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Trident debate: does no one remember the Church of England’s policy?

28 July 2010


From Canon Paul Oestreicher

Sir, — The Revd Dr David Attwood is right (Comment, 23 July). Our Church’s public silence on nuclear weapons is shameful. We need to be reminded that in 1982 the General Synod debated the report it had commissioned on “Nuclear Weapons and the Christian Conscience”, popularly called The Church and the Bomb. That debate was nationally televised.

The Church was actually thought to have something to say to the nation. The then Bishop of Salisbury, Dr John Baker, who had chaired the Synod’s working party, presented its findings. Only two of our seven mem­bers were pacifists; but our unanimous conclusion was that both the possession and the threatened use of weapons of mass destruction was incompatible with Christian discipleship.

The Synod did not fully endorse that position, but modified it. In the then prevailing crisis of the Cold War’s balance of power, immediate nuclear disarmament might be de­stabilising. That, however, must re­main the objective of British policy. The Cold War ended 20 years ago. There is now no nuclear stand-off. The abandonment of our nuclear-submarine fleet would cause no in­stability anywhere. What it would do is honour our obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to which the United Kingdom is a signatory.

The renewal of the Trident missile system has been defended by the last government, and now by this, as a long-term security against some hypothetical threat in the far distant future. In other words, we intend to remain a nuclear armed power indefinitely. How is that compatible with our concurrent policy of doing all we can to prevent other nations’ adopting that same policy? Why should Iran or any other nation not have the right to do what we are told is necessary for our long-term security? That makes no rational or moral sense — nor, as many senior officers believe, military sense.

Nearly 30 years ago, our Church promoted a national debate, and came to the conclusion that under post-Cold War conditions there would be no case for British nuclear weapons. Who remembers that we actually have such a policy? This is the time for our bishops to state it, loud and clear, and invite other Churches to do the same.

There are platforms enough, even (still) in the House of Lords, but more importantly in the houses of the Lord and in his name.

(Synod working-party member)
97 Furze Croft, Brighton BN3 1PE

From Mr Henry Haslam

Sir, — The Revd Dr David Attwood looks at the arguments for the UK’s retaining nuclear weapons, and finds them thin.

The case looks stronger if we try to take a global perspective. Would it be a good thing if all peace-loving nations were to get rid of their nuclear weapons? That would leave the field clear for North Korea, Iran, or worse. It would be rather like disbanding the police force.

Or should we trust the United States, the world’s only superpower, to act as the world’s policeman, the only country with nuclear weapons? Or just the US and Russia? These scenarios don’t sound very attractive either, and there may be much to be said for the US, Russia, China, Britain, and France’s retaining their nuclear deterrents in the interests of global security.

Other countries, such as India, Pakistan, and Israel, will have nuclear weapons for their own defence, but the big five, none of whom may feel under threat at the present time, should retain their weapons in the interests of world peace.

46B Belvedere Road
Taunton TA1 1BS

From Mr Michael Minter

Sir, — It may be too much to hope that Trident will generate as many letters in your columns as women bishops; but I hope that Dr David Attwood will have stimulated a much needed debate.

The coalition agreement says that the Government “will maintain Britain’s nuclear deterrent”, but leaves many questions unanswered. Does the omission of the word “independent” leave the door open for a possible joint Anglo-French deterrent? What if the value-for-money study is unable to find signi­ficant savings? What effect does the cost of maintaining our nuclear de­terrent have on our ability to keep our conventional forces fully equipped?

Even if these questions are answered, we are left with the more important ethical issues raised by Dr Attwood. It would be helpful if they could be studied on an interfaith basis.

Pax Cottage, 18 Church Road
Sundridge, Kent TN14 6DT

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