Westminster Abbey is holding a service to “Recognize Fifty Years at Sea Continuous Deterrent” on the 3rd of May. We are told this is a “peace keeping through the deterrent” Service. You may not understand what that means; it needs a little translation. “Continuous” says that every day a nuclear submarine with Trident missiles and multiple nuclear warheads is prowling the oceans. Capital C means that it is ready to attack if necessary. Capital D Deterrent means that nuclear weapons Deter other countries from attacking us and keeps us safe, and service means only for those who are invited. And Westminster Abbey is saying this is a good thing because it is “peace-keeping”. So prowling submarines with weapons which will kill millions are given a nice Anglican blessing for peace-keeping, and all is well. Except of course, this is not the truth. Westminster Abbey, is going along with the military-industrial establishment in a ceremonial event supporting a myth, although it will have many well-meaning people present. The service avoids Christianity, thought, principles and realism. Here we try to address these omissions in reverse order. First, we look at four reasons why the supposed peace-keeping deterrent is a fiction, dreamed up by the arms companies solely for their benefit.


  1. Who might attack?

Are our nuclear submarines and their weapons really a deterrent? No, because, during those fifty years no-one has remotely threatened to attack us as a nation.  For over 80,000 days of prowling, there has been no alert and no danger, because no-one has thought of attacking us, just as no-one has thought of attacking Switzerland, Belgium, Poland or Denmark, which don’t have nuclear deterrents. Our Deterrent has been like a man sitting in a full suit of Armour in the park with twenty swords and machine guns, hoping no one would notice he has not been attacked and wishing at least a dog would growl at him. Strip away the MOD/MI6 hype pushed out most weeks to keep us in fear, and there is not a real nuclear threat or the semblance of a threat to us.. It is not even a feasible thing to do, for North Korea, Russia or Montenegro. Nobody wants to attack us with nuclear weapons; what would be the point? It is a hypothetical deterrent, a watch this space in case anything happens deterrent, a dog howling at the moon deterrent, a mislabelled wrapping of a non-deterrent. There is no enemy at the door, or down the street, or anywhere.

1b. What about the Cold War?

Ah, says someone, what about the Cold War? Yes, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the Cold War. You may not have heard that during the fifties and sixties the US vastly exaggerated the USSR bombs, bombers and missiles when it was far ahead in the “arms race”, so that the arms companies could carry on overproducing their nuclear weapons and delivery systems. At the time Kennedy was elected President, the US had nine times as many nuclear weapons and delivery systems as the USSR, and of better quality, but Kennedy campaigned on being behind in the arms race. The arms companies had a vested interest in this kind of Cold War; it gave them massive orders. The USSR was trying to catch up with the US, because it was good for their arms companies. Actually, the biggest threat during the Cold War was when the US nuclear bombed itself four times in early 1961. In one of the bombs which fell 150 miles from Washington, near Goldsboro, North Carolina, three of the four firing mechanisms detonated, but the fourth, luckily, did not. That was really scary.

Listen for a moment to the leaders of the world superpowers – President Eisenhower, ex Supreme Allied Commander defeating Hitler Eisenhower, and the USSR’s Khrushchev. Eisenhower is talking to Khrushchev, then Khrushchev replies.

“My military leaders come to me and say, “Mr President, we need such and such a sum for such and such a program.” I say, “Sorry we don’t have the funds.” They say, “We have reliable information that the Soviet Union has already allocated funds for their own such program. Therefore, if we do not get the funds we need, we’ll fall behind the Soviet Union.” So I give in. That’s how they wring money out of me. They keep grabbing for more and I keep giving it to them. Now tell me, how is it with you?”

“It’s just the same. Some people from our military department come and say, “Comrade Khrushchev, look at this! The Americans are developing such and such a system. We could develop the same system, but it would cost such and such.” I tell them there is no money; it’s all been allocated already. So they say, “If we don’t get the money we need and if there is a war, then the enemy will have superiority over us.” So we discuss it some more, and I end up by giving them the money they ask for.”

The militarist tail was wagging the political dog. If the politicians did not toe the line, they were charged with putting the nation in danger, giving in to the enemy, or being a traitor to the country. It goes on all the time. Michael Foot, a pacifist and leader of the Labour Party, was accused of being a Russian spy by The Times; when it came to trial the libel damages bought him a new kitchen. Now Jeremy Corbyn just faces rumours and smears because he rightly sees this system as silly. So, the vast military-industrial establishments on both sides fed and feed the fear that kept them in business. By 1990 the immense military expenditure in the poorer USSR caused it to collapse. The Cold War was the barking of two dogs, each with its tail clamped in the jaws of the arms industry.

  1. The Non-Independent Insignificant Nuclear Non-deterrent.

There is a second reason why “our” nuclear deterrent is not real. We are told our nuclear weapons are independent. Except they are not. They are bought from the US as a kind of virility symbol that puts us in the superpower class. Let us examine this relationship. US weapon systems have been thirty or forty times bigger than ours throughout this period, and in any international tensions, it is US power that features, not ours. The US has the mega-weapons and everybody, other than us, ignores us. We do not count and have not since Suez in 1956. We only count as the US poodle, in Iraq, Syria or wherever, though we did win in the Falklands. That our deterrent is independent does not matter, because we do not matter, and it is not. We would have to ask permission of the US through NATO to do anything. The egos of Thatcher and Blair have tried to make us matter, but we do not. Like France, another post-colonial nuclear power, nobody cares about our nuclear weapons. It is all ego, a Churchillian V bomber sign that has gone wrong, a useless national egoism that only stupid leaders like Kim Jong-Un in North Korea think of following, (and he might be genuinely scared of the US). So, the fact that we, the British are prowling the seas is of no interest to anyone who is grown up. For fifty years, it has been an empty ritual. It has contributed as much to peace as the robes of Anglican bishops contribute to holiness.

  1. Nuclear Weapons do not deter conventional wars.

Because nothing justifies the use of nuclear bombs, they have not been used in conventional wars, and have not deterred them. Of course, they could not deter wars which we started. So, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere the conventional wars have gone ahead with our help, even though we have nuclear weapons. In dozens of other locations wars have not been stopped by the nuclear deterrent, because it will not be used. It cannot be used. Of course, again, wars tend to occur where arms companies sell conventional weapons, and when wars occur, arms companies have a bonanza, but that will not be in the liturgy of the Westminster Service. So the nuclear deterrent has had no impact on conventional wars, going back to Korea and Vietnam. They are not a deterrent, or a peace-keeping deterrent. The Anglican Service is icing without a cake. Nuclear weapons do not stop conventional wars.

  1. The real reason nuclear weapons are not used is that they are evil.

We all know nuclear weapons are evil. Each warhead kills about a million people horrifically, like us or perhaps even us, more or less depending on circumstances. They have always been an indiscriminate people killer, not a strategic weapon. At Hiroshima some kids who were not killed immediately were running away holding their eyeballs in their hands. It is beyond evil. So the real reason why nobody thinks of using nuclear weapons is because they do untold evil. Really, they cannot be used, because they are too evil, and they haven’t been used. They wipe out everything, including probably, the human race. Really, this has been admitted for decades. Triggering Doomsday was unthinkable. Once nuclear warheads reached Mutually Assured Destruction, MAD for short, where they make the whole world uninhabitable for humans many times over, the stupidity of the nuclear race was beyond question. After all, the Dr Strangelove film was in 1964. Yet the show stayed on the road, because the arms companies needed it, and through the constant generation of fear. They won’t be used, but if you call them a deterrent, they can still be made, even though they are useless – bombs, submarines, missiles, bombers – trillions can be spent on them, provided you ramp up the fear and pretend they are a deterrent. Even when the USSR disappeared, the show stayed on the road, because it was always about funding the military-industrial complex. So we have the charade of deterrence kept afloat on the ramped-up fears of millions, so that we spend trillions on evil weapons which will never be used. And if disarmament is discussed, the military are in charge, so that nothing will become of it, because turkeys do not vote for Christmas. And then you get some plonking Anglicans to celebrate it. The Westminster Abbey line about peace-keeping panders to a military obscenity, trying to make what is evil good.


By what principles should we conduct international affairs? The principle behind nuclear weapons is that the threat is so severe that nobody will cross us. Christianity does not do threats. It has long championed reconciliation, sorting quarrels, meekness, non-retaliation and in Christ’s famous words, “loving your enemies”. It is a powerful way of conducting life. Enemies can be understood, their point of view seen. Acts of kindness and openness deconstruct tension and aggression. Such a view is beyond nationalism. Christians worldwide are the rainbow people of God, from every tribe and nation, equal before God. We have seen animosities in Europe change to friendship under this imperative. Go the second mile. So, the Christian Gospel takes co-operation all the way. Christ forgives those who crucify him, because they do not know what they do. They have not seen through the false hope in threats and aggression. It is not difficult to understand.  If Fred puts a machine gun down on the table you will not have a good conversation with him. Threats destroy trust. Threats promise evil consequences to get their will. Threats induce fear, reprisals, the need to carry them out and trust in weapons rather than people. The Dean of Westminster should have been taught this in theological kindergarden. Nuclear submarines are the mother of all threats, and the Anglican Church is blessing them, not that Church of England blessings make one iota of difference. It is only God who blesses. So, this service rats on Christian teaching and relating in principle.


Then Christians are invited by Jesus to do a little bit of thinking. The world’s greatest teacher frequently says, “They say unto you, but I say unto you…” There are contending views. Christians, along with the rest of the world could question militarism. Its Founder said, two thousand years ago, “Those who take the sword, perish by the sword.” It is a pithy summary of a big theme. Now most people would understand that as a general principle. If you develop and use weapons, then you will get kickback; you will suffer. It is a warning that goes down the centuries. Alexander the Great, Ghengis Khan, Julius Caesar, Attila the Hun, Napoleon, Hitler, Mussolini, Japan, the US in Vietnam and in Afghanistan. George W. Bush learned it when the CIA funded several billions of training and arms in Afghanistan, only to find that some of them had planned 9/11.  Those who set out on militarism, pay the cost. Militarism does not work and Jesus laid it out two millennia back. You would have thought that a little bit of thought would convince our politicians, and our Dean of Westminster, that wars, especially nuclear wars do not work. Nuclear wars do not work, because everybody gets destroyed. Invasion is more or less impossible in the modern crowded world; going on holiday there is much easier. And most states which are attacked and bombed evidence three effects. The first is they often become failed states with governance breaking down. Second, they generate terrorists, because people want revenge for their homes and families being bombed and destroyed. Third, destroyed homes and cities create millions of refugees who have to migrate to other places and cannot easily be helped. So, the whole programme of wars and militarism is a failed agenda. This is not surprising when weapons by their very nature kill, maim and destroy. All sides lose wars and the obvious thing to do is not to prepare for them. Absent the arms companies and their fear machines and this would be blindingly obvious. Because the military establishment is in charge even this basic bit of thinking does not get done.

But then step up the Church of England. Now given the Church of England should listen to Jesus at least once a week, you would expect them to sit down and think, “Do weapons work?” and the evidence is that both the weapons and their use do not work. Indeed, many Anglicans have come to that conclusion, but the Anglican establishment seems not to have got there. The evidence on bishops blessing battleships before World War One is a bit mixed, but the establishment has long, with the exception of the interwar period, gone along with militarism without thought. The Anglican Establishment could think. They could say, “The UK nuclear weapon system should be closed down. That will save billions of pounds every year, encourage world denuclearisation and not affect UK security.” They could say, “Are we sure that having and selling all these weapons is a good idea; it seems to be creating failed states, refugees, terrorist, warming the planet and spreading conflict in previously peaceful areas?” That would be a thoughtful response to Jesus’ words and to the world situation. The Pope has come to that conclusion by thinking about Jesus’ words. But, No, the Anglican Establishment does not dare to challenge the political establishment and comes up with a service blessing nuclear submarines. Then there is the well-known Anglican habit of finding an ethical dilemma in every issue so that nothing will be done. They agonize over “Would you shoot a man with a bomb in a football crowd?”  while ignoring the manufacture of millions of bombs for profit. So, the Anglican Establishment prevaricates and goes along with the powers that be, c, d and e. It is not good enough. In fact it is not good at all. It is not Christian. It is a faithless, craven response to a major world evil.


The Christian Gospel is a Gospel of peace. Christianity shows how peace works. Peace is spread without weapons or threats, through trust, forgiveness, loving enemies and addressing disputes. Racial, national and other tribalism’s are out because we stand before the God of all people.  Christ disarmed the fear of those who try to control by killing him on the cross and taught fearlessness. Peace is free. It is given by Christ and rests on those who follow him. His crucifixion nailed militarism to the cross and he is the Lamb on the Throne; we look for the triumph of non-militarism. Yet, this deep Christian understanding of peace and disarmament is scorned in this simpering support of a useless deterrent and the silly games of nuclear weaponry bought from the States. It is time the Anglican establishment moved over for the real Christian content of peace. Bruce Kent, who will probably be standing outside the Abbey, if the service takes place, should be preaching inside the good news of the Gospel of Peace. Indeed, the real lesson takes place outside. God has spent several billion years on the decay of radioactivity on our planet so that we can live here, and we retro-engineer a catastrophic throwback. How clever is that?

The service should be cancelled, not out of disrespect for good engineers and the hard work of service people, but because our nuclear weapons are not a deterrent in any sense; they reflect national vanity for which politicians and the electorate are responsible; they are not the way to relate in international affairs, and do not reflect the Christian Gospel. It is wasteful of billions and vast amounts of energy and is a threat to world peace.

It is time the Anglican establishment quit this role of providing a tinsel halo for what the state does irrespective of the Christian Gospel. The issue is even bigger. Rather than promoting peace, UK Governments, following the US, have been one of the world’s chief warmongers, creating failed states in the Middle East, provoking terrorism and leaving millions of refugees. The west has championed the selling of weapons world-wide, manufacturing wars and tensions. Christian policy of reconciliation, disarming and confronting the power systems needs steady faithful witness against militarism from the Church of England. We must stand and fight for peace with the gentle armour of God rather than the kit of militarism. We need to show the stupidity of militarism in the modern world, wasting trillions on useless wars, burning vast amounts of CO2 and manufacturing destruction. It is time for the Archbishops to acknowledge they have got this wrong, and why they have got it wrong.

The Westminster Abbey Service must be cancelled or reversed. Of course, people can meet God anywhere and the words of Christ speak through every barrier, but clothing the idea of nuclear deterrence in the mantle of peace, and pretending that it has done good when it has merely reflected our national vanity, cloaks the lie. If we give up our nuclear deterrent, it would do inestimably more for world peace, and fight for multilateral nuclear disarmament and full world disarmament. The Dean could say that, but he may not. Christ is not really invited to this commemoration of nuclear bomb “deterrence”. The event is by invitation only, and he has probably not been given a ticket. But he tends to turn up again and again.


Alan Storkey is an economist.  He was the first director of the Shaftesbury Project and head of economics and politics at Workshop College.  In the 1990s he was chair of the Movement for Christian Democracy and was Director of Studies at Oak Hill College, London.  He writes poetry, paints and lives with his wife, Elaine, in a village near Cambridge.

His present research is on militarism





Disclaimer: This blog is intended to provide a space for people associated with APF to express their own personal views and opinions in order to promote discussion of issues relating to peacemaking and pacifism  It is not necessarily a place where the official views of APF are expressed.


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