Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Greenham Common

Former World War II–era air base in Britain, later used during the Cold War to base cruise missiles. The base and surrounding grounds of Greenham Common became a focal point for the 1980s antinuclear movement, as feminists and antinuclear protesters set up a so-called peace camp outside the base in September 1981. Requisitioned for use as an air base in 1941, Greenham Common, a flat plot of land in south-central England, became an important Allied air base during World War II and figured prominently in glider operations late in the war. The British military abandoned the base after the war but returned in 1947 as Cold War tensions began to mount.

Although Britain would soon develop its own nuclear weapons, in the 1950s British officials viewed the stationing of U.S. heavy bombers equipped with nuclear weapons at Greenham and elsewhere as an effective deterrent. After U.S.-Soviet tensions eased following the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, Greenham's role in British security again began to fade. In 1977 the Soviet Union installed SS-20 ground-launched nuclear missiles in Eastern Europe, however, much to the consternation of West European governments.

The United States moved to reassure its allies and decided to station nuclear-tipped cruise missiles at Greenham. This June 1980 announcement and the subsequent repurposing of Greenham Common beginning in 1981 spurred protests from Britain's antinuclear organizations and others who feared being caught in the middle of a U.S.-Soviet war. The peace camp was settled in September 1981, shortly after three dozen women marched from their homes in Wales to Greenham to protest the arrival of the missiles. This encampment grew and became a permanent presence, drawing protestors from a myriad of antinuclear organizations.

Over an eight-year span, the United States housed some ninety-six missiles at the base, with the first arriving in November 1983. The face of Greenham changed dramatically as landing strips were converted to missile silos. Protestors maintained a constant presence on the outskirts of the base throughout the 1980s.

Following ratification of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with the Soviet Union in 1987, the U.S. Air Force began removing the missiles from the base. The United States dismantled the last of the missiles in 1991. The peace camp remained in existence for another nine years, serving as a symbol for the larger global peace movement, even after American and British forces abandoned Greenham. Protestors abandoned the camp in September 2000.

John Spykerman


Further Reading
Roseneil, Sasha. Common Women, Uncommon Practices: The Queer Feminisms of Greenham. New York: Cassell, 2000.
 

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