Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum from Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)


  1.1  The Religious Society of Friends in Britain is a religious denomination with 16,000 members in 470 worshipping communities. We are committed to working for peaceful and effective responses to violence and social injustice.

  1.2  We welcome the opportunity of submitting evidence to the Defence Select Committee on the Future of Trident but are concerned at the lack of time available for preparing a submission on an issue of such gravity. A call for evidence, allowing less than a month for preparation, especially when coinciding with the Christmas recess, provides inadequate time for the "comprehensive analysis" of the issues that responsible Government requires. Such haste seems unwarranted in the context of weapons that "will start to leave service in the early 2020s."

  1.3  The position of the Religious Society of Friends on issues of peace and disarmament is well known. We are, however, realists. While we continue to work towards our vision of a peaceful world, we know the world will not be freed of weapons of war in any short period. We are aware that the UK government, supported by the majority of the population, will feel obliged to retain at least limited military forces for the foreseeable future.

  1.4  We would advocate, however, that these forces should be strictly defensive, tailored essentially towards peace-keeping activities. The Religious Society of Friends does not believe that nuclear weapons can possibly be seen in this light. They cannot be regarded as a mere defensive deterrent because their maintenance implies at least a conditional willingness to use them. If it did not they would not be a deterrent.

  1.5  Use of such weapons, even in extreme circumstances, would be so heavily disproportionate to anything less than actual nuclear attack on this country as to be unthinkable. Actual nuclear attack would be so devastating that retaliation in kind could serve no purpose and only compound the horror.

  1.6  We affirm the comments of the Archbishop of Canterbury that "...these are still weapons that are intrinsically indiscriminate in their lethal effects, and their long-term impact on a whole physical environment would be horrendous." We welcome and affirm the clear position of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland that the UK should relinquish its nuclear weapons.

  1.7  We do not consider that the White Paper amounts to "a careful review of all the issues and options" that is referred to in its introduction. We ask the Government to learn from the defects of Parliamentary accountability in relation to the Chevaline programme and to provide for rigorous, transparent and accountable public debate.

  1.8  We urge the Government, MPs and members of the electorate to which the government is accountable, to respond to the grave ethical questions that Dr Williams has raised regarding the morality, legality, and the strategic requirement for nuclear weapons. We hope that the Defence Select Committee will require the Secretary of State for Defence to respond to these questions in detail.


  2.1  The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) has a long history of seeking peaceful solutions to intractable political problems. We are committed to an understanding of security that recognises the inherent, absolute worth of every person. Our commitment to disarmament is rooted in a Christian understanding of hope that is incompatible with a willingness to use weapons of mass destruction. We are unequivocally opposed to the possession of nuclear weapons and cannot envisage any context in which the use of nuclear weapons could be justified. We unite with the increasing concern felt among the Churches regarding Britain's maintenance of a nuclear weapons system. We note the clear position of the Church of Scotland in opposition to Trident and note that many who had previously supported a concept of deterrence now no longer consider that the arguments are sufficient to justify the UK's maintenance of nuclear weapons.


  3.1  The Non Proliferation Treaty, to which the UK is a signatory, essentially requires that nuclear weapons states should take steps towards disarmament in return for those states that do no have nuclear weapons undertaking not to develop them. Article VI includes the provision that "Parties to the Treaty undertake to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective control." We consider that the replacement of Trident is incompatible with these obligations. A replacement programme sends the unedifying message that such weapons systems are morally acceptable. It would encourage other States to develop these weapons systems and undermine a rules" based system that is at the heart of the international rule of law. We ask the Secretary of State to address both the questions of whether its programme is in breach of the letter and spirit of NPT obligations and the following specific concerns:

    (i)  Nuclear weapons could never be used within the jus in bellum requirements of necessity and proportionality.

    (ii)  The Government has failed to specify scenarios in which the use of nuclear weapons could comply with International Humanitarian Law prohibitions on indiscriminate attacks.

    (iii)  Article VI is a pivotal provision of the Non Proliferation Treaty such that a breach of the provision would amount to a breach of the Treaty. Any broadening of the scope of deterrence policy would amount to a breach of Article VI and consequently of the Treaty itself. The Government proposes the following steps to broaden deterrence policy: deterrence against non-nuclear attack; use as an insurance system against unspecified future threats; enhancement of targeting policy. The Government proposals would consequently breach the Non Proliferation Treaty.


  We note that the White Paper does not consider the impact that renewing nuclear weapons could have on nuclear proliferation. A decision to enhance nuclear weapons would, in our opinion, undermine the UK's opposition to access to nuclear weapons by other states. We note also that the White Paper does not address the issue of proportionality and necessity. The White Paper does not contain an adequate analysis and assessment of what the Government considers are current threats requiring the maintenance of a nuclear weapons system. It is the responsibility of a democratic Government to respond to the arguments and views of those with whom it disagrees. The essence of the Government case for maintaining nuclear weapons appears to be that "on our current analysis, we cannot rule out the risk either that a major direct threat to the UK's vital interest will re-emerge or that new states will emerge that possess a more limited nuclear capability, but one that could pose a grave threat to our vital interests." An insurance system against unspecified threats does not amount to a compelling case for "a strategic requirement," particularly when the UK's possession of nuclear weapons would only compound such uncertainty. We unite with the submission of the Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Church that the logic supporting the use of nuclear weapons to insure against future threats would seem to lead us inevitably down the road to nuclear proliferation.


  We consider it scandalous that while resources can be found for a nuclear weapons' system costing tens of billions of pounds the Government is still not able to meet the UN target of spending 0.7% of GNP on international development. A small fraction of the resources needed to maintain weapons of mass destruction could transform the lives of millions in the developing world and help to build long-term sustainable security. Resources in the UK could be spent on hospitals, schools and creating economic opportunities for the young and deprived. Within armed forces expenditure, the resources spent on nuclear weapons could be used to develop armed forces suitable for a peace-keeping role.


  We consider that the decision to replace the Trident Nuclear Weapons system is wrong in principle and that the process of decision-making has been flawed. We urge the Defence Select Committee to ensure that the decision to renew Trident is reconsidered in a calm and thoughtful environment that engages with the ethical issues raised by the full spectrum of civil society, Churches and faith communities. The White Paper should be the starting point for a wide ranging public debate on our future security needs and should not be used as a means of closing down political debate.

15 January 2007

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