Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament,

Annual general meeting,

The Mansion House, Dublin 2,

Saturday 31 March 2007, 10.30 a.m.

Guest speaker: the Revd Patrick Comerford

Nuclear disarmament: a moral imperative

It is almost a generation since I was involved in re-forming the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. My wife Barbara and I called that first meeting of the new Irish CND in October 1979, just months after we had returned from Japan, and a visit to Hiroshima.

At the time, there were many people who asked why we were focussing on nuclear weapons. Wasn,Äôt Ireland a neutral country without nuclear weapons? Were there not more pressing issues, including the plans for a nuclear power station in Carnsore, Co Wexford? Or the need to campaign for peace in Northern Ireland? Or an end to apartheid in South Africa?

But, of course, it was impossible to separate those demands from the urgent need for nuclear disarmament. The nuclear power station at Carnsore wasn,Äôt going to be built cheaply and without a price ,Ķ and that price was exporting the waste, including weapons-grade uranium and weapons-grade plutonium to Britain. You can,Äôt have cheap nuclear power without having it subsidised by the production of nuclear weapons. And you can,Äôt say you want peace in Northern Ireland, or the end of injustice in other parts of the world, unless you want peace and justice both at home and globally. These are not either-or options. They are both-and options.

Today, I hear people ask why they should worry so much about nuclear weapons when there are so many other problems in the world. Why focus on nuclear weapons when there are so many important issues? Surely people are more concerned nowadays with debt relief, climate change, the war in Iraq, the crumbling of our health and education infrastructure, or terrorism.

But nuclear weapons have not gone away. They remain a matter of urgency. Tony Blair's government has just given itself the go-ahead to spend more than ¬£40 billion over time on a so-called replacement nuclear system for Trident (the same old product, it,Äôs just newer and more deadly!).

The present Trident is meant to last to 2024 as it is, so the plan is to ensure that Britain will rely on nuclear weapons (and therefore also on the United States) until at least the year 2055.

What a waste of resources. We can all think of better ways to spend ¬£40 billion. It makes a mockery of proposals to try and reverse global warming when a leading Western government is prepared to give itself the unilateral ability to fry that globe to death many hundreds of times over. It makes a mockery to worry about the threat of terrorism on our city streets when a major Western government says its security depends on having the ability to threaten to blow up every city and every street many hundreds of times over. It makes a mockery of Britain,Äôs presence in Iraq ,Äì supposedly initiated with the intention of finding weapons of mass destruction ,Äì when the real, not imaginary, weapons of mass destruction are based at Faslane, only miles from the Irish coast. It makes a mockery of all the media hype over North Korea and Iran, when the British government says it can forego its obligations in international law to completely eliminate its nuclear arsenal.

Nuclear weapons can only be seen as a quick and violent fix to complex threats and challenges. Nuclear weapons epitomise the abuses of power and skewed values that fuel terrorism and the growing levels of violence in our homes and on our streets. Trident is inextricably linked to all those economic, humanitarian and justice issues that should not distract us from the need to campaign for nuclear disarmament.¬Ý

Earlier this month, the Anglican Bishop of Reading, Stephen Cottrell, was at the Trident nuclear base in Faslane, celebrating the Eucharist in the rain outside the north gate of the base. He was there as part of a day of action blockading the gate organised by Clergy Against Nuclear Arms (CANA), as part of the continuing protests against Tony Blair,Äôs plans not to renew but to replace Trident with something more expensive, more destructive, and more abominable morally.

Bishop Stephen, who was at Faslane with the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said he applauded those who would make a little trouble for the powers and principalities who want us to put our trust in evil nuclear weapons. ,ÄúIt is degrading to spend billions on weapons when there are people without fresh water,,Äù he said.

A few days later, Canon David Partridge of Oxford, who co-chairs CANA, took part in the vigil in Parliament Square during the House of Commons debate on 14 March. Of course, despite a rebellion by Labour backbenchers, the Blair government won the vote that night on its plans to spend more than ¬£40 billion on a new generation of nuclear weapons.¬Ý

Conservative support helped push through the proposals. I was saddened when I realised so many of the Labour MPs who backed the Blair plans had marched with me in CND protests in England in the 1970s and 1980s. If the luxury of office and power can entice the voice of Labour MPs away from this most moral of causes, where then is the moral voice to be heard today? I remember that at the height of the Falklands War, Maggie Thatcher was disgusted when her one critical, moral opponent was the Church, under the leadership of Archbishop Rowan,Äôs predecessor, Archbishop Robert Runcie.

In recent weeks, Archbishop Rowan has also spoken out strongly against upgrading Trident. In the recent General Synod Trident debate, he said he does not believe there is a case ,Äúfor the moral acceptability of nuclear weapons.,Äù

In his speech to the General Synod last month, Archbishop Rowan said:

,ÄúModern warfare is generally recognised as a morally shadowy business. Since the development especially of aerial warfare techniques, most of the traditional contents of just war theory have seemed rather out of date, in that indiscriminate slaughter has become so normal in the processes of modern warfare. And that,Äôs why most Christians in the modern period have at least felt some unease about warfare,Ķ

,ÄúWhatever the extremity of the situation, we have on the whole continued to say and the community of nations has continued to say that there are certain kinds of weapon that are simply inadmissible, morally, in international conflict ,Äì and they have included chemical and biological weaponry, they have rather late in the day come to include landmines ,Äì that is there is a category of weapons whose use and effect is so intrinsically indiscriminate that it becomes impossible to mount the case for their proportionate use. The moral question is whether nuclear weapons fall within that category; a category of weapons that are never morally permissible because they are intrinsically indiscriminate ,Ķ one of the facts about nuclear weaponry is its incalculable environmental effect as well as its destructive scope ...,Äù

He went on to declare: ,ÄúIn short, I don,Äôt believe that there is a case for the moral acceptability of nuclear weapons that I could, with integrity, accept ,Ķ I believe that the least a Christian body ought to do in these circumstances is to issue the strongest possible warnings and discouragements to our Government.,Äù

The Bishop of Bath and Wells, Peter Price, told the General Synod that to renew Trident was to break faith and to renege on international agreements. It would also strip welfare provision of its resources, as had happened in the United States. Bishop Peter, in fact, wanted the synod to be even more radical.

The General Synod,Äôs final resolution was against the upgrading of Trident and called on Christian people to make an informed contribution to the issues raised in the report The Future of Trident in the light of Christian teaching about Just War. And it said the upgrading of Trident is ,Äúcontrary to the spirit of the UK,Äôs obligations in international law and the ethical principles underpinning them.,Äù

But even the, like Bishop Peter Price, I would have been happier if the General Synod had gone even further, had taken greater risks, had been more of a prophetic voice. Like the Revd Dr Marcus Braybrooke, President of the World Congress of Faiths, I believe it is high time to reject the just war theory, and to recognise that violence, even if it is a short-term solution, is never the answer, and breeds future violence.

In a nuclear age, Christian leaders in an age when proxy wars on behalf of the nuclear powers have become the accepted way of enforcing a new international order, Christian leaders must stand up and say the question is not when war can be justified, but whether war can ever be justified.

Indeed, by strengthening its opposition to the renewal of Trident last month, the Church of England was only following similar moves by other Christian denominations, including the Methodists, the United Reformed Church, the Church of Scotland and the Baptists.

Hopefully too, as well as the voices in the churches, there are political voices that will have the courage to oppose Trident when it comes up for debate in the Scottish Parliament. It is incumbent on this generation that we get rid of weapons of mass destruction and create a truly defensive defence approach that puts human security at the heart of its work. If we don,Äôt, who knows whether we have any future at all?

There are people who are putting their personal security at risk at Faslane in the hope that the security of future generations, the future of our children, our grandchildren, and their grandchildren, can be something to look forward to rather than something to be feared.

Every day, people are being arrested for their non-violent direct action against Trident at Faslane. They are the Greenham Women of today. And we must remember that the Geenham Woman of 25 years ago succeeded. They succeeded, and today there are no Cruise or Pershing missiles on Greenham Common. The fences have been torn down, the silos have gone, and once again Greenham Common is free, open, public green space.

What happened at Greenham can happen at Faslane if people in positions of moral leadership give their support to the Faslane 365 campaign and speak out against Tony Blair,Äôs plans to replace Trident.

Faslane is one of the many places around Britain which are "Designated Areas" under a new power in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (as amended by the Terrorism Act 2006). It is an offence under this to be inside Faslane without lawful authority. Well, who are the real world terrorists? Those who seek to find and destroy weapons of mass destruction? Or those who seek to hide them and threaten to rely on using them? I know what Tony Blair told us all a few years ago.

Nuclear weapons are the tap-root of violence in the world today. The ultimate expression of militarism and terrorism, they pollute and degrade our spirit, our environment, our economy and our international relations. The use and threat of use of nuclear weapons are in violation of international and humanitarian law and undermine the whole international legal order, but that has not prevented doctrines and deployments that breach these norms. Britain, France, China, Russia, the United States, Israel, India, Pakistan and, most recently North Korea, are guilty of these violations. As Iran seeks to join this shameful club, it has become increasingly clear that nuclear weapons distort all our efforts to create just and sustainable societies in a fragile, interdependent world.¬Ý

The countries with the biggest nuclear arsenals also have the most sophisticated conventional weaponry and are the largest profiteers from the arms trade. Their weapons fuel wars, oppression and instability in the most vulnerable countries in the world, and many end up on the `illicit' markets, where they arm militias and gangs that traffic in people, drugs and the prolific small arms and light weapons used in rapes, murders and other violent crime.

It is more than two generations, 62 years, since both the liberation of Auschwitz and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But while we have learned some lessons about racism and hatred from the horrors of Auschwitz, we have learned little or nothing about the horrors of modern warfare. We see US troops being moved through Shannon to take part in an illegal war in Iraq and to use depleted uranium in their weapons. These facts have eroded all the barriers between neutrality and membership of military alliances for Ireland and eroded all the inhibitions that helped to distinguish between "conventional" warfare and "nuclear" warfare at the height of the Cold War.

Since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, nuclear proliferation appears to have continued unabated over the span of two generations. It is not being over-emotional or over-fretful to say the whole world is now living under one looming mass mushroom cloud.

Today, there are 11,000 active, deliverable nuclear weapons in the world ,Äì the US has the majority of these (6,390), and Russia has 3,242. The western world is quick to express its fears that groups like al-Qaeda may acquire nuclear capability and that Iran and North Korea are about to join the nuclear club. Iran and North Korea are not the only "rogue states" in the nuclear arms race. Washington is now planning a new generation of nuclear weapons designed not to deter but to wage a nuclear war, including small-yield "mini-nukes" and the nuclear "bunker-busters". The Bush Administration has no intention of joining the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, or of signing a verifiable accord ending the production of new non-fissile material intended for nuclear weapons.

President Bush says "the gravest danger facing the world is outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical and biological weapons." But he says nothing about the very real danger from the governments already possessing those weapons, including the US, Britain, Russia, France, China, and Israel. Real possession is surely a greater danger than an ambition to possess.

The sort of hypocrisy shown by the US has allowed Israel, Pakistan and China to remain outside the regime of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to develop their own nuclear arsenals. If all our fears about Iran and North Korea are to be taken seriously, then the nuclear powers need to turn around and give a commitment on their own behalf that they too will do all in their power to assure us that there will be no more Hiroshimas and no more Nagasakis.

CND must return to the fore of the debates today about the future of this planet. For without nuclear disarmament, we may find there is no point in campaigning for an end to global warming, global poverty and global conflicts.

Biographical note:

The Revd Patrick Comerford, is a Church of Ireland priest on the staff of the Church of Ireland Theological College, and is a former Foreign Desk Editor of The Irish Times. He was a founding member of Irish CND in 1979 and between 1979-1985 was active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in many capacities, including chair, vice-chair and secretary of Irish CND, chair of Christian CND, and a member of the council of CND in Britain.

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