Church leaders call for action on nuclear non-proliferation

A group of five British church leaders, including the President of the Methodist Conference, have written to The Guardian, pointing out that the new UK Government will have an important role to play in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty talks that recently started in New York. The new Government will also have to decide on whether to replace the aging Trident nuclear missile submarine fleet, and the churches are concerned that this issue is not being discussed in the run-up to the election. The current fleet will reach the end of its working life in 2024, but the Ministry of Defence says that a decision to replace it will need to be taken during the next Parliament. The Independent newspaper reported on 2 May that Tony Blair has agreed in principle to replace Trident.

Steve Hucklesby, Secretary for International Affairs said, "the cause of non-proliferation would be advanced if the UK were to state the conditions under which they would be prepared to forego a replacement of Trident. The government has so far refused to do this. Many in our churches are strongly opposed to the continued maintenance of an independent UK nuclear deterrent. A replacement to Trident would cost at least £10 billion - this would be far better spent on schools and hospitals or delivering the promise to increase aid to 0.7% of GDP."

As the NPT Treaty Review opened in New York, Kofi Annan warned that all countries must work "towards a world of reduced nuclear threat … so that warheads number in the hundreds, not in the thousands."

The Revd Will Morrey, President of the Methodist Conference, said "" Many subjects are raised during an election and this one may not be at the forefront of people's minds, but we need to remember that the nuclear powers still posses enough weaponry to destroy the earth. It is vital that we press our leaders to agree ways to reduce this terrible arsenal."

The letter from the church leaders was published in The Guardian on Saturday, 30 April, and the full text is as follows:

"Throughout May a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference will be meeting in New York. It could be a 'make or break' affair. At the 2000 NPT Review Conference representatives of our own Government actively helped to create '13 steps' towards full compliance with the treaty. These include progressive nuclear disarmament on the part of the five nuclear states - UK, USA, France, Russia and China - and rapid entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. At the 2005 NPT Review Conference we hope that the British Government will continue to advocate full compliance with the NPT and, even in the face of likely US objections, the '13 steps' it helped to craft.

A major test of the British Government's attitude to nuclear weapons will be the future of Trident, which is likely to be decided during the next Parliament. It is vital that this question is opened-up to democratic scrutiny and public debate. The cause of non-proliferation could gain significant impetus were the UK, despite the reductions in our nuclear capability since the end of the Cold War, to spell out the conditions under which the UK might be content to forego a replacement of Trident.

Yours

Rt. Rev. Barry Morgan, The Archbishop of Wales
Revd. David Coffey, General Secretary of the Baptist Union
Revd. Will Morrey, President, The Methodist Church
Revd. Sheila Maxey, Moderator, The United Reformed Church
Dr Alison Elliot, Moderator, The Church of Scotland"

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