EU Politicians Break Into Air Base Holding American Nuclear Bombs to Protest Weapons Stockpiling

Three European lawmakers were arrested after they broke into an air base in Belgium to protest the stockpiling of American nuclear weapons there.

The three politicians—Molly Scott Cato of the U.K., Michele Rivasi of France and Tilly Metz of Luxembourg, all members of the European Parliament (MEPs) representing green parties—broke into the Kleine Brogel base in eastern Belgium on Wednesday and unfurled a banner on a runway used by F-16 fighter jets, The Guardian reported.

The three had been protesting the base's stockpiling of American B61 nuclear bombs, of which there were believed to be between 10 and 20 at the facility, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative. All were detained on the runway.

Another 12 activists—including a fourth Green MEP Thomas Waitz from Austria—were arrested at a concurrent demonstration outside the base, the newspaper said. The other 12 were members of the Belgian peace group Agir Pour la Paix—Act for Peace. Several of those detained had tried to climb over the fence surrounding the dual-runway base.

Scott Cato, who represents Southeast England, told The Guardian that the action was "a balance of risks and purposes." She added that the "potential end of the world" puts personal safety into perspective.

She tweeted a picture of the protest alongside her two fellow MEPs and another woman. Their banner read: "Europe Free of Nuclear Weapons."

"Nuclear weapons offer no solution in this era and no rationale for defending the people in the southwest who I represent. One of whom died this year because of a Russian secret forces attack," she continued, referring to a nerve agent attack on a former Soviet agent in the city of Salisbury in March 2018.

A local woman, Dawn Sturgess, later died after coming into contact with a discarded container authorities believe Russian agents used to transport the deadly toxin. "How are nuclear weapons supposed to help Dawn Sturgess?" Scott Cato asked.

There are believed to be around 150 American nuclear weapons spread across six NATO nations—Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey—as part of the alliance's strategy of European defense.

Though this is far diminished from a Cold War arsenal of approximately 7,000 warheads, campaigners say the continued presence of nuclear arms could make the outbreak of a devastating war more likely.

Rivasi said Tuesday, "We are demanding the withdrawal of nuclear bombs at Kleine Brogel and also from Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. We urge all EU member states to sign and ratify the treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. Our first objective is a Europe without nuclear arms."

In a statement sent to Newsweek, the U.K.-based Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament voiced its support for Wednesday's action. CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said, "U.S. nuclear weapons have no place in Europe—this isn't a battle-ground for a nuclear war between world powers."

Referring to President Donald Trump's recent decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that banned short- and medium-range missiles, Hudson warned, "There is a real danger we could see the return of U.S. nuclear missiles to British soil as well as more nuclear missiles across Europe."

"We are in desperate need for a new era of diplomacy," Hudson added. "Our country is in a strong position to demonstrate how the nuclear states can work together to reduce and abolish nuclear weapons."

"The alternative is to sit back while the U.S. president tears up all restraints on nuclear weapons and rapidly moves the world closer to nuclear war."

This article has been updated to include comments from Kate Hudson of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Belgium air base nuclear weapons protests
An F-16 fighter jet is shown at the Kleine Brogel base in eastern Belgium, on March 21, 2011. YORICK JANSENS/AFP/Getty Images