Nuclear weapons provide illusion of security, argues senior bishop

Wed 21 Feb 2018
By Press Association

Using nuclear weapons is "suicide as well as genocide", a senior church figure has warned.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, also questioned whether people felt safe with "Donald Trump's finger upon the button".

Highlighting the ban on cluster bombs, he argued the case for outlawing nuclear arsenals was even more compelling.


The bishop made his comments as peers debated the UN treaty to ban nuclear weapons, supported by 122 states last year.

The meeting in New York was boycotted by all nuclear-armed nations, including the UK.

However, former Navy chief Lord West of Spithead, who had responsibility for the UK's submarine-based deterrent, felt the treaty was a mistake and "virtue signalling on a grand scale".

The Lords debate on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons came ahead of a UN high-level conference on nuclear disarmament, due to be held in May.

The bishop told peers: "The truth is that these weapons of mass destruction are also weapons of mass deception.

"They provide the illusion of security while actually making the world less secure than ever.

"North Korea now joins the nuclear club, who will be next?

"Do we really feel safe with Donald Trump's finger upon the button?"

He added: "We all patted ourselves on the back a few years ago when we banned cluster bombs. Well the moral arguments about nuclear weapons are just as compelling if not more so.

"For to use a nuclear weapon is suicide as well as genocide."

He urged the Government to engage with the disarmament process and at the very least send an observer to the UN conference in May.

Lord West, a Labour former security minister, was critical of the UN treaty, adding: "I believe its virtue signalling on a grand scale. Something that seems to have caught on in this snowflake and social media age.

"Virtue signalling, while it makes the people virtue signalling feel rather good, generally I am afraid achieves nothing."

He stressed the need for strengthened lines of communication between Moscow and Nato to avert the "real risk of an inadvertent nuclear exchange".

Lord West said: "There are multiple ways of misreading or misjudging the other sides behaviour, or miscalculating during a crisis.

"Such a possibility of a nuclear exchange with Russia, starting by accident, no matter how remote it might be at present, would have such a catastrophic result that we should be working hard now to ensure that it can never happen.

"Part of my concern is because of (Vladimir) Putin's so-called escalate to deescalate strategy, which is bonkers.

"I think all of our leaders in the nuclear weapons states must understand the value of dialogue and signalling for conflict avoidance and management."

Tory former minister Lord Patten also argued there had been "dubious virtue signalling" around last year's agreement.

He said: "The UN treaty, I think is extremely well-meaning naivety on extremely high stilts and it will not contribute to international safety...let alone persuade any rogue state or terrorist organisation to come to the negotiating table tomorrow afternoon."

Responding to the debate, Tory frontbencher Baroness Goldie said the Government was committed "to a world free from nuclear weapons".

She argued the legally-binding Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty had succeeded in "significantly limiting" the spread of the weapons and led to a sharp fall stockpiles following the Cold War.

Lady Goldie said: "This government remains committed to full multilateral nuclear disarmament under strict and effective international control.

"It is our firm belief that the best way to achieve this is through verified, step-by-step, gradual multilateral disarmament."

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