Scottish bishops signal Christian case against Trident nuclear replacement
While calling for a widespread debate on the British governmentís current proposal to replace the Trident nuclear submarine system in the near future, Scotlandís eight Roman Catholic bishops have made their own position ñ and that of the Church ñ crystal clear. They are firmly opposed.
The Catholic Church, which bases its teaching on the conflict-limiting ëJust Warí tradition, and also has a sizeable peace wing of non-violent activists and pacifists, has long argued that nuclear weapons are immoral and unusable.
Today they reiterate that view, declaring: ìThe Catholic Church has clear and consistent teaching on nuclear weapons. The use of weapons of mass destruction would be a crime against God and against humanity it must never happen.î
Catholic teaching also says that the very threat of mass annihilation is wrong. Though widely regarded as a conservative, Pope Benedict XVI stated clearly, "In a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims."
In an online discussion on the UK Christian think tank Ekklesia, author and broadcaster Edward Stourton (well-known as a presenter of the agenda setting BBC Radio 4 Today programme) observed last week: ìI think the degree to which [John Paul II] moved the Catholic Church towards pacifism is one of the most important - and under appreciated - elements of his legacy.î
Stourton has just written a biography of the complex and often contradictory former Pope, whose influence upon Benedict and Christians worldwide is undeniable.
Though the Labour Party has traditionally been sceptical or hostile towards nuclear weapons, and PM Tony Blair was once a member of CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament), it seems that the Atlanticist wing of the party is winning hands-down in the current debate.
It remains to be seen whether the Christian Socialist Movement, which counts a range of Labour MPs and senior ministers in its ranks, will take a position on the Trident replacement issue.
Following the Polaris submarine fleet, Trident is the second wave of Britainís so-called ëindependent nuclear deterrentí ñ which critics say is not independent at all, because the US government effectively has a technology and policy veto over their use.
However, Trident is severely aging, and must either be scrapped or replaced. In spite of its opposition to countries like Iran and North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons, the United States government has not signed up to participate in non-proliferation and wishes to see its European allies remain firm members of the nuclear club.
NATO argues that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact was substantially brought about by military, including nuclear, pressure.
But many leading geopolitical analysts say that economic and political forces were the major contributors, and that the aptly-named doctrine of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) brought the world to the brink of annihilation in the 1980s.
Few analysts believe that the MAD idea can be seen as stable or coherent as a military strategy in todayís world of asymmetric conflict, and the case for a significant reduction in the worldís nuclear stockpile is strong ñ quite apart from the moral and theological implications of these weapons.
Britainís rejection of a Trident replacement would be seen as a step forward in this regard ñ a singular initiative which could form part of a renewed multilateral disarmament strategy.
Lawyers also argue that the use of nuclear weapons would be illegal under international law, and that this makes their threatened use illegal too.
Simon Barrow, director of the UK Christian think tank Ekklesia, which retains a particular interest in violence reduction and conflict transformation strategies, today welcomed the Catholic bishopsí statement.
He said: ìIt is to be hoped that other church leaders will follow promptly in the footsteps of the Scottish Catholic bishops in opposing Trident replacement. Nuclear weapons imperil us all and violate the gift of life, both by their use and by the intention to use them which is inherent in their strategic deployment.î
He added: ìThe world faces enormous challenges. Nuclear weapons are one more threat we could do without. This is an issue in which believers of all kinds and those of humanist and humanitarian persuasion can be united on.î
Available from Ekklesia: Edward Stourton's new, acclaimed biography of Pope John Paul II.
Here is the Scottish bishopsí statement in full:
The Bishops of Scotland welcome the Prime Minister's recent comment that there should be the "fullest possible" public debate on the Trident nuclear missile system. The Catholic Church has clear and consistent teaching on nuclear weapons. The use of weapons of mass destruction would be a crime against God and against humanity it must never happen.
The Church teaches that it is immoral to use weapons of mass destruction in an act of war: "Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation."(1)
Equally, storing and accumulating such weapons gives rise to strong moral reservations. "The arms race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them. "(2)
In a widely endorsed statement released in 1982, the Bishops of Scotland said: "We are convinced, however, that if it is immoral to use these weapons it is also immoral to threaten their use. Some argue that the threat can be justified as the lesser of two evils. The crux of the problem is whether in any foreseeable circumstances a policy of self-defence based on the use or even the threat of use of these weapons of terrible destructiveness can ever be morally justified."
In January of this year, Pope Benedict XVI stated clearly, "In a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims." He called on those countries in possession of nuclear weapons to "strive for a progressive and concerted nuclear disarmament."
In repeating our previous statement, and endorsing the statements from the Pope, we urge the Government of the United Kingdom not to invest in a replacement for the Trident system and to begin the process of decommissioning these weapons with the intention of diverting the sums spent on nuclear weaponry to programs of aid and development.
(1) Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes 80; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2314
(2) Catechism of the Catholic Church 2315
(Source: Catholic Media Office)