistaken and also has implications for nonviolent direct action against Trident because the LAR ruling has been cited in hundreds of court cases to deny activists any defence based on the illegality of nuclear weapons.

HE judge Weeramantry, the former president of the international court of justice (ICJ) writes: “Anti-nuclear civil resistance is the right of every citizen of this planet, for the prevention of such an international crime is basic to human dignity.”

The contributors stress national and international obligations to cease deploying, developing and renewing nuclear weapons and to abolish nuclear weapons; that use of Trident would be unlawful, that deterrence based on the threat to use nuclear weapons violates international law and that Scotland’s obligations under international law are not nullified by the 1998 devolution settlement.

Window dressing

Speaking at the launch, Rebecca Johnson, who was a member of the Working Group, said “We were window dressing” and in her book she notes that the Working Group recommendations were “watered down” to prevent any accusation that the government had exceeded the limits of the Scottish devolution settlement. Also speaking, Group member professor William Walker from St Andrews University said “the Scottish government had to be seen to be doing something about Trident” and judge Weeramantry explained how the Scotland Act stated a requirement for Scotland to implement international obligations.

Judge Beduaoui, former president of the ICJ, maintains that a nuclear weapons system with over 100 deployed 100kt nuclear warheads “would be unlawful” and any state that “aids and abets” another in this would be acting unlawfully. Angie Zelter, on behalf of Trident Ploughshares, therefore called upon the Scottish government to demand that Trident be removed from Scotland. This demand would cite international law, the democratic rights of the Scottish people and the calls of the majority of countries for nuclear weapon states to disarm. Eventually Scotland could go to the courts to argue its right not to be implicated in conspiring to commit war crimes. Various legal routes could be taken such as a legal review of the UK decision not to remove Trident from Scotland.

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