Church leaders from seven denominations have argued that the Government's plan to increase the UK's nuclear warheads "takes us in a worrying and wholly wrong direction."
In documents released on Tuesday, the Government revealed that it will drop its current limit on the number of nuclear warheads the UK has. The UK currently has 195 and was expected to reduce that to 180 by the mid 2020s. The cap is now 260, due to the threat of state-sponsored terroism and other states increasing their nuclear arsenals.
The paper reads: "The fundamental purpose of our nuclear weapons is to preserve peace, prevent coercion and deter aggression. A minimum, credible, independent nuclear deterrent, assigned to the defence of NATO, remains essential in order to guarantee our security and that of our Allies. In 2010 the Government stated an intent to reduce our overall nuclear warhead stockpile ceiling from not more than 225 to not more than 180 by the mid-2020s.
"However, in recognition of the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats, this is no longer possible, and the UK will move to an overall nuclear weapon stockpile of no more than 260 warheads."
It adds: "We remain committed to maintaining the minimum destructive power needed to guarantee that the UK’s nuclear deterrent remains credible and effective against the full range of state nuclear threats from any direction."
The 114-page paper also sets out the Government's broader plans for foreign policy, development, security and defence for the next few years.
In response to the plans around nuclear weapons, the second most senior figure in the Church of England, the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, and Archbishop of Wales, John Davies, signed a letter opposing the increase.
They were joined by church leaders from the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and the United Reformed Church.
The church leaders write: "The Government's decision in the integrated review of defence, security and foreign policy to increase the number of Trident nuclear warheads the UK can stockpile by more than 40 percent is a retrograde step that will not make any of us safer.
"Our Trident submarines already carry warheads that in total have an explosive yield equivalent to hundreds of the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima. It is immoral that the UK government is committing resources, which could be spent on the common good of our society, to stockpiling even more.
They argue that this move will negate progress made over the last 50 years: "This announcement puts those gains in jeopardy and weakens collective action on non-proliferation. Progress on reducing the threat from nuclear weapons will come through dialogue, diplomacy and principled action. The Government's announcement today will complicate rather than aid this process.
"As people of faith, we join with millions across the world who are working towards the elimination of nuclear arsenals. Living up to our responsibilities under the Non Proliferation Treaty would be a step towards realising that vision. We believe that 'Global Britain' should strive for peaceful and cooperative international relationships, and joint endeavour on climate change, global poverty and other challenges. This announcement takes us in a worrying and wholly wrong direction."
The other signatories were: Revd Clare Downing, Moderator of General Assembly, United Reformed Church; Bob Fyffe,; General Secretary of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland; Bishop William Kenney, Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham; Bishop Declan Lang, Catholic Bishop of Clifton; Carolyn Lawrence, Vice-President of the Methodist Church; Revd David Mayne, Moderator of the Baptist Union Council; Paul Parker, Recording Clerk from Quakers in Britain; Revd Dr Joanna Penberthy, Bishop of St Davids in Wales; and Revd Richard Teal, President of the Methodist Church.