‘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.’

Church leaders here have been signing this petition – and I don’t think I would refuse to sign it.  But are we really saying that we cannot imagine a situation in which the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons might be necessary?  I was never a great fan of MAD but it played its part in preserving several generations from having to go to war.  Is this unilateralism?  It’s a dangerous world out there.  Who knows what threats may not emerge over a 30 year time span from terrorists, rogue states, emerging world powers, etc.  But then one might reasonably ask whether enormous nuclear weapons carried around in submarines are at all relevant to our defence needs.

I watch the growing debate about nuclear power with great interest.  Global warming gathers pace.  Something needs to be done.  But is the something nuclear power?  Our lifestyle produces ever more CO2 – endless miles in the Passat; constant Easyjet flights.  We seem powerless to change it.  But there must be another way.


  1. James – there was a time when I would have signed up to your argument. And much of me still does. Plainly, the world would be infinitely safer without nuclear weapons – and biological weapons, etc., also. But I find it difficult to accept the idea that the single cause of nuclear proliferation is the weapons themselves – and that the mechanisms are essentially reactive. Fortunately, we never went nuclear in Ireland. But people frequently justified their violent aggression by pointing to others and suggesting that ‘we are just defending our people’. And it was usually not so. But I can sign up to the purely tactical argument. If I feel, however reluctantly, that some form of nuclear weapons are necessary as a protection/deterrent. And I believe, as I do, that it is more likely than not that somebody will threaten to detonate a nuclear weapon in a major city somewhere – in those circumstances, I don’t imagine that a Trident submarine is going to be a much use!

  2. David, I’m sorry you feel that way. It seems to me that one of the reasons why we live in an “extraordinarily unstable” world is because of the increasing proliferation of nuclear weapons. In nuclear politics, every action is justified by the response it provokes. The US and UK explain their missile defence programme by claiming that other states are developing new weapons systems, which one day it might need to shoot down. In response, Russia has activated a new weapons system, the Topol-M, designed to “penetrate US anti-missile defences”. Israel, citing the threat from Iran, insists on retaining its nuclear missiles. Threatened by them (and prompted, among other reasons, by his anti-semitism), the Iranian president says he wants to wipe Israel off the map, and appears to be developing a means to do so. Israel sees his response as vindicating its nuclear programme. It threatens an air strike, which grants retrospective validity to Ahmadinejad’s designs. And so it goes on… Probably not for very much longer though, if the predictions of the world’s leading experts I quoted in my last post are to be trusted.

    Nevertheless, we all have to be responsible for our own actions and the consequences of those actions so the choice is of course yours.

  3. I probably didn’t ‘come clean’ on my issues with the petition – partly because only my diary prevented me from taking part in the public signing. I think I would have signed it as an expression of dissent from the lack of public debate which surrounds this issue. The petition seemed to have no accompanying rationale – and the suggestion that one could immediately redirect the money to third world aid just seemed to me the kind of political naivety which does the church no favours. It points up imbalances in spending but little more.

    I find the argument for disarmament attractive – so long as one is still essentially in a ‘cold war’ mindset. The war is over so why …. I find that George Bush makes a compelling case for disarmament when he defends the holding of nuclear weapons by the US while denying to Iran the right to acquire them. But a post 9/11 world has to reckon that the unthinkable is possible and prepare accordingly – I am not convinced that to hold nuclear weapons as a deterrent [whether that means submarines or not, I don’t know] is wrong in this extraordinarily unstable world.

    On nuclear power, I think I go with Andrew in believing that it probably, with reluctance, has to be part of a mixed economy. Otherwise I may end up cycling round this diocese.

  4. I used to support such petitions, even went on marches. Sadly the world is not as we would like it.

    If Britain disarms, what response could it offer to a nuclear threat from a hostile power?

    Only the utmost naivete could suggest that such a situation could never arise – there have been two paradigm shifts in international relations in the past twenty years with the collapse of Communism and the rise of militant Islam, it is impossible to predict what might lie ahead.

    Savings from a reduction in the programme would not be channelled into aid and development – they would be channelled into policies that win votes.

    What is needed by developing nations is not charity from Britain, but justice in international trade. People need empowerment, not handouts.

  5. The sad thing is the historic link between UK nuclear weapons and power. A blessing and a curse at the same time. Without the secrecy in the 50s onwards safe storage would have been possible with the genius of the wider scientific community. With the secrecy of the weapons’ sideline the (government)funding was assured. What there is no doubt about is that with or without Trident, the UK will certainly have a 20% hole in its secure supplies of electricity in a decade’s time. And the cost of spot price fuels will be high accordingly. Scots have had their oil pumped away before for pennies, and its going to be cold in Perth in the years ahead whent he price of fuel is astronomic compared to today. Diversity is the only solution in a scheme that probably must include some nuclear component – just look at the places oil and gas come from now and ask whether they are dependable?

  6. First of all, please forgive the length of this comment, but this is a serious subject and it is hard to do the matter justice without mentioning some of the more important details. I would also like to say that I think it’s great that church leaders and congregations are getting involved in the effort to eliminate the grave threat of nuclear weapons from our world and I urge you to support their petition.

    Your question “are we really saying that we cannot imagine a situation in which the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons might be necessary?” makes little sense to me, as even a cursory glance at the historical record reveals that Nuclear weapons are not a deterrent to the use of violence by the powerful states that possess them. Your assertion that MAD has “preserved several generations from having to go to war” hardly stands up to much scrutiny if we apply it to the world as a whole. In fact some of the worst atrocities the world has seen since the post WWII period have been overseen and organised by the British government and our allies.

    In the wake of the terrible destruction of WWII, the UN was established primarily “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and possibility of “ultimate doom.” Although it was left unstated at the time, it was clear that language meant the devastation that would result from a nuclear holocaust. So the question “are we prepared to live with the imminent danger of nuclear holocaust?” would be more appropriate. I hope however, that it is not a question that any sane person would have to think too hard about.

    Even more worrying is the fact that the world has already come close to this threat of “ultimate doom”, as was dramatically underscored in October 2002 at the summit meeting in Havana on the 40th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, attended by key participants from Russia, the U.S. and Cuba. Planners knew at the time that they had the fate of the world in their hands, but new information released at the Havana summit was truly startling – the world was saved from nuclear devastation by one Russian submarine captain, Vasily Arkhipov, who blocked an order to fire nuclear missiles when Russian submarines were attacked by U.S. destroyers near Kennedy’s “quarantine” line. Had Arkhipov agreed, the nuclear launch would have almost certainly set off an interchange that could have “destroyed the Northern hemisphere”.

    Robert McNamara, the US defence secretary under President Kennedy, has recently stated that the threat of a nuclear exchange is a great as it ever was during the Cuban missile crisis. He notes that the “war in Iraq has shown that the consequences of military action are unpredictable” and perhaps even more disturbing for the future of humanity, he has condemned Britain and America’s approach to nuclear weapons, which he described as “immoral, illegal and militarily unnecessary.”

    That statement was further echoed by former NATO planner Michael MccGwire in the respected British Journal of International Affairs where he noted that under current policies “a nuclear exchange is ultimately inevitable” the result of which will be “to destroy our present civilisation and jeopardize the survival of the human race”. He also mentions that Britain is in “a unique position to bring the story back on track and provide the opportunity for a happy ending” but only as long as Britain is prepared to eliminate its nuclear weapons in accord with the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and adhere to international law.

    MccGwire was not the first person to realise this stark choice. Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein issued a statement in 1955 that noted: “there lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.”

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