BÜCHEL AIR BASE, Germany — Your loyal nuke watcher is acting as correspondent this month, writing from Germany where I’m working with activists at the “Büchel Is Everywhere: Nuclear Weapons-Free Now!” peace camp. The well-equipped camp is a 20-week-long reminder to military and civilian personnel working there, and to thousands of passersby who can’t avoid our big banners in the Main Gate, that nuclear weapons are profoundly unethical, internationally illegal, and militarily useless. The campground — complete with working kitchen, 8-tap wash station, four caravans, a hot shower, and a dozen tents for storage, meeting space, and sleeping — stands just across the road from the German NATO base which houses about 20 nuclear bombs belonging to the United States. (Spoiler alert: this is not legal.)
This year more than 50 small groups and major organizations in Germany have endorsed the Büchel Is Everywhere campaign, agreeing to make their voices heard using nonviolent civil resistance at the base. Hundreds of individuals and dozens of groups have committed time and organizing resources to the protests which began here last March 26. The groups have engaged in peaceful defiance of official nuclear and conventional war preparations emanating from this eye-of-the-tornado — so to speak. The base is a launch platform and training facility for German Tornado fighter jets which train to use the US H-bombs.
Leading anti-nuclear weapons NGOs from Germany and other countries have come to the camp to join in a wide variety of nonviolent actions, or will do so before Aug. 9 when the “20 weeks for 20 bombs” concludes. The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (with 150,000 members in 50 countries), Mayors for Peace (from 7,614 cities in 163 countries), and Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (with 700 members in 75 countries), have or will send members to camp this year — all convinced that now is the time to get US H-bombs out of Germany for good.
Live Runway Occupied July 23
The latest in the long series of protests saw seven anti-nuclear activists, led by one of Germany’s Quaker groups, got through fences and onto the air base’s live runway July 23, just as the Tornado jet bombers were preparing for another day of practice runs. The seven runway occupiers, German citizens all, were eventually detained, ID’d and released after being told they face charges.
Although the intruders’ support team warned the base by phone that there were “seven people on the runway,” conventional and social media are this week humming with accusations that the “protesters endangered themselves and the fighter pilots.” Who said irony is dead?
The complaints stem from news of an unprecedented visit to the peace camp. Well after the runway protesters were released, a high-ranking air force pilot and a local police commander came to complain. The runway occupation had obviously struck a real nerve. It was the first time in 20 years of protests here that any pilot had ever approached the protesters. The officer scolded the organizers saying that the “go-in” protesters could have been burned by jet engine blast, and that pilots may have had to make a risky “abort” of take offs. The peacenik’s rebuttal is obvious: “The base’s 20 thermonuclear bombs and its pilots’ training and mission to use them are a danger to the entire biosphere — so get your priorities in order.”
While some are calling for heavy charges and severe penalties for the peaceful trespassers, the German Air Force here “shares” the 20-or-so US nuclear gravity bombs (called B61s), and stand ready for a US presidential order to drop them somewhere. Exactly who is endangering whom, when the hydrogen bombs are dangerous to US producers, dangerous to transferring US handlers, dangerous to receiving German Air Force personnel and the surrounding community, dangerous to crews that regularly practice their doomsday missions, and dangerous to people the world over who could be targeted? How many of us have contemplated the deliberate, ongoing planning and preparation necessary for our German air force friends to commit massacres (the only thing nuclear weapons can do) with bombs made in the USA?
Some who call for harsh punishment of the July 23 runway occupiers have referred to “law and order.” Yet the highest law of the land in both Germany and the United States is ratified treaty law — like the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons which both Germany and the United States have ratified. Article I forbids the transfer of US nuclear weapons to Germany; Art. II forbids Germany from receiving nuclear weapons from the United States. (The treaty’s language is more general, but it translates this way since it’s binding on states that ratify.)
While the United States and German governments regularly condemn North Korea and Iran for blatantly violating United Nations Resolutions, the detailed anti-nuclear UN General Assembly Res. 1653 from 1961 says, “Any State using nuclear and thermo-nuclear weapons is to be considered as violating the Charter of the United Nations, as acting contrary to the laws of humanity, and as committing a crime against [hu]mankind and civilization.” Not just the “go-in” activists, but 93 percent of German polled want the B61s ousted, and UN resolutions, the Nonproliferation Treaty, and the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons are reason enough to stop practicing nuclear attacks and finally get rid of the US bombs.
By John LaForge
BÜCHEL, Germany — On Sunday, July 15, eighteen people — seven from the US, six from Germany, four from The Netherlands, and one from England — cut holes in fences in five different places in broad daylight and clamored inside Germany’s Büchel Air Force Base, home to 20 US nuclear weapons known as “B61s.” The whole group was later released without charges. (Nukewatch helped organize a nine-person US delegation to the protest.) Full disclosure: Bonnie Urfer and I were among the five small groups that got into the base.
In bright sunshine around 11:00 a.m., we cut through chain-link fencing and razor wire to gain entry to the nuclear weapons base, and all 18 went inside uninterrupted and walked around inside carrying banners, some for over an hour. Several walked as far as the airbase runway, built for high-speed Tornado jet fighters. Three activists, including Susan Crane of Redwood City, California, walked through two unlocked interior gates and into a high-security zone containing four nuclear weapons bunkers. The three climbed to the top of one bunker where they went unnoticed for an hour, eventually unfurling a banner, “Disarm B61 Nukes,” — a reference to the 20 US nuclear gravity bombs deployed at the base — that alerted guards to their presence.
Researchers and journalists have reported that German pilots at the base stand ready to fly their Tornado fighter jets carrying the B61 H-bombs, and that they are trained to drop them, even on orders from President Donald Trump, on targets in or near Europe.
All 18 abolitionists who got onto the base were eventually found by guards, rounded up, searched, ID’d, and released — without charges — after 4-1/2 hours. The daytime incursion into what is considered a highly secure compound shocked reporters, editors and the public. The July 16 headline in the Koblenz daily paper Rhein-Zeitung asked: “How could this happen?”
Well, it took a lot of hard work, a lot of training, and a lot of planning. Along with the 18 who got on the base, dozens of supporters have been camped together a couple of hundred feet from the base’s main gate. The group has been working together, preparing the “go-in” action for days, and Sunday’s mass go-in was done under the clear blue sky and bright sunshine of high summer. In fact, the whole event was planned and conducted in open meetings to which the public was invited.
The point of such a complex nonviolent action is to blow a secret, and to broadcast a warning, r.e.: Protective systems made for the most devastating weapons on Earth are laughably inadequate; and two: What if suicidal extremists had gotten to the same places carrying high explosives? (No, wait: That’s what a nuclear weapons base is in the first place!) Solution: get rid of them.
The mass action was the highpoint of “International Week,” just one part of a 20-week-long series of protests against the B61s sponsored by the German-wide coalition “Büchel is Everywhere!” The 50-group coalition has endorsed the use of civil resistance, like go-in actions at the base, in pursuit of its three goals: 1) the removal of US nuclear weapons from Germany; 2) the cancellation of plans to replace today’s B61s with new ones; and 3) German adoption and ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
In a prepared statement, Sunday’s disarmament activists also urged Germany and the United States to ratify the new TPNW, which was endorsed by 122 United Nations member states July 7, 2017, and reminded readers of the 2010 cross-party resolution in the Bundestag calling on the government to oust the remaining nuclear weapons.
Legal experts argue that the United States’ Cold War-era “nuclear sharing” agreements violate the 1970 Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear weapons (NPT). Government officials answer that spreading US H-bombs to five European allies predates the 1970 non-proliferation treaty, and is therefore “grandfathered in” — an insult to grandfathers everywhere.
“Civil disobedience is forced on us because the government pays no attention to polite requests for dialogue or to legislative petitions for a nuclear-free Germany. Major social changes, like the ousting of US nuclear missiles from Europe in the 1980s, all require civil resistance to finally be accomplished,” said Marion Küpker, the international coordinator for “Büchel Is Everywhere!”
The disarmament campaign and Nukewatch in Wisconsin, which organized a 9-person US delegation to the protest, are part of the I.C.A.N. network, winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, which recently called for nonviolent direct actions at nuclear bases to urge more countries to adopt the treaty ban.
The United States is the only country that deploys its nuclear weapons in other countries. It “leases” US-made Trident missiles to Britain for its nuclear-armed submarines, and today’s “nuclear sharing” is done with Germany, Belgium, Italy, The Netherlands and Turkey. Approximately 150 US B61s are still deployed (precise numbers are quite secret) at six air bases in the five countries.
The “Büchel Is Everywhere” series of actions continues ‘til August 9, the anniversary of the US plutonium bomb attack on Nagasaki, Japan in 1945. The peace camp closes down then, leaving behind the Tornado fighter jets to thunder and roar overhead like bad omens.