Statement on the United Kingdom’s Possession of Nuclear Weapons

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Ten years ago, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales issued pastoral guidance on the morality of nuclear weapons, which stated that:

“The very existence of nuclear weapons has always posed grave moral questions. Their uniquely destructive power means that they belong in a different category from any other weapons.”

The Bishops then added:

“Our judgement is that, by decommissioning its nuclear weapons, the UK now has a unique opportunity to offer the international community an approach to security and legitimate self-defence without the unconscionable threat of nuclear destruction. At the same time it could give a new impetus to the wider process towards total nuclear disarmament.”

That course of action was not taken.

We recognise the grave responsibility for national security that rests with our government and our parliament. We know that those charged with making the decision on whether to renew the UK’s nuclear weapons programme will reflect seriously on whether their possession acts as an effective deterrent.

We ask them to reflect too on the view that the use of nuclear weapons can never be morally justified as their use would cause the mass deaths of innocent civilians and does not fit within the Just War tradition. Such use could never be a proportionate response.

When Pope Francis addressed the United Nations, he concluded:

“An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory… There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in light and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.”

Parliament now has an opportunity to reinforce the extension and implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to which the UK is a signatory, and which obliges all who possess nuclear weapons to work towards their elimination. We pray that the decision taken by Parliament will include the intention and the steps to achieve that undertaking: the complete elimination of these weapons.

Rev. Christopher Thomas
General Secretary
On behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
15 July 2016