J'accuse Malcolm Rifkind

Tomorrow six activists are to be charged with conspiracy following the Easter Monday action at Aldermaston by Greenpeace. Its executive director throws down the gauntlet to the Defence Secretary
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The Independent Online
Dear Secretary of State,

We heard on the grapevine that we rather spoilt your trip to Florida last year. You were on your new nuclear submarine to watch the first test firing of your Trident missiles. But Greenpeace had a ship, inflatables and a helicopter a few fathoms above your head. (Is it true by the way, that they had a special armchair fitted for you to sit in? A good thing, as it turned out: you were kept waiting for several hours.)

Perhaps you asked Trident's captain how it was that the world's most modern nuclear sub couldn't hide from a few environmentalists in a converted Dutch tug for long enough to fire just one of its 16 missiles? After all, your secret service and the Americans observed Greenpeace in Florida for weeks. I expect the Royal Navy reassured you that nothing like this would ever happen back home. As long as your nuclear deterrent was never launched from Florida, you were OK.

Until the start of Trident's first operational tour, that is. This time you were on home ground at Faslane in Scotland. Defence correspondents were there in force, and the launch was brought forward to confuse protesters. Trident began its active patrol. It slipped silently, secretly and menacingly through the Rhu Narrows at the entrance to Gare Loch and out into the open sea. Then it stopped. Engines were switched off. Tugs were summoned. What disaster had overwhelmed the 16,000-tonne vessel, capable of carrying enough nuclear bombs to wipe out 96 cities the size of London? We were there again, with the same old Dutch tug and a few inflatables. The press boat had a grandstand view, as a couple of your tugs slowly pushed Trident out to sea.

Then, five months later, Trident's second attempted exit from the Rhu Narrows ended with the now familiar order, "stop engines". Greenpeace again: this time we'd caught Britain's nuclear deterrent with a few hundred feet of fishing net. The tugs were called in again, and your own Ministry of Defence police in boats charged around after our inflatables. In the end, of course, Greenpeace can only resist peacefully, with the public rather than power on our side. Nevertheless, when the fishing net wrapped across the Trident's bows, something seems to have snapped.

You went to court in Scotland, to get the judges to stop Greenpeace interfering with your nuclear submarine. This, Malcolm, is the first time any British government minister has run to the courts to ask them to protect him from Greenpeace volunteers.

Your nuclear deterrent's inability to put to sea without a Scottish judge in the convoy isn't the only reason it has become an embarrassment. On 14 February, Greenpeace uncovered a secret trade in nuclear technologies and supply of weapons-making materials between you and the United States - in flagrant breach of Article 1 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

You claim to have observed the NPT's ban on nuclear cooperation. In fact the US has provided the UK with warhead components, nuclear material, design information and missiles, and has carried out nuclear tests for the UK, all in clear breach of the NPT provisions.

You claim to meet your treaty obligations to take "effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race ... and to nuclear disarmament" by reducing your nuclear weapons capability. In fact, the number of Trident warheads could increase that capability by up to three times.

And while you claim that you have cut off production of explosive nuclear material for military purposes, in fact you retain the right to divert from your ever-increasing civilian stockpile to military use any nuclear materials you deem "necessary". Since 1970, you and your predecessors have done this 571 times for undisclosed "national security" reasons.

When the NPT review conference opened in New York at Easter, instead of demonising North Korea, Iraq and Iran, as it aimed to, the UK found itself labelled by the world's media as a nuclear bogeyman and "Proliferator General".

Early on that Easter Monday, Greenpeace set out to achieve what 25 years of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty had failed to do - put an end to nuclear bomb production in the UK. By simultaneously stopping production of plutonium at Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria and production of the nuclear warheads at Aldermaston, we compelled the UK - for a time - to comply with its agreed obligations under the NPT.

What has been your response to our undoing of the official facade of double-talk and mendacity? At first, our action was described as a non- event. Your press office said nothing had happened at Aldermaston. All of the Sellafield "invaders" had been removed within hours, according to BNFL. By the next day, it was apparent that both statements were lies. Greenpeace activists mocked BNFL security by remaining hidden inside Sellafield until the next morning. And even your press office was eventually forced to admit that Greenpeace had blocked the Aldermaston discharge pipe, but said that our activities had had no effect - exactly what you said about those fishing nets just before you rushed off to the Scottish courts.

But then, Malcolm, you went on a fishing expedition of your own. Five days after the NPT Review Conference, your Ministry of Defence Police came fishing for information at our office in London. As widely as they cast their nets, what could you really hope to learn?

Greenpeace never sought to hide its involvement in these actions. On the contrary, we were proud of them and of our continued role in shining the spotlight on the secret world of the nuclear industry.

You claim that the raid on Greenpeace was to search for evidence that a crime had been committed on Easter Monday at Aldermaston. You were looking for a conspiracy. Yes, there is one: the conspiracy by the Government to increase its arsenal of nuclear weapons while lying that it was committed to nuclear disarmament; the conspiracy between the United States and the United Kingdom to continue their joint nuclear weapons production while covering up their agreement. Greenpeace took a series of actions designed to uncover those conspiracies so that the international community could act.

No longer can you pretend that you are honouring your international commitments to disarmament while actually increasing your nuclear arsenal threefold. Nor can you hide your military nuclear stockpile under the cloak of "civil" use plutonium, nor hide that stockpile's role in global proliferation.

If, in achieving this, Greenpeace is to be asked to account for its actions, that's fine. I stand by our actions and will justify them at any level, on any basis, to anyone who cares to debate them.

I guess all military (and naval) commanders look a bit silly sometimes. And the same goes for government ministers. But silly and cowardly in combination is demeaning for any minister and, I'd have thought, especially inappropriate for the Secretary of State for Defence.

So, after trawling through our records, if you are going to try to scapegoat a few individuals, my message to you is this: Greenpeace does not hide behind the actions of individual activists. Greenpeace is its activists. And Greenpeace actions are performed by and on behalf of its 400,000 supporters. As executive director, I take responsibility for Greenpeace. If you want to attack Greenpeace, Malcolm, here I am, ready when you are.

Peter Melchett