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They aren’t taking credit for the reported removal of U.S. nuclear bombs from England, but longtime peace activists contend their sustained opposition has been effective in the fight against nuclear proliferation.

The Federation of American Scientists last week announced that 110 B-61 warheads had been withdrawn from RAF Lakenheath, which had housed U.S. nuclear weaponry since 1954. The report’s author, Hans Kristensen, who based his finding on nuclear inspection and exercise reports, said the move could be part of a larger effort by the U.S. to consolidate weapons in Europe.

While military and political posturing, along with nuclear safety concerns recently highlighted by the Air Force, are at the heart of the purported downsizing, protesters consider their efforts integral to public awareness.

"I think public opinion and expressions of public concern over a sustained period has had an impact on the political context in which these things are taking place," said Kate Hudson, chairwoman of the London-based Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

The group, which formed in 1958, has for years protested outside the gates at Lakenheath as well as British military bases with nuclear weapons and other sites throughout the country. Its sometimes dramatic demonstrations typically garner media coverage and have seen a number of participants arrested.

"We think it’s very important to engage in activities that are high profile to make the public aware of what’s going on," Hudson said. "We often like to go to the physical manifestation of the policy to draw attention to the reality of the weapons. Otherwise, we find people can find it a bit abstract."

Other groups take a less guttural tack, pushing for nuclear disarmament with a more diplomatic approach.

"The attention-getting way has its place in many ways," said Paul Ingram, executive director of the British American Security Information Council in London. "It’s problematic when it polarizes the debate… When that happens, no one listens and people are reduced to emotional reactions or to their own self-interests. In that situation you don’t get insight."

Since 1987 the think tank has published reports on disarmament methods and facilitated meetings between government leaders from around the world, most recently between British and Iranian officials.

"When you help decision makers engage in discussions they don’t feel like they’re signing up with a radical platform," and are more likely to come to the table and compromise, Ingram said.

Together, both types of campaigns are effective in swaying public opinion and influencing the political climate, said John Wills, a professor of American History at the University of Kent.

"A combination of forums or protests generally succeeds," Wills said. "While some groups are labeled extreme, it makes other’s demands seem mild. The fact that there are different people pushing similar agendas in different ways is an effective approach."

Kristensen, the nuclear expert who revealed the withdrawal at Lakenheath on his blog, said the role of protesters has undoubtedly shaped the nuclear arms debate over the years.

"It’s quiet often a matter of not letting the issue go to sleep and that’s where they’ve played an important role."

What’s more, Kristensen said, there are now many more military officials who would like to see tactical nuclear arms reductions.

"The interesting part, two decades after the Cold War, is that many of these groups’ sentiments are shared with officials deep inside the military," he said. "It’s not necessarily as adversarial as it was."


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