Quakers and Trident Nuclear Weapons


Quakers have fervently upheld their Peace Testimony since the movement's foundation in the seventeenth century. We have consistently opposed the possession or threatened use of nuclear weapons, and called for total nuclear disarmament.  We seek to build peace between people, by peaceful means.


We in Britain have decided to make hydrogen bombs. If a major war breaks out the temptation to use them will be very great. We are warned by our scientists that their use will involve not only the most terrible suffering now, but unknown consequences for succeeding generations who will pay the penalty for our sin. We believe that no one has the right to use these weapons in his defence or to ask another person to use them on his behalf. To rely on the possession of nuclear weapons as a deterrent is faithless; to use them is a sin.

Meeting for Sufferings, 1955
Quaker Faith and Practice, section 24.41


Links to sections further down this page

The present UK government has sought to gain acceptance for a programme to upgrade the present Trident nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed submarine fleet. The Trident programme costs the UK around £6 million per day.  Lifetime expenditure for a new fleet may be as high as £100 billion, over thirty years of service - more than £3000 for every household in the UK.  A decision is likely to be made in the next few years.  Several billion pounds have already been committed to research and development.

Despite widespread opposition to this programme, on strategic, practical, cost and ethical grounds, the main political parties all seem willing to give some level of support. Only the Green Party, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party adopt a stance of principled opposition.

Quaker Peace and Social Witness is working with others in the peace movement to ensure that this important issue is subject to a full and open public debate, and that the arguments in favour of disarmament and non-proliferation are heard loud and clear.

Quaker Peace and Social Witness have issued a very useful briefing on Trident and added our support to a public letter to the Times Newspaper calling for an end to nuclear weapons.

  • Ethics and legality

How can anyone justify the threat to annihilate the whole population of a major city ?  Every Trident missile carries multiple warheads, each of far greater power than the devastation unleashed on Hiroshima. What threat could we ever foresee that could lead any sane person to seek to launch such an attack ?  Even if we suffered any such an attack, how would retaliation in kind ease our suffering ?

The Geneva Conventions require that any military actions are undertaken in ways that discriminate between combatants and civilians. The massive destructive power of a nuclear blast makes this impossible.  It is likely that any use of a nuclear strike would be prosecuted as a war crime.

It is right that the UK should be seeking to discourage other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons.  In a spirit of fairness, we should seek to dismantle Israel's secret nuclear arsenal, which may encourage proliferation in the Middle East.  Clearly, we should also lead by example - by ditching Trident.

  • Information

UK nuclear submarines are able to carry up to sixteen Trident missiles. Each missile is able to deliver up to twelve nuclear warheads.  Each warhead can yield an equivalent explosive power of around 80000 tonnes of TNT - about four times the blast that devastated Hiroshima.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The atomic bombs dropped on Japan in August 1945 are estimated to have caused at least 130000 deaths - mostly civilians.


Devastation of Hiroshima, 1945


Details of the attacks can be found on Wikipedia

A Peace Museum and park have been established in Hiroshima to bear witness to the events.

The Peace movement holds annual ceremonies of remembrance on August 6th (Hiroshima Day) and August 9th (Nagasaki Day)  In London, a memorial gathering is held around these dates in Tavistock Square

We need to remember that Trident missiles are not just an arcane issue in a history book. They are real weapons, designed to kill millions of people within minutes of launch.  Nuclear weapons have been used in the past, and we must prevent them being used in the future.  Although there have been reductions in arsenals since the height of the cold war, there are still about 16000 nukes around the world.

  • Risks arising from Trident

There is very little chance of a Trident missile being launched by mistake.  But that's not the only issue.

Trident warheads have to be maintained and components replaced. This is done at dedicated facilities in Berkshire.  The warheads are transported between the servicing facilities and the Faslane submarine base by road convoys. These pose risks of accidents and also the possibility of a criminal attack.  The handling of nuclear materials such as plutonium will always create waste products and rises in background radiation levels with associated long-term health consequences.

Let us also remember the loss of the nuclear-powered Russian Kursk submarine, where a torpedo propellant fire cost the lives of all 118 people on board.  There were no nuclear weapons involved, unlike Trident, but there were real risks around the propulsion reactor. A similar accident on a nuclear armed submarine could be a far greater disaster.

When we decide to deploy nuclear weapons, we give legitimacy to their possession.  Other countries will want to follow our example.  The same may apply if we choose to get rid of them.

  • Real security

The UK's nuclear weapons programme was a product of the second world war and the subsequent cold war tensions between east and west. It envisaged the use of nuclear weapons either to deter a nuclear attack or to defend against a massive sweep of forces across Europe to invade western countries. No such fear is realistic now.  It is surely impossible to imagine UK forces seeking launch authority from the government (and from the USA, whose sanction is needed to target our "independent" nukes)

Trident has no current rational military role.  It is just a bargaining chip in international politics.

A fantastically expensive bargaining chip.

And it's our money !

The threats we face now are mainly from non-state groups; small minorities living within communities whose members oppose extremism and violence; some are based in the UK. The massive cost of the Trident programme serves no role in deterring such elements.

Real security is created by constructive engagement with other countries to dispel the fears and misunderstandings that create the motivation for violence. Security today must mean digging out the roots of war and living in ways that create and sustain peace.

Recommended reading:  Oxford Research Group's excellent Sustainable Security Programme

  • What should we do with £100 billion then ?

One simple answer - perhaps an attractive one - is not to spend the money at all, leaving it to UK households to decide what to do with their £3000 share of the cost, which would otherwise be added to their tax bills.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has issued a leaflet giving a few other good ideas to choose from .....

  • We could quadruple our investment in renewable energy, cutting household bills and tackling climate chaos.
  • We could build 30000 new affordable homes per year, creating 60000 new jobs in the construction industries.
  • We could fund all accident and emergency services in our hospitals for forty years.
  • We could scrap all student tuition fees, ending the debts that young people face on leaving university.  Remember - education is not a cost to our country - it's a viable shared investment in our young people's future

Of course there may be ways to spend some of the money taking positive steps that would actually improve the security of the world in line with the Sustainable Security Programme mentioned above, none of which are likely to be anywhere near as expensive as renewing Trident.

  • Campaigning to get rid of Trident

Yes.  In the best of worlds, it would be great to rid the world of all nuclear weapons; to bring an end to the era of fear and hostilities - and, surely, that day will come.

Upgrading Trident would be a massive, costly step in the wrong direction, locking the UK into funding the retention of weapons of mass destruction for another fifty years or more.

So what can we do ......

  • Petitions to sign from CND. Rethink TridentIPetitions
  • Support groups who are campaigning to get rid of Trident - see the links below
  • Letters to write to media outlets, candidates and MPs
  • Visit your MP - visits carry even more weight.  Check out They Work for You and the Public Whip websites
  • Look out for protest actions.
  • Counter the misinformation about lost jobs - £100 billion pays for a lot more jobs in almost any other field.  Health and Education both involve large scale commitment to people's employment.
  • Challenge the idea that public spending must be cut. Ditching Trident frees up resources for the things we need
  • Are you in the UK Armed Services ?  Does £100 billion on Trident seem like a wise choice to you ?  If not, tell your MP - they really have to hear your voice on our real security needs
  • Further ideas ? - Let us know and we'll add them to this list

So there it is.  Quakers want to see an end to the UK's Weapons of Mass Destruction, leading to a complete end to the menace of nuclear weapons around the world

Join with us and commit to the campaign for a peaceful future

  • Links/resources

Quaker Peace and Social Witness on Disarmament  [Follow on Twitter, as sampled below]

Action AWE (Atomic Weapons Establishment)  [Follow on Twitter]

BASIC UK (British American Security Information Council)  [Follow on Twitter]

Campaign Against the Arms Trade  [Follow on Twitter]

Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament  [Follow on Twitter]

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons  [Follow on Twitter]

WMD Awareness  [Follow on Twitter]

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