In the spirit of Greenham Common, collective, creative action is now required, says anti-nuclear campaigner Rebecca Johnson
When the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty was signed by the US and the Soviet Union in 1987, it meant the 96 ground-launched cruise missiles at Greenham Common each with a warhead 15 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb would be scrapped. This week that important treaty is being killed off by Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, putting the world at heightened risk of pre-emptive nuclear weapon use and war.
When it was signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the INF treaty also freed me up to leave the Greenham Common womens peace camp and get on with the rest of my life. Id arrived on 9 August 1982 the anniversary of the second atomic bomb, in Nagasaki and planned to stay a week. After five extraordinary years of feminist peace action at Greenham I left the camp and began organising for further disarmament treaties.
At Greenham we climbed over fences, cut barbed wire, and danced at dawn on the huge concrete silos. The INF treaty removed most of the fences and emptied those silos. We occupied the air control tower and revealed its appalling instructions for how the US air force planned to deal with accidents involving nuclear or chemical weapons. That tower is now a museum to remember the cold war and civil society. With local Cruisewatch groups, we disrupted the base and painted the massive transporter-erector-launchers that were driven along British roads in nuclear war games. The treaty required those launchers to be destroyed.
We took Reagan to court in the US on the basis of the humanitarian harm caused by nuclear weapons. We didnt get our injunction to halt the cruise missile deployments at that time. But two decades later, updated facts and evidence of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons were used to achieve the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which bans the activities that for over seven decades have enabled states to acquire, produce, station, deploy, use and threaten to use nuclear armaments.
We learned from other diplomatic processes not to over-negotiate the technical details. Recognising that one size does not fit all, the TPNW which was negotiated and adopted by the UN general assembly was framed with prohibitions and obligations that are universally applicable, while its structure has in-built adaptability to enable different levels of nuclear weapons programmes and policies to be addressed and eliminated without conferring special status or privileges on anyone.
Bilateral and limited agreements like the INF treaty, which eliminated cruise, Pershing and SS20s from Europe, were essential to stem the nuclear arms race in the cold war. While deploring the decision by Trump and Putin to scrap it, we also need to recognise that to prevent a new nuclear arms race and war in todays more complicated world, we have to act collectively and involve the non-nuclear as well as nuclear governments.