“Woe to those who call what is bad, good and what is good, bad.” (Isaiah 5:20)

On Friday 3rd September, along with Susan and Martin, I attended a talk given by Dr Peter Burt of the Nuclear Information Service at St John and St Stephen’s Church in Reading.  There I learned about  massive investment that was underway to develop the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston.

As someone who has been involved in peace campaigning for a long time I knew of course that AWE Aldermaston is the main centre for developing and building nuclear warheads in the UK.  I knew that the Trident nuclear programme depends on AWE to  design, test, build and maintain Britian’s nuclear warheads.  I knew that around 200 nuclear warheads were built at the site in the 1990s and that those nuclear weapons continue to be brought back to be tested and maintained.

From Dr Peter Burt however, I learned about the massive upgrade that is being undertaken at the site now and what is expected to happen at AWE over the next few years.   I learned about ‘Project Mensa’  the new warhead assembly building.  I learned about ‘Pegasus’ the new enriched uranium facility;  and  I learned about Project Hydrus, the proposed hydrodynamics research facility .

All these massive developments, I believe are in direct contravention of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty  and are also aimed at circumventing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.  The modernisation, updating and renewal of nuclear weapon systems  I believe is a material breach of nuclear  Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations, particularly the unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear weapon states to “accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament.”

Chris, Martin and Susan preparing to go to AWE Aldermaston

On Monday 6th September along with Susan and Martin – and as part of a Trident Ploughshares week of action –  I went to AWE to open the base up for ordinary people to begin the process of disarmament.  It seems very clear to me that ordinary people need themselves to begin the process of nuclear disarmament. We can no longer leave it in the hands of politicians or the military whose  so-called attempts at disarmament are, at best, shameful, at worst a sham.

As a Christian I believe all are called to be peacemakers.  There are many visions of peace in the scriptures but one that resonates with many today in our heavily militarised world is Isaiah’s vision of swords being beaten into ploughshares. And the passage is clear about who is to undertake the task. God does not beat swords into ploughshares.  Nor do kings, military commanders of politicians.  It is ordinary people who are given this great mission.

On 6th September Susan,  Martin and I cut the fence at Aldermaston to create a gateway and called on people to join in the great task of nonviolent peacemaking.  Thirty years previously, eight people had entered the King of Prussia nuclear weapon plant in Pennsylvania and undertook the first piece of direct nuclear disarmament and our action on 6th September were inspired by, and rejoiced in, that act of direct disarmament.

Having cut through the fence we attached a sign above saying ‘Open for Disarmament: All Welcome’ and we went through the breach we had created.  (A positive breach for disarmament in symbolic contrast to breach of the NPT.)  We hung a peace flag on the inner fence, held hands, prayed and sang.  Within a couple of minutes police arrived and we were quickly arrested.

And so here we are in court today.  We are charged that we damaged the fence, contrary to the Criminal Damage Act and trespassed or a ‘protected nuclear’ site, contrary to SOCPA Act.  I have stated that I cut the fence but I believe that  it was the right thing to do – that I have lawful excuse in that I was attempting to prevent what I belive to be a crime under international law, and God’s law.

As the court will be well aware S.3 of Criminal Law Act 1967 states that a person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of a crime. Ordinary citizens have a right – a duty indeed – to both uphold the law and to work for the common good.  What constitutes a crime is the focus of what I want to say here today.

In the recent past I and many others have attempted to challenge the crime of war and  preparing for nuclear war in the courts.  In all but the rarest of cases these attempts are thwarted.  And I know that the Prosecutor is right now reaching for a copy of the House of Lords decision from  March 2006,  in what is known as ‘R.v Jones’, where following a number of cases (and appeals) relating to peaceful resistance to war preparations, Lord Bingham ruled that

‘the crime against peace / crime of aggression [as it is labelled under international law] is not a crime in domestic law within the meaning of section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1963’   (See paragraph 31)

In other words, the courts can  turn a blind eye to the massive conspiracy to threaten millions of people with extinction through nuclear war, simply by saying: sorry, actually that’s not a crime as we understand crime to be. Development, deployment and no doubt use of nuclear weapons, which cannot be anything but a war crime under international law –  as nuclear weapons are incapable of distinguishing between civilians and combatants –  will not be criminal according to the British courts.

But that is I’m afraid nonsense. It is of course morally, ethically and legally wrong to plan for and prepare for the indiscriminate murder of millions of people by developing, testing, building and deploying nuclear weapons.  That is a crime as any sane and reasonable person would judge.

In the Christian church, a crime against God and the common good is called a sin.  The Jesuit priest, Fr Richard McSorley stunned the Church at the height of the cold war by stating simply that it is a sin to build a nuclear weapon.  “The taproot of violence in our society today,” he wrote, “is our intent to use nuclear weapons. Once we have agreed to that, all other evil is minor in comparison.

Ignoring the crime of nuclear war preparations, giving legal sanction to what is perhaps the ultimate violence in our world today, undermines any condemnation of violence in our society. And the consequences of that sin are there for all to see, not least in the result of the theft from the poor of the huge amounts of resources that it takes to build these damn things.

Earlier this year I was sentenced to a months’s imprisonment for a similar piece of war resistance.  In prison I met and mixed with many people who were among the thousands of current and future victims of the crime of nuclear war preparations.  Those who, seeing the acceptability of violence in our society – indeed how violence is sanctified and gloried – had turned to it to as saviour. Imagine their shock when they find that it is a myth.  Violence does no save us or deliver us from evil.  Just the opposite in fact.  I’m sure this courtroom has seen any number of such victims

The three of us went to AWE Aldermaston to say as clearly as we could that the emperor has no clothes.  Nuclear weapons – mass violence – will not save us, bring us peace or security.   Rather our hope and our salvation lies in love of neighbour and working for the common good by following the way of nonviolence, the way of Christ.

Pretending something that is bad is good, will lead inexorably to trouble, said the prophet Isaiah some 3000 years ago.  Pretending that a crime is in fact lawful will similarly lead to trouble.  particularly such a heinous crime as the preparation of the mass murder of millions of people.  compounding that crime is the criminalization of those who attempt to expose the lie.

I urge the court to recognise the emperor has no clothes.  I urge the court to recognise the simple fact that planning and preparing for nuclear war is a crime.  I urge the court to uphold the fact that peacemakers have a duty to prevent such a crime and I urge the court to find us not guilty.

Chris Cole, May 2011.

In 2009 the Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition was due to hold its bi-annual arms selling jamboree in East London, opening with a conference at the Queen Elizabeth Conference centre in central London. According to its official brochure, the aim of the ‘UK Defence Conference 2009 ’ was to bring together “senior officials from the arms industry, the military and the UK government” to “explore the business opportunities” to be found  in “global security threats such as climate change, major population movements, growing water scarcity, competition for energy sources and the continued rise of Islamism.”  Here then, was another opportunity to confront the UK’s military-industrial complex as it gathered together at the beginning of their week-long arms spree.

So with spray can in hand I went to the conference centre just before the event and sprayed ‘build peace not war machines’ ‘stop this bloody business’ and ‘arms trade=death’ on the front entrance and poured fake blood over the steps.    (See CCTV footage  here).  I was shortly convicted of criminal damage and fined just under £2,000. Eighteen months (and numerous court letters, bailiffs threats and visits) later it’s time to go back to court to explain my actions and why I won’t pay the fine.

As a committed Christian peace activist I’ve been researching into, speaking about, and resisting the arms industry for over twenty years now. No matter how many times I think I’ve seen it all, another corruption story,  new deal,  or yet another lethal technological development will come along to shock me.  Over the years I have had private conversations with senior arm company executives and I’ve engaged in public debates with their PR people. I’ve written thousands of words in newsletter, magazines, briefings and on websites.  I’ve  spoke at countless meetings and I’ve taken part in more vigils, protests and nonviolent demonstrations that I can possibly remember.  I’ve also been arrested, spied upon, injuncted and imprisoned. I have no illusions about the power that the ‘defence’ industry can wield nor the depths it will stoop to make its profit or to promote the ideology of ‘might is right’.   But I continue to undertake nonviolent action against the arms dealers.

So what is the point of such a small scale piece of direct action that hardly disrupts the smooth running of the monolithic arms industry?  What is the point of going through all the hassle of courts, fines, bailiffs and prison?  What possible difference does it make and in what way does it help the victims of the arms industry? 

For me the point of nonviolent direct action (as well as the court and prison witness that follows) is to dramatize the choice that we as a society are making.  In the Christian tradition this choice is summed up in the ancient Book of Deuteronomy ‘I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live’ (Deut 30:19) 

Nonviolent direct action is about trying to make visible the choices that we are making – or that are being made on our behalf – and articulating the fact that there is an alternative.  A classic example of this type of confrontation would perhaps be Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man in 1955. That direct confrontation with the Power of institutional racism in a concrete situation produced a wider circumstance of choice – the Montgomery Bus Boycott – where people had to choose to side with the Power (a Power which insisted that there was no choice, this is just the way things are and always will be) or to stand against racism and on the side of equality and life.

In a similar way, the powers that be tell us that there is no choice with regard to peace and security in our world.  The only realistic way to achieve peace and security,  they say, is through the gun, the drone and the nuclear deterrent. “It’s the way things are and always will be ” is the cry, and I have heard it from school boys in the classroom, from CEO’s in the boardroom, and politicians in the parliamentary committee room.  The powers have managed to convince us that armed force is our salvation, that in bomb we must trust.   But of course, that is nonsense. As we have seen clearly over the past twenty years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan in the so-called war on terror, armed force does not bring peace to the world nor defend the widow and the orphan  – in fact, just the opposite. 

There is, of course, an alternative to armed violence:  justice.   As the prophet Isaiah said around 2,750 years ago, “Integrity will be bring peace, justice give everlasting security’ (Isa. 32:17)   By tackling the root causes of injustice around the world, like the situation of Palestine for example, we can address some of the real drivers of insecurity in the world.  Instead of pouring resources into more lethal ways to kill each other, we need to be addressing global inequality by devoting resources to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and helping to achieve political and economic rights for all human beings and communities.   Perhaps most importantly of all, we need to be educating our fellow citizens to understand that our future security depends on global welfare and the common good rather than self-interest and national prosperity  

So I return to court tomorrow with the possibly of a prison sentence to follow.  Cynics will say of course that it is a waste of time.  My direct action at the DSEI opening conference in 2009 did not stop the arms fair from happening nor more arms deals being made.  But the lie that is ‘this is just the way things are and always will be’,  the pretence that there is no alternative, was exposed.  Conference delegates, arms company employees, security guards, court officials, passers-by, friends, neighbours and readers of this very article all have a choice to make:  to choose to support on the one hand, the arms trade, national self-interest, militarism, injustice, violence or on the other peaceful resistance, community, justice and the common good.

Just as Rosa Parks and the bus boycott used the racist transport system to expose and challenge institutional racism let’s use London’s DSEI arms fair – which will be held once again in London this coming September – to expose the corruption, injustice and lethality of war, the arms trade and the ideology of ‘might is right’.

I spent most of yesterday, the feast of the Epiphany, in Newbury Magistrates Court  waiting to plead ‘not guilty’ to charges of criminal damage and criminal trespass following a peace witness at the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment in September

It was a strange day – not least because the MoD police had forgotten to bring the paperwork, statements etc. and so we had to wait around the court for hours for the papers to arrive.  But the day for me was also about remembering my ploughshares action on the Feast of the Epiphany exactly eighteen years ago.  In my statement left at the scene of disarmed BAE weapons systems, I said “The Epiphany remembers when three men presented gifts to the infant Jesus. My gift of disarmament is for all the infants who are threatened with BAe weapons, from Northern Ireland to East Timor.”  Eighteen years later and, thank God, the children of Northern Ireland and East Timor do sleep more safely in their beds but of course other children are desperately threatened, not least by the nuclear warheads built and tested at AWE Aldermaston and the lethal weapons that BAE Systems continues to develop and ply around the world.

So the question could be asked – and I’ve been asked it many times – what does NVDA achieve?  Is there any point to spending hours and days hanging around courts, not to mention the weeks and months spent in prison?  Susan Clarkson one of my fellow defendants this week, reminded me of Ammon Hennacy’s reply when asked what effect his NVDA had on the world,  “I’m not trying to change the world”, he said “I’m trying to stop the world from changing me”.  And for me there is an element of undertaking resistance that is about not to being  ‘conformed to the world.’

But, as Fellowship of Reconciliation member Margaret Mead said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  That’s not to say it’s easy – far from it – and it’s hard to see how any specific ‘action’ or piece of work (or blog post!) does make a specific difference.  Nevertheless actions, and work and people resisting injustice together make up a movement and movements do  make a difference.   It may be mostly about faith and hope, but also, as one of the one of the great unsung heroes of the 20th Century nonviolence movement, James Lawson,  would say, it’s also a question of persistence…..

So here’s to another eighteen years of faith, hope and persistence.

A few weeks agao I was asked to write a short article on the need to be prophetic for the ‘Peace in 21st Century’ newsletter.  Here’s the result!

Over the past five years the Fellowship of Reconciliation has focused on two specific areas of militarism- the arms trade and more recently, the growing use of armed drones. We have chosen to focus our energies on these issues for a variety of reasons, but perhaps the single most important reason is that working on these issues allows us to speak about the wider issues of how we are to live together in our world today. I’m not for a moment suggesting that our campaigning on these issues is not sincere. Rather, we campaign on these issues because it allows us to speak about the sacredness of life, global security, justice, what it means to be aChristian and how we can build “a world order based on love”1 as well as the specifics of the arms trade or armed drones.



Increasingly however there has been a pressure not to speak about those wider things. Increasingly there hasbeen pressure – from funders, from the media, from sister organisations – to be realistic and to focus on ‘what can be achieved’. To me, over the past ten years or so there has been a real shift away from speaking about the big picture – for us war and peace – to focusing instead on small, narrow  realistically achievable’ aims.

 This is in part, I believe, a reaction to New Labour phenomenon of ‘targets’ and ‘measurable outcomes’.Whilst this way of thinking has brought an important rigour to work for global change, it seems that it has also brought rigidity. While it’s very important that we ground ourselves in reality, its equally important that we be unrealistic. By that I mean, of course, that we be prophetic.

 In relation to the arms trade for example, there are many good organisations, not least Oxfam and Amnesty International, who are campaigning on the issue. However they will not call for an end to the arms trade itself, not because they do not believe that would be a good thing, rather because it is not realistically achievable in the short-term. They feel, I believe, that to make such a call would lose them credibility with those in power, and they would not be able to report a ‘success’ to their funders and donors. Far more credible, it seems, to call for reform and regulation of the arms trade, rather than an end to the practise itself.

 Christian peacemakers too face this crisis in credibility. In order to be a player in the political game, credibilityis extremely important and believing and working for an end to war in our world today is literally incredible.


However our calling as Christians and peacemakers is not to be credible in the eyes of the world, but tobe prophetic. Our calling is to speak about the division and alienation in the world – what we would term sin – and how we can overcome that sin by loving God and loving our neighbour.

 There is of course much more to say about this state of affairs but in the short space that I have I would want to make two brief comments.

 Firstly, as Christians we are working to a different understanding of time and time-scales than the world. We know that the principalities and powers have been defeated by the Prince of Peace but it has yet to work itself out in history. Also in relation to time, we, as a community of peacemakers, are part of a movement that stretches itself way back in time and way forward into the future. Our work for peace and justice must have an understanding of that view of time. I am saddened by people who expect – and are then subsequently disappointed – when ‘peace’ is not achieved after a particular campaign, or event or witness.

 Our work for peace is the work of our lifetime. Indeed we could say that the work for peace is thework of time itself. We long for the ending of time and the coming of the eschaton2 and our daily work for peace must be seen in that light and not in an effort to gain worldly credibility.


Secondly, as Christians, we know who it is who will bring peace. It is not us and our work alone thatwill be effective in ending war, violence and conflict. Our human tactics, lobbying and strategising, our organisations and campaigns are created by imperfect fallible, sinful human beings. Our work for peace and reconciliation must be inspired by the Holy Spirit through being rooted in prayer. However we must be careful here. It is not faithful in any way, I believe, to be completely disinterested in the effects of our work.

 We must simply not make effectiveness into an idol. As Daniel Berrigan said “The good is to be done becauseit is good, not because it goes anywhere.” As Christian peacemakers we may sometimes (often!) be out of step with how the world sees peace and seeks peace. I believe that our calling is to be prophetic and to witness to the peace of Christ rather than to be realistic and seek peace in the world’s terms.

 Chris Cole.

Chris Cole has recently stepped down as the Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. He will continue to campaign, write and act for peace. For more details see http://www.figtree.org.uk.

Yesterday,  my old Catholic Worker friend Ciaron O’Reilly and I undertook a protest vigil at BAE Warton.    Both of us had been to BAE Warton many times in the past and indeed, both of us have a life-time injunction to keep off all British Aerospace (the former name of BAE Systems) property.   Nevertheless we made an eight-hour round trip by car up to Preston as BAE systems were calling people to gaze upon their new unmanned combat drone, Taranis, as it was being launched.  

Taranis, named after the Celtic god of thunder, is  the newest unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone which is just the latest in a long line of weapons used in erroneous belief that they will provide a clean and tidy solution to a conflict – time and again history has proved that this is a myth.  

The reality is that bigger and deadlier weapons will not bring peace or security- infact the reverse is true.   “Integrity will bring peace, justice give everlasting security” says  Isaiah 32:17 

 For more on drones and the protest see http://dronewarsuk.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/taranis-new-drone-same-old-protesters/

Yesterday I took part in day two of the five day Trail of Tears for Afghanistan walk organised by the wonderful Justice not Vengeance. The walk started at the Ministry of Defence in Central London to Colchester Garrison where soldier Joe Glenton is currently serving a nine-month sentence for refusing to return to Afghanistan. Yesterday we started at the Ilford army recruiting office and finished at the Brentwood Territorial Army Depot – a stretch of thirteen miles which is the longest I’ve walked for many, many years (and it was v. hot!)

Along the thirteen mile stage from Ilford to Brentwood via Romford, we had a lot more support than I really expected. Of course there was the occasion hurled bit of abuse, but it was far outweighed by the supportive comments and thumbs-up from many people we passed. The war in Afghanistan is deeply unpopular  with a large cross section of our society.
The walk was an opportunity to catch up with some old friends but also a chance to make new ones. At one point I fell into conversation with a young Scottish women who I discovered had just returned from doing an internship at Wi’am, the Palestinian Nonviolence Centrer, set-up by my old friend Zoughbi Zoughbi in Bethlehem.

In the evening I spoke about the growing use of armed drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan at a public meeting organised by the walk’s organisers, JNV and then drove back to Oxford along with Ann, the newly elected Chair of Pax Christi. What I call a good day!

Some people will know that I am stepping down as Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR) in a few weeks to begin a new adventure – Fig Tree.   Fig Tree is the umbrella under which I will undertake work for peace and nonviolence and to challenge the culture of violence and militarism.   In many senses this is a continuation of the work that I have been doing for the last seven years at FoR (and, indeed for twenty years or more under different hats).  Its hard therefore in some senses  to say ‘this is when Fig Tree starts’.  But a few weeks back I realised that Pentecost was on the horizon and decided that Fig Tree starts at Pentecost.

Putting posters on MoD wall with Susan

I’d mentioned Pentecost as a possible day for action to my friends in London Catholic Worker and we agreed to undertake a Pentecost action against the war in Afghanistan at the MoD building in Whitehall.  Writing a leaflet for the event, I came across the following in a homily by Fr. John Dear  

Pentecost marks the beginning of the Christian community’s public speaking about the nonviolent Jesus. It is the day when they were empowered to speak out boldly, come what may.  Out they go into the streets, speaking out. They gather crowds about them and tell of the nonviolent Jesus, of his love and peace, of his death and resurrection, of his new realm of nonviolence. And as always, preaching “for” bears a stand “against” — against empire, against its violence and wars, against executions and laws. Soon the Sanhedrin and other authorities get the gist of the message implied against them, and the disciples find themselves in trouble. Some land in jail, some go off to martyrdom. All enter God’s reign of peace

At the MoD four of us put up posters on the building in English and Afghan calling for an end to the war in Afghanistan, whilst others prayed, held banners and leafleted passersby.  Whilst our ‘speaking out for peace’ did not receive the same attention as long ago in Jerusalem – indeed our posters were soon torn down by the police and our leaflets went mostly unread, our prayers for peace, we know, do not go unnoticed.  As we sat at the foot of the massive stones of the MoD main building, we were comforted in the knowledge that they will one day fall, and everyone will,  one day,  live in peace ‘under their own vine and fig tree’.  Amen Read the rest of this entry »

The newly appointed Defence Secretary Liam Fox has been pretty busy.  Not only has he had to get his feet under the table at the office and prepare for the strategic defence review, but he also found time to take part in the very first meeting of the brand new National Security Council and to send a message to all defence staff.  Not for him the quiet settling in period.  In his message  Liam Fox repeated the tired line that British forces are not in Afghanistan “out of choice”, but out of ” necessity”.  This tired  nonsense does not bode well for the coming defence review under Liam Fox’s leadership.

Sickened by the coverage of the ‘glorious dead’ recently. Came across this in the library this afternoon with the kids…

“Let him who thinks War is a glorious, golden thing, who loves to roll forth stirring words of exhortation, invoking Honour and Praise and Valour and Love of Country … let him but look at a little pile of sodden grey rags that cover half a skull and a shin-bone and what might have been its ribs, or at this skeleton lying on its side, resting half crouching as it fell, perfect but that it is headless, and with the tattered clothing still draped round it; and let him realise how grand and glorious a thing it is to have distilled all Youth and Joy and Life into a foetid heap of hideous putrescence! Who is there who has known and seen who can say that Victory is worth the death of even one of these?”

Roland Leighton serving on the Western Front, to his Sweetheart, Vera Brittain. (Roland Leighton was killed in action in December 1915).

“It is easy to lose sight of the fact that one of the core businesses of Government is the defence of the country and of national interests, and that is every bit as true during difficult financial times as during more settled ones. The thinking of easier times (when public spending on health, education and social security was increased by much more than that on defence) must not be allowed to continue into these troubled times. The defence of our country must be maintained whatever the circumstances”. Defence Select Committee, 4th report, 10 Feb 2010

Strong words from the Defence Select Committee yesterday. Except time and again,(most recently in the Defence Green Paper published just last week), the government has acknowledged that “there is no external direct threat to the territorial integrity of the UK”

So all this huff and puff about “defence of our country” is poppycock. By all means try to make the argument that we need to have sufficient armed force to invade other countries to enforce regime change so that the West’s economic and political interests are served, but please do not dress this up as “defence of our country”.

I think we are all going to need strong stomachs over the the next few months as there will be a lot of cant spoken about ‘defence’ as the strategic defence review gears up.