Church leaders call for action on nuclear non-proliferation

A group of five British church leaders, including the Presidentof the Methodist Conference, have written to The Guardian, pointingout that the new UK Government will have an important role to playin the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty talks that recently startedin New York. The new Government will also have to decide on whetherto replace the aging Trident nuclear missile submarine fleet, andthe churches are concerned that this issue is not being discussedin the run-up to the election. The current fleet will reach the endof its working life in 2024, but the Ministry of Defence says thata decision to replace it will need to be taken during the nextParliament. The Independent newspaper reported on 2 May that TonyBlair has agreed in principle to replace Trident.

Steve Hucklesby, Secretary for International Affairs said, "thecause of non-proliferation would be advanced if the UK were tostate the conditions under which they would be prepared to forego areplacement of Trident. The government has so far refused to dothis. Many in our churches are strongly opposed to the continuedmaintenance of an independent UK nuclear deterrent. A replacementto Trident would cost at least £10 billion - this would be farbetter spent on schools and hospitals or delivering the promise toincrease aid to 0.7% of GDP."

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

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

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

"Throughout May a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) ReviewConference will be meeting in New York. It could be a 'make orbreak' affair. At the 2000 NPT Review Conference representatives ofour own Government actively helped to create '13 steps' towardsfull compliance with the treaty. These include progressive nucleardisarmament on the part of the five nuclear states - UK, USA,France, Russia and China - and rapid entry into force of theComprehensive Test Ban Treaty. At the 2005 NPT Review Conference wehope that the British Government will continue to advocate fullcompliance with the NPT and, even in the face of likely USobjections, the '13 steps' it helped to craft.

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


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"