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BRITAIN: Church leaders denounce renewal of nuclear weapons

By Martin Revis
[Ecumenical News International]  Church leaders in Britain have voiced concern about plans to renew Trident, Britain's submarine-launched nuclear ballistic missile system, at an estimated cost of up to 20 billion pounds sterling (US$39.2 billion).

"These are weapons that are intrinsically indiscriminate in their lethal effects and their long-term impact on a whole physical environment would be horrendous," said Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, after the December 4 announcement that the government is recommending the building of a new generation of nuclear missile submarines.

"Many will never be persuaded of the morality of a nuclear deterrent," said Williams, leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion and spiritual head of the Church of England.

"Many more will feel that the case needs to be very strongly made for a program of modernization at this point, if we are to avoid the suspicion that this is about reinforcing national status," he added. Williams also acknowledged disagreement among Christians about the moral acceptability of the "mere threat" of the use of nuclear force.

The lower chamber of the British parliament, the House of Commons, will vote on the issue in March.

In a joint statement, leaders of the Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed churches said replacing Trident would send the wrong message to other nations that are seeking to acquire or develop nuclear weapons.

"Replacing Trident with a new system with a potential life span up to 2050 flies in the face of commitments that the United Kingdom has made under the non-proliferation treaty," they stated.

Announcing the proposals, Prime Minister Tony Blair said that although the Cold War had ended, Britain needed nuclear weapons as there was no way of knowing if another nuclear threat could emerge in the future.

Opposition to the missiles has also come from other Christian leaders in Britain, including the moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rev. Alan McDonald. He said on December 6: "Maintaining a nuclear weapons system, with its potential to cause gross and indiscriminate suffering, is morally and theologically wrong."