As campaigners gathered at US military sites on 3 and 4 July to call for British “Independence from America”, others were digesting a Defence Select Committee report, released on 30 June, which called on the government to address - amongst other things - the independence of Britain's nuclear weapons programme, in any public debate on the replacement of Trident.
The fifty-page committee report is the result of the Defence Select Committee's inquiry, held earlier this year. The week of its publication Tony Blair confirmed that a decision on replacing Trident would be made “by the end of the year”. In its conclusions, the Committee calls on the Ministry of Defence to clarify the technical dependencies of the Trident system and to respond to the argument that it is not in fact “independent”. Several witnesses who gave evidence to the inquiry argued strongly that, due to such dependencies, there was effectively no operational independence from the US. The military, unsurprisingly, say they disagree. Antimilitarist and anti-nuclear campaigners have long criticised the military relationship between the US and Britain, formalised under the Mutual Defence Agreement - an agreement which effectively undermines restrictions on the transfer of nuclear technologies.
This year, sites for 3 and 4 July demonstrations included the Menwith Hill US spybase in Yorkshire, USAF Feltwell (part of US “Space Command”) in Norfolk, and Daws Hill command and communications centre in Buckinghamshire.
Organisers of the Feltwell event - Eastern CND and Lakenheath Action Group - said that US nuclear weapons in Europe “violate principles of the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty (NPT) and discourage other states from disarming or respecting the NPT themselves”. They pointed out that the nearby Lakenheath base, in Suffolk, housed an estimated 100+ US nuclear warheads.
Menwith Hill event organisers called on “all American people connected with the workings at NSA Menwith Hill” to “imagine our roles reversed and to remember their own ancestors' Declaration of Independence from our ancestors”.
In a daring Eve of Independence Day action at the little known US site at Daws Hill, near High Wycombe, activists from the Berkshire and Buckinghamshire Citizens Inspection Agency (CIA) walked unchallenged onto the base and set up a peace camp in the base's secure area. The base is part of the chain of command that would be used by a US president to launch nuclear weapons. As PN went to press on the morning of 4 July itself, the peace camp was still there.
AWE blockade called
Just days after the “independence” events, campaigners return to AWE Aldermaston - home of nuclear warhead manufacturing in Britain - to take part in a mass blockade.
Work continues apace on AWE's controversial #183m Orion laser facility - which will help scientists test nuclear materials in a laboratory environment - with more heavy machinery arriving on site in recent weeks. Nonviolent Direct Action group Block the Builders has called on anti-nuclear protesters to converge on 10 July in an attempt to halt construction - Green MEP Caroline Lucas and CND Chair Kate Hudson will join them.
Decision by default
Commenting on the possibility of a “decision by default” on Trident replacement, the Defence Select Committee report warned that unless there is a fully informed debate, the decision to keep the deterrent would be taken by default, by taking a series of decisions to “keep the options open”. The construction of new facilities and the recruitment of new scientists at the weapons factory, is seen by some campaigners as doing precisely this.
Aldermaston is run by a consortium including US arms giant Lockheed Martin. During 2004, AWE personnel made 190 visits to US nuclear facilities, 128 US personnel visited AWE. l