The Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, introduced this at the Synod debate in July 2018:
One of my predecessors, the Rt Revd Henry A Wilson, Bishop of Chelmsford from 1929 to 1950, only ever made one speech in the House of Lords. It was in a debate about nuclear weapons after the end of the Second World War and he said that the use of nuclear weapons meant breaking one of the few conventions which civilisation had succeeded in setting up to mitigate the brutality of war. He was speaking about what is known as just war theory, which does not mean justifying war but limiting war by the requirements of justice. Our present Government says nuclear weapons are a deterrent and that so far the deterrent has worked but, as a previous report to this Synod maintained, and, as the Government concedes, for deterrents to work there must be a possibility that the weapons might be used. But this motion calls them unnecessary and dangerous. Why? Because nuclear weapons are disproportionate and indiscriminate in their capacity to kill and destroy by design, and these are the very tests whereby Christians have discerned what force could be used. Bishop Bell bravely challenged the allied saturation bombing of German cities saying it was not a justifiable act of war. Why? For the same reasons: it was not minimum use of force but maximum. What happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki fails the same moral test. Even today’s so called “low yield” missiles would be devastatingly indiscriminate towards civilian populations and the land itself and the air we breathe. Their impact would not be constrained by national borders. No state could address the consequences.
Therefore, according to just war theory there are no circumstances in which they could be used, and yet they exist. They exist and they could be used. We are prepared to use them. Others want to procure them. Our holding on to ours only makes them seem more attractive to other nation states, often those with the most repellent governments. They want to sit at the nuclear table and enjoy the power and leverage it brings. Our nuclear deterrent has not deterred them from wanting the weapons themselves. The world gets steadily more dangerous. It seems to me to be good fortune not good policy that there has not yet been a nuclear conflagration. Pope Francis has said that their possession is as immoral as their use. Therefore, the world at some point must choose another way. My predecessor said this: “The only sure preventive is the recognition of the law of God”, but, unhappily, the world was in such a state of spiritual bankruptcy that it was difficult to believe that such a remedy could be applied. Hopefully, the General Synod of the Church of England will not make the same mistake. In his memoirs he recalls how his speech was received, “Nobody took the slightest bit of notice”, he wrote. “I sat down in dead silence. I was conscious that all the noble Lords considered that I had made an ass of myself. Probably I had but the ass’s burden no longer included an uneasy conscience”.
It is 11 years since this Synod discussed nuclear weapons but this year, as we remember the 100th anniversary of the ending of the First World War, it is fitting that we are turn our attention to this most pressing of moral issues, for if we as Christians, as the established Church of this land, have nothing to say about making peace, then we are failing in our moral responsibility. But why this motion at this time?
This motion does not present the Synod with a binary choice between unilateral and multilateral approaches to nuclear disarmament, but, rather, seeks to give fresh impetus to the whole debate and to ask our Government to tell us what its plans are. The fact that it has not signed the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is for many of us hugely disappointing, but its failure even to engage with the process looks like complacency. Hence, we call upon Her Majesty’s Government to reiterate its obligations under Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it has signed, and tell us how it proposes to meet them. What account is it taking of the overwhelming view of the non-nuclear states of the world? What does it consider is the place of nuclear weapons in a world where one of the main threats to our security is a determined fanatic getting on to an underground train with a home-made bomb in his duffle bag or driving a van on to a crowded pavement? And with the increase in cybercrime across the world, exactly how secure are our “secure” systems?
Sisters and brothers, all of us long for a world that is free of nuclear weapons. How could it be otherwise as followers of Christ? But whether our personal view is to seek unilateral or multilateral disarmament, we can all vote on this motion and we can all ask our Government to make good on the promises it has made.
Whenever a bishop, or for that matter a Christian, gets up to speak on this subject, there will be all sorts of people queuing up to tell us that we do not know how the real world works. However, as Christians, we hold on to a vision of peace that is rather more than the silence after the guns have finished firing or the stand-off before they have started. Our Scriptures tell us that in God’s Kingdom swords are turned into ploughshares or, as happened in the trenches in the First World War, rifles were turned into goalposts. Peace, the genuine peace this motion refers to, is possible, but it requires capacious vision, reconciliation painfully embraced and justice secured for every nation. In this motion we are not telling our Government what to do. We are asking them to stop telling us what they are not going to do and work towards plans to make the world a safer place. Let us simply be guided by this: what would Jesus do? And I for one am happy to stand alongside my predecessor making a fool of myself in the cause of peace.
Under Standing Order 33 Miss Prudence Dailey (Oxford) proposed that “this Synod move to next business” She said “If I were being facetious, at the risk of sounding like Justin Trudeau, I would say I am proposing this because it is 2018 and this is not a particularly topical subject at this time. The really important reason why I am proposing this is because we have contingency business and Mr Gray’s (Andrew Gray, Norwich) motion on homelessness, which is a really critical topic that the Church can do something practical about. My church was involved last year and this year in a project to house homeless people in churches in Oxford. If we get a move on with this motion now, we might be able to get things moving for this winter, and so by making space in the agenda for Mr Gray’s motion it might be doing something practical to help people who desperately need our help this winter.”
The Motion was lost on a show of hands.
Revd Martin Gough (Armed Forces Synod): From the Armed Forces and from the Royal Navy. The submarines that carry our nuclear deterrent are really foreboding places. Having had the privilege to visit them on many occasions, the complexity and the austere living conditions there, and a very, very real danger of never surfacing again is a daily challenge for the women and the men who work there. I am not going to go through the political arguments for the validity and the necessity of that ultimate deterrent. I am just going to ask you to think for a moment about three people who I know live and work there. Amy, a young lieutenant on her first tour looking after probably somebody from your parish in her logistics department who has joined up to try to serve their county. Jumper Collins, who has a son with special needs and is on yet another patrol out of Scotland, his third in three years. Or Captain Graham yet another tour, a third four-month patrol in two years. Men and women who simply seek to serve God, the Queen and our country. These are the men and women who leave their families behind for three or four months every year – no internet, no Facebook, no Snapchat. No contact with anybody in the outside world. No surfacing, no medals to put on their chest, but they carry that dreadful, dreadful responsibility for you and for me. We need to bear in mind that this is a dangerous place to be and being submerged could be the last time that they see daylight.
If the Prime Minister orders them to press the button to launch the ultimate destruction of our world, the moral and the ethical pressure on that young commanding officer is something that none of us can understand or try to face. I have responsibility for placing chaplains on board, who will live cheek-by-jowl with ratings and officers. They will hot bunk. They will live out of a box no bigger than an apple crate. Mark, my current chaplain out there, will say his daily office day in, day out. He will offer the Eucharist many times on a Sunday trying to catch people as they come off watch or go on. In a submarine, you do not know if it is day or night. You do not know where in the world you are. You just get on with doing your task; serving your country.
The chaplain is the only one who can listen to those serious concerns of command, the worries of command, what it means to carry our nuclear deterrent. The submarine is a quiet place. It is a place living on the edge, but these men and women are simply working out their calling to serve our country. Much, much more work needs to be done. Some of the questions need be raised as to why we have it. None of us likes having bombs, but some of us understand the complexities of doing so. This is a complex and an emotional subject, so, please, as you consider the rights and the wrongs of a nuclear deterrent, remember and pray for the men and women of the Naval Service who for the last 50 years have tried to keep our peace.
Brigadier Ian Dobbie (Rochester): Nuclear weapons, as has been said already, cannot be uninvented and, horrendous as their destructive capability is known to be, when owned and handled responsibly in our own lifetime their very existence has arguably prevented cold wars from going hot.
There is no appointment in public life for which I am more grateful for not having held than to have been President of the United States in August 1945 when President Truman faced a horrendous double effect situation but an appreciation was carried out that revealed that if the rest of the Second World War in the Far East had been prosecuted using conventional weapons only, the number of civilian and military casualties would have been even greater than those at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the fact that it took two atomic bombs not one to secure Japanese surrender seems to confirm that assessment.
In consequence, a military strategy emerged on deterrence. To have achieved the same degree of deterrence based on conventional weapons only would have involved a cost so high as to be incalculable. Nuclear deterrence was much cheaper. Now, I served myself for 15 years in the erstwhile British Army of the Rhine when we had to plan on facing the Warsaw Pact forces outnumbering NATO at times in conventional weapons, and the design and location of Warsaw Pact weapon systems combined to provide a threat which was at times considerably greater than was realised.
The fact that NATO had nuclear weapon systems to achieve realistic deterrence was nothing less than a comfort to us to those who had no ambition to fight in World War III. The fact that not one square metre of NATO territory in those years went into the hands of the communist world is a tribute to the effect of nuclear deterrence. Yet, the international effort in recent years to achieve non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is surely to be applauded. Nuclear superiority is unnecessary. Nuclear sufficiency is enough. The United Kingdom has played its part in this noble process. Atomic demolition munitions, nuclear artillery pieces and the RAF V bombers have all been discarded and Trident remains the United Kingdom’s only nuclear weapon system.
We have no knowledge in a fast-changing world to know from where all future threats may emerge. Unilateral disarmament is unrealistic and fails to take into account the fallenness of human nature. There is no historical precedent for the effectiveness of unilateralism. If, say, a country like Israel has nuclear weapons, it is unrealistic to expect it to abandon them, thereby surrendering to those who retain them.
In favour, 260, against 26, with 21 recorded abstentions.