So why don’t the bishops intervene in the current debate?
Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?
Sherlock Holmes: To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.
Gregory: The dog did nothing in the night-time.
Holmes: That was the curious incident.
Over the last few years, replacing the Trident nuclear missile system has become more and more controversial. The Lib Dems are against it: the Conservatives want to replace it at enormous cost: and Chancellor George Osborne says it has to be paid for out of the existing Defence budget, to the fury of the (Catholic) Defence Secretary, Liam Fox. The English bishops have in fact pronounced against it, but a very long time ago. It is surely odd that they say nothing now.
This is what they said about replacing Trident in 2oo6: “… by decommissioning its nuclear weapons, the UK now has a unique opportunity to offer [an example of] legitimate self-defence without the unconscionable threat of nuclear destruction.” So, they were against Tony Blair replacing Trident. But this is an ongoing issue: why don’t they say so once more—now the subject is topical again?
It’s probably a good idea to remind ourselves what the Trident programme is. It was, of course, designed specifically for the Cold War, to deter the Soviet Union (which no longer exists) from any thought of dropping nuclear bombs on us. We have 58 nuclear-armed Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles and around 200 nuclear warheads on 4 Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines. At least one of these submarines is always on patrol as a continuous at-sea deterrent, armed with up to 16 Trident missiles and around 48 nuclear warheads.
Now, it is arguable that what was called mutually assured destruction did in fact keep the peace from the 50s to the 80s. But now? I don’t see it. Who is this immensely expensive deterrent supposed to deter?
Perhaps the bishops want to keep out of this precisely because it’s become controversial again, because they think this is an issue between left and right. Predictably, the loony-right conservative commentator Simon Heffer thinks that we should keep Trident and that we should fund it by ending “the overseas aid budget, which is a pointless, socialist waste of money”.
But the fact is that this is not an issue between conservatives and radicals. It was Simon Heffer’s great hero—and hero of the conservative right in general—Enoch Powell, who with his usual ruthless logic came to the conclusion (even at the height of the cold war) that there were no “rational grounds on which the deformation of our defence preparations … by our determination to maintain a current independent nuclear deterrent can be justified”. Some three decades later, the present Holy Father said much the same, describing the policies of “those governments which count on nuclear arms as a means of ensuring the security of their countries” as “not only baneful but also completely fallacious”.
The Church has a mind on this issue, and ought—here and in the current political circumstances—to give voice to it. Our bishops should intervene—the dog should do something in the night-time: it is surely, to use Holmes’s word, “curious” that they do nothing.