[Austen Ivereigh] The Catholic bishops of Scotland have unanimously urged the UK government to take “decisive and courageous steps” towards eliminating its nuclear weapons, and suggest the money now being considered to renew the Trident programme could be better spent on the poor.
In 2007 MPs backed plans to renew Trident by 409 to 61 votes, but in 2010 the government chose to delay the ultimate decision on whether to proceed and how many submarines to order until later this year. The cost of renewing the programme is disputed, but will be at least £15-20 billion (see BBC).
The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) opposes renewing Trident.
Although it falls short of actually saying Trident should not be renewed, the Scottish bishops’ statement says Britain has an obligation under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty “to work toward the disposing and elimination of all nuclear weapons.”
Since 1969, a British submarine carrying nuclear weapons has been patrolling the seas, capable of launching a retaliatory strike on any aggressor. The Trident programme involves four submarines carrying up to eight Trident missiles. The idea is to deter a nuclear attack on the UK, because any aggressor knows that a nuclear attack on Britain, even if successful, would be followed by a retaliation.
This concept of “mutually assured destruction” was deplored by Pope Francis in his September 2015 address to the United Nations, when he called for a world free of nuclear weapons:
An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust”. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.
The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have not spoken directly in favour or against Trident, although their president, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has said that “the technical strategic debate about nuclear proliferation and disarmament is critically important, but it must be guided by moral considerations.”
The Christian ecumenical peace group Pax Christi has produced a briefing paper on the issue.
Scottish bishops’ statement follows
The Bishops of Scotland have for a long time pointed out the immorality of the use of strategic nuclear weapons due to the indiscriminate destruction of innocent human life that their use would cause.
The renewal of Trident is questioned not just by those concerned with the morality of nuclear weapons themselves but also by those concerned about the use of scarce financial resources.
Lives are being lost now because money that could be spent on the needy and the poor is tied up in nuclear arsenals. We endorse the words of Pope Francis: “Spending on nuclear weapons squanders the wealth of nations”.
The United Kingdom, permanent member of the UN Security Council and declared nuclear power, signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968. That treaty binds signatories who do not have nuclear weapons not to acquire them, but it also binds those who do have nuclear weapons to work towards the disposing and elimination of all nuclear weapons. Britain should take more decisive and courageous steps to revive that aspect of the treaty and not seek to prolong the status quo.
+ Philip Tartaglia, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, Archbishop of Glasgow
+ Joseph Toal, Vice-President, Bishop of Motherwell
+ Hugh Gilbert, Episcopal Secretary, Bishop of Aberdeen
+ Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh
+ Stephen Robson, Bishop of Dunkeld
+ John Keenan, Bishop of Paisley
+ William Nolan, Bishop of Galloway
+ Brian McGee, Bishop of Argyll and The Isles