Church leaders have given their backing to a report by MPs which challenges the government's proposals to replace the Trident nuclear missile system.
The report published yesterday; “The Future of the UK’s Strategic Nuclear Deterrent; the White Paper” by the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, warns ministers against any "lowering of the nuclear threshold". It also asks why they no longer talk about a "sub-strategic role" for Trident, and refer instead to varying the yield of Britain's nuclear warheads.
The report says that Ministers have failed to answer fundamental questions about plans to renew the Trident nuclear missile system, including its true cost, why a decision must be taken now, and who it is meant to deter.
Ministers should also explain what they mean by Britain maintaining only a "minimum deterrent", the report says. It adds that the government has said Britain would use nuclear weapons only in "self defence", in "extreme circumstances" and in defence of the UK's "vital interests", yet it had not defined these terms.
Following the report's publication, leaders from the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church joined the calls for the Government to give a clear statement on its plans for nuclear non-proliferation.
The three Churches made a joint submission to the Committee, arguing that the Government's White Paper provided no serious analysis of the security risks associated with a renewal of Trident. They state that it is vital to control the proliferation of weapons technology and they raised concerns over the Government’s claim that Trident might provide protection against state-sponsored nuclear terrorism.
The submission also drew attention to the status of Britain’s commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
In the report the MPs chastise the government for failing to explain how its plans are compatible with its commitment to nuclear non-proliferation. Without such an explanation, their report says, "the UK's decision to retain and renew its nuclear deterrent might be seized upon by would-be proliferators to justify their own efforts to acquire nuclear weapons."
The report continues: "The government should do more to explain what the concept of deterrence means in today's strategic environment."
The report questions whether the government's promise to cut the number of nuclear warheads by 20% to 160 will have any real impact given the size of the existing stockpile. "Since the white paper proposes no changes to the number of warheads deployed on UK submarines, it is unclear that this reduction has any operational significance," it says.
Anthea Cox, Methodist Coordinating Secretary for Public Life and Social Justice said; “Renewal of Trident has significant ethical problems. Its power as a deterrent is based on fear, residing in the fact that it is designed to cause indiscriminate harm on a massive scale. It is unthinkable to invest in nuclear weapons when their use will always be unethical.”
Graham Sparkes, Head of Faith and Unity for the Baptist Union said; “The Government has declared its commitment to non proliferation but a replacement for Trident seriously undermines this aim. The UK government should be directing its efforts towards disarmament if it is serious about peacemaking.”
Stuart Dew, Secretary for Church and Society, the United Reformed Church, continued; “We are called as Christians to be peacemakers. A decision to renew Trident will be counter-productive in negotiating with potential new nuclear states such as Iran. We call on our Government to concentrate on building peace and replacing Trident is not going to further this cause.”
The government has set March 14th as a date for a parliamentary debate on the subject. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is organising a rally in Parliament Square during the debate which will be attended by representatives from the Churches.