Letter to Secretary of State regarding Trident

10 July 2006

The Right Hon. Des Browne MP
Secretary of State for Defence
House of Commons

Dear Secretary of State,

Re:  Trident

Along with Church Leaders from other Churches in the UK, we are writing to express our concern following the Mansion House speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that Her Majesty’s Government is contemplating a long-term replacement for Trident submarines.

  1. The doctrine of threatened Mutually Assured Destruction used during the Cold War years may have averted a nuclear war, but has subsequently led to an escalation of nuclear weapons, way beyond the needs of deterrence per se.  The inheritance of this era, in the form of Trident, seems an anomaly in the absence of a present nuclear threat from another country. Whilst other countries do indeed possess nuclear weapons, it has not been proved to us that it is their intention to use them aggressively as part of their foreign policy.  Trident cannot be justified merely in the light of other countries’ possession of nuclear weapons without a clear indication of intent to use.
  2. Looking to the future, we do not accept that Trident is necessary in order to protect Britain against the possibility of a future nuclear strike from an unnamed and at present unknown country which might acquire nuclear weapons. Given the ‘special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom we cannot conceive of a scenario whereby Britain alone would be attacked or threatened with a nuclear attack.
  3. In the post Cold War era world we are only too aware how the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction has often been translated into first-strike language and attitudes. We have major concerns that the replacement of Trident would encourage Britain to be drawn into first-strike pre-emptive thinking as an intrinsic part of its ‘defence’ culture.   This would increase rather than reduces insecurity in the world.
  4. We feel that the continuing maintenance of or replacement of Trident provides a strong motivation for other countries to acquire nuclear weapons.  If Britain argues that Trident is part of our sovereign rights or that it enables us to be a player at the nuclear table, then we have to accept that other countries may quote both this right and this role as justification for their own acquisition. We believe that Britain should take a lead role in giving new impetus to the non-proliferation treaty. Further its rejection of Trident could inspire other countries to follow suit.
  5. We believe, more positively, that Britain should set a moral international example by publicly declaring that it will not replace Trident, and doing so in the name of establishing a global order with no or minimum dependence on nuclear weapons in the future.
  6. We believe that Britain’s role in supporting UN peacekeeping and intervening for humanitarian reasons in conflict situations throughout the world will require continuing and even further financial investment.  The money saved from the Trident programme would be of significance in this context.
  7. We also believe that Britain’s own social needs for a peaceful and just society based on adequate public services and reduced inequalities are a far better use of the huge sums of money necessary for any replacement programme and for indeed maintaining present Trident performance.
  8. We certainly believe that the Trident decision merits not only a substantial debate within the two Houses of Parliament, but in the United Kingdom as a whole.

Our own position is that, as we seek, both in government and wider civil society to construct a healthy, just and peaceful world, Britain could and should play a lead role, drawing upon moral, Christian and other faith beliefs to advocate an end to the possession of as well as the threatened use of nuclear weapons.  We believe this would have widespread, symbolic, as well as real significance, for the future of our world and our country.  It might also encourage us to invest in a wider range of political, cultural, economic and social responses to areas of conflict, threat and need in our world.

Yours sincerely

The Most Reverend Dr Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales


c.c.  The Right Hon. Gordon Brown MP, Chancellor of the Excheque