Britain's Quakers have said that they will work alongside other opponents of Trident nuclear weapons, even if they do not share the Quakers' commitment to peace. But they insisted that they would not compromise on their principles.
Their comments follow growing criticism of Trident from commentators who fear that the cost of Trident renewal will reduce other areas of military spending. In contrast, the Quakers' opposition to Trident springs from their historic commitment to pacifism.
The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a pro-military thinktank, has suggested that Trident should be “scaled back” for financial reasons. Richard Dannatt, who recently retired as head of the army, has urged the government to review Trident spending.
“Whilst as Quakers we will never compromise our integrity to achieve a campaigning end, we welcome any support in campaigning to get rid of Trident and are happy to work with others on this issue,” said Sam Walton on behalf of Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW), when questioned on the issue by The Friend, a weekly independent Quaker magazine.
Nuclear weapons have until now been funded separately to the core Ministry of Defence (MoD) budget, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has said he now wants the MoD to find the money itself. Defence Secretary Liam Fox is resisting the suggestion.
The government places the cost of Trident renewal at £20bn, but other estimates have put it as high as £94bn.
“Perhaps the reason why no-one wants to pay for Trident is that it’s not of any practical use,” suggested Walton, “The cost of Trident is ludicrous, especially given how little value for money we realise in terms of any sort of security”.
Shifting Trident funding to the MoD would have major effects on military expenditure. Although the MoD budget could be increased by the expected cost of Trident, this would still leave nuclear arms competing with other calls on the same pot of money.
Not all peace campaigners are confident about working alongside anyone who opposes Trident. “On a tactical level, I’m pleased about anything that moves towards lower military spending,” said Albert Beale of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), “But pacifists cannot agree with the logic of arguments that are anti-Trident but pro-military”.
Beale told The Friend that peace activists should keep in mind the “longer-term aim of demilitarisation”.
Trident renewal is opposed by a number of faith groups, including the Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Churches and the Church of Scotland, as well as several Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops. Polls suggest that a majority of the public is also opposed.
Quakers, known more formally as the Religious Society of Friends, have maintained a stand against war since their beginnings in mid-seventeenth century. In 1661, they declared that the “spirit of Christ which leads us into all Truth will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons”.
The Quaker peace testimony is one of a number of “testimonies”, through which Quakers witness to their experience of God through their behaviour in the world.