18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment

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 “Büchelis 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 compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which treaty forbids any transfer of nuclear weapons between governments. Germany and the United States are both parties to the NPT.

In a statement, Sunday’s disarmament activists further demanded that Germany and the United States ratify the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was endorsed by 122 United Nations members July 7, 2017.

Legal experts argue that the United States’ Cold War-era “nuclear sharing” agreements violate the NPT. Government officials answer that spreading US H-bombs around the world predates the 1970 non-proliferation treaty, and is therefore “grandfathered in” — an insult to grandfathers if there ever was one.

“Civil disobedience is forced on us because the government pays no attention to polite requests for dialogue or to 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.

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.