Well-known thespian Emma Thompson and Anglican Bishop of Southwark Tom Butler are among 100 public figures spanning the arts, science, politics, academia, the churches and civic life who have joined together to oppose Prime Minister Tony Blair‚Äôs plans to spend vast amounts of money on replacing Britain‚Äôs Trident nuclear fleet.
Labour and the Tories are officially committed to a new generation of submarine-launched nuclear missiles which will cost ¬£65 billion over a 30 year period of service. Critics say the system is expensive, useless, destabilizing and dangerous in an age of asymmetric warfare and terror.
Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, Catholic Cardinal Keith O‚ÄôBrien, and the former head of the Dominican Order, Bishop Timothy Radcliffe, joined Bishop Butler as the Christian signatories.
Perhaps the biggest name on the list is that of astrophysics Professor Stephen Hawking, author of the best-selling ‚ÄòA Brief History of Time‚Äô and successor in the academic chair once held by Isaac Newton.
Professor Hawking declared: "Nuclear war remains the greatest danger to the survival of the human race. To replace Trident would make it more difficult to get arms reduction. It would also be a waste of money because there are no circumstances in which we would use it independently."
British and Irish churches are overwhelmingly united in opposition to Trident. But the government, including likely future PM and Scottish Presbyterian minister‚Äôs son Gordon Brown, are determined to push the proposal through.
Critics say that they are ignoring public opinion and massaging the facts in ways which are analogous to the ‚Äòdodgier dossier‚Äô rationale for what has turned out to be a disastrous war, occupation and civil chaos in Iraq.
The issue has galvanized independent-minded politicians across the party divides, with Menzies Campbell (Liberal Democrat leader), Lord Archer QC (Conservative) and Dianne Abbott (Labour) joining green and anti-poverty activists.
The letter includes the following pledge:
We believe that -
* Britain should not be rushed into a premature decision to replace its Trident nuclear weapons system;
* More time should be taken for parliamentary and public scrutiny and debate;
* The urgent need is both to halt the spread of nuclear weapons to new countries, and for all states which possess them to move more rapidly and substantially towards nuclear disarmament;
* The priority for the Government should be a renewed diplomatic initiative to seek a breakthrough in disarmament and non-proliferation negotiations, similar to the lead it has taken in relation to such global challenges as climate change and poverty.