THE PRICE OF RESISTANCE: Measuring the Cost of Peace Protest
at RAF Molesworth
“The treaty to scrap land-based intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) is an historic turning point, a vindication of seven years of nonviolent campaigning by the nuclear disarmament movement. Without us, Cruise and Pershing would never have been a political issue; without us an agreement would never have been reached…” (Peace News, 11 Dec, 1987, pg.2)
On September 9th 1988, reporters and television crews from all over the world assembled outside the main gates of RAF Molesworth in Cambridgeshire, England, to watch an unmarked flat-bed truck carrying two wooden crates drive off the base. In the crates were two Ground-Launched Cruise Missiles on their way to a scrap-heap in Texas. After almost nine years of intensive campaigning by one of the largest social movements in European history, the first missiles were now leaving.
No doubt Molesworth could be remembered in the mythology of the peace movement as another success story for nonviolent resistance. The people fought and the people won. The impact of the international peace movement on the eventual signing of the INF treaty is a more complex issue that is not addressed here. Here we are concerned only to ask what impact did the campaigns at Molesworth itself have on Molesworth itself. Was effective pressure brought to bear on the government, the military, the construction workers or the police as a direct result of nonviolent direct action at Molesworth? Was anyone coerced by the power wielded by the peace movement?
We can not really know the full answers to these questions until confidential government papers are eventually released under the thirty years rule. Even confidential discussions with senior police officers, MOD officials and US congressmen have yielded very little hard information in this regard. What follows therefore is inevitably partial and tentative, though hopefully the pieces fit together to make a convincing argument.
Molesworth and the NATO Twin-Track Decision
On December 12, 1979, NATO ministers announced to the world their intention to deploy 572 new nuclear missiles in five European countries. This became known as the ‘Twin-Track Decision’ because in the same breath, NATO ministers announced their intention to negotiate an arms control agreement with the Soviet Union that would hopefully eliminate these very weapons, along with the ‘equivalent’ Soviet weapons, mainly the SS-20. President Reagan’s initial negotiating position – the so-called ‘zero option’ – called for the complete elimination of these missiles on both sides. Although this is essentially what was finally agreed in the INF treaty, there are a number of reasons to believe that NATO had every intention of deploying some, though not all, of the 572 Cruise and Pershing missiles announced in the twin-track decision.
There is indeed reasonable evidence to suggest that the US never intended the ‘zero option’ as a serious bargaining position at all (Chadwick, 1984, pg.93). According to Lawrence Eagleburger, the US under-secretary of state at the time, US policy was clear:
“I cannot stress too strongly that arms control is not an alternative to modernising our nuclear forces. Rather, maintaining adequate nuclear forces on the one hand – and this includes replacing older, obsolete technologies – and achieving sound arms control agreement on the other, are mutually dependent and mutually reinforcing policies.” (Eagleburger, 1984, pg.1)
According to the memoirs of Z. Brzesinski, President Carter’s National Security Advisor, the NATO decision was to deploy anywhere from 200 to 600 missiles (Brzesinski, 1982, pg.308). More than 600 would seem too ‘provocative’ while less than 200 would leave NATO too ‘weak’. The GLCM came in multiples of 16 missiles (a Cruise ‘flight’ of four launch vehicles each with four missiles), and the number of Pershing II was set at 108 (to replace 108 Pershing I). Thus the range was effectively set at a minimum deployment of 96 Cruise plus 108 Pershing (totalling 204 missiles) and a maximum of 480 Cruise plus 108 Pershing (totally 588 missiles). The announcement to deploy 464 Cruise (plus Pershing) gave ample negotiating room for reductions before reaching the bottom line of 96 Cruise (plus Pershing). (Garthoff, 1983, pg.206)
Cruise was announced by European governments as a ‘bargaining chip’, and that is exactly how we must view the 384 missiles that were scheduled for deployment over and above the 96 considered to be necessary as a minimum.
“Since 1979, the Alliance has consistently reaffirmed that deployments must proceed on schedule while emphasising its readiness to re-examine the scale of such deployments in the light of concrete results at the negotiations…” (NATO, 1983, pg.7)
The twin-track decision was in fact a compromise between those countries favouring nuclear modernisation and those favouring negotiations to reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons already in Europe. Although Helmut Schmidt of West Germany is normally credited with the initial ‘request’ to bring Cruise to Europe in the first place, he refused to let West Germany be seen as the only non-nuclear power in Europe to take them. Britain, as a nuclear power in its own right, was not considered to be changing its status much by accepting Cruise. Since Denmark refused to take any Cruise at all, and Belgium and Holland were prevaricating, reserving the right to decide not to accept any, it was Italy that saved the day for NATO by agreeing to take significantly more than its share and thus guaranteeing deployment would go ahead (Greene, 1983, pg.54).
With 108 Pershings due to be deployed in Germany, it is reasonable to assume that a minimum of 48 Cruise missiles each were due to be deployed at Greenham and at Comiso in Sicily, to ensure the minimum deployment of 96 Cruise. Above that bottom line of deployment, the rest was negotiable. Deployments were to be spread out over a five-year period, allowing ample time for an arms control agreement to be reached. Belgium and Holland were not due to receive their share of 48 missiles each until well into that five year timetable, and thus we may further surmise that behind the scenes there was at least an implicit assurance to the governments of Belgium and Holland that if they went along with the twin-track decision, they could reasonably expect that negotiations would save them from the potentially high political costs of proceeding with deployment against very strong opposition at home. If these assumptions are correct, then the twin-track decision was not just a commitment to deploy. It was a definite commitment to negotiate at least some of the missiles away before they ever were deployed.
If the missiles were never intended to be deployed in Belgium or Holland, they must never have been intended to be deployed at Molesworth either. Molesworth was due to become fully operational in December 1988, at the very end of the timetable for deployment, even after Belgium and Holland (and Germany’s share of Cruise as opposed to Pershing). Since Britain had agreed to take the largest share of Cruise it seems likely that Britain would have been the first to make reductions should these be forthcoming as a result of the negotiations.
The idea that the missiles were never intended for Belgium, Holland or Molesworth fits surprisingly well with Reagan’s negotiating position at the INF talks from November 1983 onwards, after the first Cruise were deployed at Greenham and the Zero Option seemed therefore to be off the agenda. Reagan proposed a ceiling of 420 missiles each, which was roughly the number of Cruise and Pershing planned for Greenham, Germany and Italy, minus those for Belgium, Holland and Molesworth (which actually comes to 572-160=412).
The suggestion that Molesworth was never seriously intended to take its allocation of 64 Cruise missiles also fits the situation ‘on the ground’ throughout this period. That is to say, there was absolutely nothing going on at Molesworth between June 1980 and November 1984 which could in any way be construed as preparations for Cruise deployment.
Following the announcement of the two British cruise sites in June 1980, design studies began almost immediately at Greenham Common and contracts for construction had gone out by mid-1981. Preliminary drainage work began there in January 1982 and full-scale construction on the missile silos was in full swing by August of that year. This was all at an existing American base that was already fully operational before the Cruise announcement was made.
At Molesworth there was nothing but a few second world war hangars, no personnel stationed there nor even the most basic of facilities. Yet the most preliminary survey work required to prepare for the building of a modern missile base from scratch was not begun until December 1984.
From a purely practical and financial point of view, it made good sense to time the deployments in such a way as to save the cost of building any bases that would not in the end be needed. This is implied in Congressional testimony which related to the building of housing to accommodate US servicemen’s families at the Cruise bases:
“Congressman Fazio: “We start out on the expenditure trail which we all know is certainly warranted in terms of quality of life for these individuals [ie. bringing over their families] but that does make a commitment that is going to be money that we have to chalk up as a loss if we determine we are not going through with complete deployment.”
General Bader: “You are referring to?”
Congressman Fazio: “Decision. That was one of the original purposes this committee held back the funding. Not because we had any question about the need to provide for quality of life or not simply because we had a dispute with the Europeans over who was going to pay but because we felt that it would be predetermining some expenditures that might not need to be made if we could make some progress on arms talks. It is still on the list of hopes that this Administration or any administration would have.”
The Greenham Factor
When the decision was finally made to go ahead with construction at Molesworth, the authorities already had over three years experience in dealing with the women at Greenham Common. Thousands of women ended up living for various periods of time at the Women’s Peace Camp there which in turn brought tens of thousands of women from all over the UK – and indeed the world – to the very gates of Greenham to protest and demonstrate their strength in opposing all that Greenham represented to them (male domination, patriarchy, militarism, waste, destructiveness, a callousness toward human beings and a lack of concern for future generations…). The demonstrations and activities of the Greenham women were an inspiration to peace movements throughout the world. Yet they were insufficient to stop the construction of the base and deployment of the first Cruise missiles in 1983.
The total financial and political costs of protecting Cruise missiles from the Greenham women are impossible to calculate, but they were undoubtedly very high. The original agreement was for Britain to provide a total of 220 security personnel for Greenham (House of Commons Defence Committee, 1984, pg.207) presumably consisting of MOD police, whose main function would be to guard the Cruise convoys when they travelled off base. In fact Greenham ended up with 417 permanently stationed MOD police (out of a total force of just under 4,000 who are meant to cover 140 other military installations nation-wide).
Up to 1,000 soldiers from three Army battalions and units of an RAF regiment were also assigned to Greenham, after new security arrangements were agreed with the US (Mather and Davenport, 1983, pg. 9) Of the 1,653 USAF personnel assigned to Greenham, about half were trained Cruise missile specialists and half security and general back-up. That means that ‘inside the fence’ there were approximately 2,200 people whose primary role was to guard the base and its contents from the peace movement!
Outside the fence there was a daily presence of up to 300 civil police from the Thames Valley force plus reinforcements to cover major demonstrations. A peak of 1,163 officers from 11 counties were deployed for Reclaim the Base on December 1, 1983 (House of Commons Defence Committee, 1984, pg.212). Once regular off-base exercises began in 1984, as many as 600 civil police were needed to ‘protect’ the Cruise convoys from the peace movement during the five days each month they ventured out of the base.
Aiding the security forces during much of 1983 were two helicopters on 24-hour patrol, floodlights, watch towers, electronic alarms, two layers of chain-link fence with three to five coils of barbed wire and razor-wire in between, police dogs, and automatic M-16 rifles carried by American soldiers authorised to use ‘deadly force’. The US provided an extra £8 million to ‘offset’ certain UK costs associated with Greenham, and Britain in turn agreed to spend over £1 million for ‘utilities, access roads and facilities to support their security force’. (US Congress, 1984, pg. 120) Temporary accommodation for the RAF regiment had already cost £150,000 by January 1984, and MOD police over-time came to £3 million for the financial year 1983-84 (House of Commons, 1984, pg.113)
The cost of repairing the perimeter fence had by 1984 exceeded half a million pounds, but a replacement with ‘protest-proof’ fencing as recommended by the Commons Defence Committee would have cost between £3 and a half million and £4 million (House of Commons, 1984, pg.125). Policing costs recorded by Thames Valley police for the period December 1982 to November 1983 totalled £3,064,300 and estimates for the entire period September 1981 to September 1984 range from £5 – £7 million (House of Commons, 1984, p.125). Costs incurred by Newbury District Council for evictions and extra court proceedings are miniscule by comparison – £90,000 for the whole period – and yet they represent a substantial strain on the council’s available resources.
Adding up all the known and estimated security costs over the three year period from 1981 to 1984, one can get a rough idea of what the Greenham women were costing the British government – over £10 million. Considering that is only slightly less than the £11.4 million it cost to build the cruise missile silos inside, the price of protest was considerable. On the other hand, in comparison to other costs the Thatcher government proved willing to incur to carry out its policies in face of opposition, Greenham was a cheap victory. The miner’s strike cost the government £71 million a week according to the New Statesman (11 September 1984) and the Falklands War cost well over £4,000 million by the time all the lost equipment was replaced and the ‘fortress’ secured.
The number of arrests at Greenham continued to rise in spite of a deliberate policy to avoid this. Between 1 April 1983 and 22 November 1983, police recorded 745 arrests at Greenham for failure to pay fines accruing from previous arrests! (House of Commons, 1984, pg. 270) Total arrests from September 1981 to August 1984 have been estimated at 1,866. This put tremendous strain on Newbury Magistrates Court. The 40 lay magistrates had to cope with nearly 200 extra court hours in 1983 to hear cases from Greenham. Two stipendiary magistrates had to be appointed by the government to handle the backlog of cases and at one point 78 cases were heard in a single day. (New Statesman, 2 March 1984, pg. 11)
The decision by a large number of those arrested to go to a prison rather than pay the court-imposed fine has added to an already serious problem of prison over-crowding. The peak prison population for England and Wales in 1982 was already 6,000 over the limit of ‘certified normal accommodation’. Additional strains on top of this required temporary prisons to be opened. Because women’s prisons account for only 1,456 out of 38,653 places, the impact of the Greenham women on the penal system was greatly multiplied (Home Office, 1982, pg. 11). Over 6,000 peace protesters and an equal number of miners had been arrested throughout the country by the end of 1984.
The fact that the House of Commons in 1984 produced a two-volume report on security at military installations is evidence itself of the scale of the nuisance. Although the report refers more to the threat of terrorists than to the threat of Greenham women, it admits at the outset that:
“Protest groups currently account for the great majority of unauthorised incursions into military establishments.”
Greenham Common had by far the largest number of ‘incursions’ registered in 1983 – a total of 38, followed by Upper Heyford with 12 and Lakenheath with 8.
The nature of the security problem at Greenham was not confined to the base itself. The whole ‘operational concept’ of Ground-Launched Cruise Missiles was that they must be deployed “some distance away from the bases where they are normally stored.” (House of Commons, 1984 pg. xvi) Each convoy of 22 vehicles was meant to be accompanied by 69 personnel, 44 of which are for security – 14 USAF and 30 RAF.
The convoys which continued to leave Greenham every month on exercise (even after the INF treaty) each required hundreds of additional civil police. All were successfully tracked to their ‘secret’ launch sites by peace movement activists and several were blockaded and stopped for many hours at a time. Because the first flight of Cruise at Greenham were supposedly on ‘Quick Reaction Alert’ and were not meant to leave the base, the exercises that took place during 1984 cannot have been proper ‘operational’ exercises:
“New technical information reveals that far from being a success in outwitting the Greenham Common women, the exercises have not tested the missiles. Rather they appear to have been public relations manoeuvres aimed at denting the morale of CND and peace campaigners, by getting vehicles past the peace camp’s cordon.”
In 1984, Greenham officials acknowledged a 25% reduction in dispersal exercises because of the costs of police ‘protection’ against demonstrators every time Cruise left the base to ‘melt into the countryside’.
The Peace Threat at Molesworth
By the time of CND National Conference in November 1984, it must have been clear to the authorities that Molesworth was rapidly moving to the top of the peace movement’s agenda. Although the Molesworth Pledge failed to materialise to any significant degree, the threat it posed must have been considerable. That was the threat that large numbers of mainstream CND members from around the country would come to Molesworth to obstruct construction work even at the risk of arrest. With over 100,000 members nation-wide and a record of pulling upwards of half a million to demonstrations in London, this was potentially a far greater threat than that posed by the considerable but increasingly marginalised presence of the women at Greenham.
The threat posed by the Molesworth Pledge itself was increased by the existence of over one hundred people already camping on the base, building semi-permanent structures and looking to be settling in for the long haul. Even bargaining on increased hostilities between Rainbow Village and the rest of the peace movement, the authorities could not be sure they would not be joined by hundreds or even thousands as the whole peace movement turned its attention to Molesworth. The possibility of hundreds or even thousands of protesters camping out on the actual base and backed up by hundreds of thousands of supporters around the country could not have failed to represent a significant threat to the building of the base, as Heseltine himself admitted:
“We had to move millions of pounds worth of equipment onto a site in Cambridgeshire without those who were stationed on the site and watching every move even knowing we were doing it…because we were very frightened and we knew exactly what would happen if a whisper of what we were doing got out. The protest groups would have called all their people out to block the road and to lie down to cause absolute mayhem. We’d never have got the fence up and then when we’d tried to build it they would have caused terrible chaos and inconvenience.”
There can be little doubt that it was the threat of nonviolent direct action on a large scale at Molesworth – the threat that ‘every fence-post would be contested’, which forced Heseltine to invade as he did, on the night of February 5th 1985. Furthermore, it is likely that the timing of the Molesworth invasion was dictated more by the timetable of the peace movement than by the timetable of the construction work, for it was a full year after the invasion before any construction work actually began on the base. Hundreds of MOD police were deployed around the seven-mile perimeter of Molesworth for ten months before even the first surveyor’s stakes began to mark out the area for a Cruise base to be built.
Policing the Base
The midnight operation to fence off Molesworth involved four separate military convoys of thirty to forty vehicles each which poured onto the base from the North, with a fifth convoy worked its way up from the South to enter the base via a different entrance. A civilian convoy, carrying more than 500 MOD and civilian police converged at the site of Rainbow Village at the same time. By 11.30pm, Molesworth was ablaze with headlights, portable searchlights, flares and beacons. The sound of electric generators, policemen giving orders and soldiers hammering metal fence-posts into the ground echoed through the stillness.
“Operation Yelstead” was set into motion on November 21st 1984, under the personal supervision of the defence Secretary Michael Heseltine himself. Heseltine arrived by helicopter at 11am on February 6th 1985, to inspect the success of ten weeks’ careful planning. He toured the site donning a military flakjacket and then returned to the Houses of Parliament to be accused of
“heavy-handed…jack- boot methods…(in an)Eastern European-type of operation…(involving) more British troops…than were used against the Argentines at Goose Green.”
A total of 1,500 Royal Engineers from seven squadrons worked through the night to put up a razor-wire fence along the entire seven and a half mile perimeter of the base. Mammoth bull-dozers levelled the area, ripping up hedges and trees all around the base. About 250 armed soldiers from the Regular Infantry stood by in case of trouble. Over six hundred MOD police officers (out of a total force of 4000) were drafted from virtually every Ministry of Defence establishment in England, Scotland and Wales for the operation – 300 were on hand for the eviction of Rainbow Village and another 300 took over on the morning shift. 900 civilian police from several forces, including the Metropolitan Police from London, were involved in the operation – 200 were at Peace Corner to escort Rainbow Village out of the county. Another couple of hundred riot police were on stand-by in case of trouble.
The entire area was sealed off by police roadblocks and there were large numbers of police escorting first the huge military convoys, then the individual break-down contractors that arrived to tow any remaining buses, caravans, etc. to the police pound. All through the following day there were convoys of contractors, portakabins and other equipment to be escorted to and from Molesworth. Hundreds of civilian police remained at Peace Corner to seal off the site. (The press were barred from entering the ‘sterile area’ before daybreak.) The policing costs for Cambridgeshire Constabulary alone came to £360,000 for the period 5-10 February 1985. The whole midnight operation cost over £1 million.
The authorities were well prepared for an onslaught of protestors, who indeed began arriving in the early hours of the morning of February 6th 1985 from as far away as Wales. Road blocks remained in force for the next two weeks, forcing all demonstrators to walk up to a mile from designated car parks to the base. Approximately 350 MOD police with dogs were guarding the seven and a half miles of fresh barbed wire. At least one helicopter was in service at all times to track groups of protestors around the perimeter.
A city of 130 portakabins was instantly erected inside the base, providing offices for the security forces, interrogation and processing rooms, photographic and finger printing rooms, and temporary cells for men and women. (There were only two functioning ‘portaloos’ for the entire base). As the royal Engineers departed on the second day, they left behind total chaos inside the wire fence they had erected. The chaos was exacerbated by the heavy snowstorms which fell on February 7th and 8th, completely blocking the only access road on to the base, leaving lorries, portakabins and policemen stranded in snowdrifts.
The number of arrests at Molesworth rapidly went into the hundreds in the days that followed the invasion. By the end of February, Cambridgeshire County Council were told that there had been a total of 211 arrests at Molesworth. By April 1985, local MP John Major reported to the local newspaper that there had been a total of 356 arrests at Molesworth since the start of surveying in November: 185 for criminal damage, 39 for obstructing a police officer, 51 for obstructing the highway, 11 for assaulting a police officer, 20 for going equipped to commit criminal damage, 10 for theft, 23 for breach of the peace, 5 for breach of bail, 11 for trespass, and 1 for assault occasioning actual bodily harm. “So much for peaceful protest,” quipped Major (Hunts Post, 16 May 1985).
The total costs of policing the base throughout this period came to over £1.6 million. This included £809,000 for policing the Easter demonstration with over 2,000 police officers, or roughly double the number deployed at the largest demonstration at Greenham (see above). According to Chief Constable Ian Kane, the policing of the Easter demonstration meant that the rest of Cambridgeshire was “50 per cent under policed for 24 hours. That is the price,” he said, “of policing demonstrations.” (Hunts Post, 6 August 1985, p.1)
That price, it seems, was well within the capabilities of the County Council and the government (which agreed to pay 90 per cent of policing costs up to a certain figure) to pay. In total, the civil policing costs at Molesworth came to only a fraction of the £5 – £7 million estimated for Greenham. In fact the pattern of policing at Molesworth throughout this period suggests that the police had prepared for a much higher level of protest than they actually found.
This does not mean that the total costs of security at Molesworth were insignificant. Most of those costs were incurred by the Ministry of Defence and remained largely hidden from the account books. Nevertheless we know that the cost of the midnight fencing operation came to around £1 million. Erecting the 12-foot security fence around the base cost another £3 million. A second inner fence of the same type was later erected to separate the MOD’s terrain from the American inner sanctum. This came to another £3 million. Construction of a special MOD access road to the base, which was necessitated at least in part by the desire to avoid the cordon of protesters which greeted every departure of the Cruise convoy at Greenham, cost another £1.5 million. Although the full costs of paying and maintaining a MOD police force of up to 700 per day during the winter of 1985 have not been revealed, we can estimate on the basis of known figures that this must have cost the MOD in the region of £8 million. Thus we may estimate that security for Molesworth cost the government approximately £16.5 million on top of the £80 million it cost to build the base itself.
Keeping to The Construction Timetable
In August 1984, it was reported that funds for construction to start at Molesworth had been frozen by a Congressional sub-committee pending assurances that the base could be made secure. It appears that the original plan was for construction to be restricted to a small 46-acre site within the Molesworth base, corresponding presumably to the area already occupied by the US Army Disposal Office. The remaining 700 acres of the base, belonging to the British government, had been due to be sold off. But the presence of Rainbow Village, with 150 people camping on the site, and the continuing activities of the peace movement there posed a problem for military planners. No local farmer or other potential buyer would be prepared to take on the responsibility for land surrounding a controversial Cruise missile base.
It is safe to assume that the US and British governments were haggling throughout the first half of 1984 over how to secure Molesworth from the sort of activities that plagued them at Greenham and who would pay for the ‘solution’. This confusion meant that even the MOD police did not know how they were supposed to handle the situation developing on the ground. By October an agreement had apparently been reached, which would require a massive operation on the part of the British government to fence in and guard the whole 740 acre base for a full year before any construction could begin.
Construction was originally due to start on building a Cruise missile base at Molesworth in February 1985. In fact the first construction contracts went out in December 1985 and work did not get underway until February 1986. The Heseltine invasion and building of the perimeter fence, which it was always assumed would have to precede construction of the base itself, gave the impression of intense construction activity at Molesworth in spite of the fact that for one year the fence was guarding nothing but an empty field with grazing sheep.
Quite possibly the invasion of Molesworth was intended to convey just that sense of activity, not to the British peace movement as such, but to the rest of the world, and especially to the governments of Belgium and Holland, who at that point had not yet made a decision about deploying Cruise in their respective countries.
The Molesworth invasion gave the unmistakable impression that at least in Britain, there was no letting up in the deployment schedule for Cruise. As little as one month previous to the invasion, the Belgian prime minister was in Washington for urgent talks with President Reagan over how to patch up a deal on Cruise that would not bring down his government. A month after the Molesworth invasion, he announced the decision to go ahead with deployment, and there was by then no question of losing the confidence of the Belgian parliament.
Apart from the initial unexplained delay of one year on the start of construction at Molesworth, there is little evidence of delays or disruptions hampering the construction timetable. Initial threats by the East Anglia construction unions to refuse at Molesworth went unnoticed. Peterborough City Council voted to blacklist local construction firms who did work at Molesworth. This caused an uproar among those firms, but there is no evidence of any work actually lost as a result of the decision.
Efforts on the part of the peace movement to boycott or blacklist the major contractors at Molesworth had little result. Leeds City Council threatened to boycott the firm of Norwest Holst Ltd. who were based in Leeds and believed to hold the main contract for the base. To the embarrassment of all sides, Norwest Holst bid for, but did not receive, any of the work at Molesworth.
When contracts did go out for the Molesworth work, in December 1985, some in the construction industry feared they were on a ‘collision course with anti-nuclear demonstrators’ (Construction News, 5 December 1985, p.9) who planned to blockade the base just as work was to begin (on the first anniversary of the Heseltine invasion). In fact, however, work on any real scale had not begun by February 6th 1986, so that the 12-hour blockade by 6,000 CND members which very effectively shut down the base for a day did not impinge on the construction work itself.
What little evidence we are able to muster for the coercive impact of nonviolent direct action at Molesworth suggests that that impact was minimal. If it could be said that the peace movement forced the British government to do anything, it was to force them to build a Cruise base at Molesworth rather than the reverse. Heseltine was forced to fence off the base a full year before the start of construction in order to avoid a further build-up of peace movement activity there. He was forced to fence off the full 740 acres of the base when the Americans only wanted to use 46 acres, and he was forced to pay the costs of securing seven and a half miles of fence for that whole year.
Some in the peace movement are convinced that Heseltine’s arrival at Molesworth in a flak-jacket to oversee his troops was the beginning of his fall from power. That is contestable. What is not contestable is the fact that the British government pressed on with the deployment of Cruise Missiles undeterred by the relatively minor expense and irritation of keeping a few protesters at bay at Molesworth.
The more sinister conclusion that can be drawn from the evidence presented above is that the peace movement may have forced the British government, or rather NATO, to build a base at Molesworth when in fact they never had any intention of doing so. It was only when peace movement activities continued to draw attention to the base, and threatened to escalate enormously if the government did not do something at Molesworth, that NATO felt it necessary to go ahead with construction at a base they hoped all along to negotiate away.
This does not in itself negate the value of all that went on at Molesworth during this period of intense campaigning in the 1980s. It does, however, raise the question of what people believe they are achieving by their campaigning activities and whether there is any basis in fact for their beliefs. Nonviolent direct action can bring down governments and overthrow even the most ruthless dictators, but only when a truly significant proportion of the general public is on the move and taking part in such activities. When a movement represents only a minority position within society and is pitting itself against the most powerful forces of the state, the chances of success are limited.
The case of Molesworth indicates just how powerful the peace movement of the 1980s could be – powerful enough to force NATO and the British government to make decisions they did not want to make. Unfortunately these were not the decisions the peace movement wanted them to make, so it behoves peace activists of the future to learn some lessons from this experience.
 It is interesting to note that the first breakthrough in the INF negotiations, the so-called ‘walk in the woods’ agreement of June 1982, involved a ceiling of 225 missiles on both sides (see NATO, 1983, pg.17).
 According to a NATO document published in the Washington Post on 28 November 1983, the 96 cruise missiles to be based a Greenham, the first of which had just arrived there, could “potentially place at risk approximately 87 percent of the high-priority targets [in the Soviet Union], including Moscow itself.” (quoted in Chadwick, 1984, pg.78)
 Numbers of Cruise to be deployed in each country:
UK – 160
Italy – 112
FRG – 96
Belg. – 48
Neth. – 48
total – 464
 There was not even a perimeter fence surrounding this disused World War II airfield, let alone any sign of military activity.
 This was the fence that was put up at Molesworth instead.
 Daily Telegraph, 4 April, 1983.
 see Janey Hulme, “Peace Protesters Roll Call” in New Statesman, 1983-85 (in occasional issues).
 House of Commons (1984) pg.iii and see pg. 11-13.
 New Statesman, 27 July 1984, pg. 5.
 This involved thousands of people up and down the country ‘pledging’ to come to Molesworth and disrupt construction work as soon as it started.
 A motley collection of New Age travellers, peace activists and environmentalists living in buses, caravans, teepees and tents.
 Michael Heseltine to BBC reporter (‘not for quotation’), 8/1/86.
 Hansard, “Written Answers to Questions,” 18 March 1985, p.355.
 these included 48 arrests by Cambridgeshire police, 30 arrests by MOD police, and 133 arrests involving subsequent release without charge. (Hunts Post, 7 March 1985, p.1)
 These are only the costs incurred by Cambridgeshire Constabulary. MOD policing costs have not been disclosed.
 Most of this cost was met by the Americans.
 For instance, interviews with Green Party activists Richard Oldfield and Brigg Oubridge.