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Abolish nuclear weapons: protect creation

For over fifty years the World Council of Churches has sought peace with justice, calling for an end to war. At the Second WCC Assembly in Evanston, USA (1953) an appeal was made: “…urging the prohibition of all weapons of mass destruction under the provision of international inspection and control along with the reduction of all types of armaments.”

Throughout the Cold War the WCC called for nuclear disarmament: “We believe that the time has come when the churches must unequivocally declare that the production and deployment as well as the use of nuclear weapons are a crime against humanity and that such activities must be condemned on ethical and theological grounds.” (6th WCC Assembly, Vancouver 1983) A decade after the end of the Cold War, the WCC Central Committee stated: “It is again important that the voice of the churches be heard on this question…” (February 2001)

“We know that true security is never to be found in arms of any sort, and certainly not in these most terrible weapons ever devised by human beings. Nuclear weapons are sinful, and their production, possession and deployment, and the very threat of their use in an extreme case constitute crimes against God and humanity.”
Konrad Raiser, WCC General Secretary, April 1998

The problem

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union signaled the end of an era that saw the build up of a nuclear arsenal totaling over 70,000 weapons at its peak. A decade after these momentous changes brought an end to the Cold War significant cuts have seen this number reduced to approximately 30,000 nuclear weapons.

But the destructive power of this nuclear arsenal remains enormous – the equivalent of 500,000 nuclear bombs of the size that killed over 100,000 people at Hiroshima. Eight states hold the nuclear weapons that threaten the very existence of creation: China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Together, the US and Russia hold over 95% of the world’s nuclear weapons, and even after fulfilling the 2001 Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions, they will each maintain 1700-2200 strategic nuclear weapons.

“The existence of nuclear weapons presents a clear and present danger to life on Earth. Nuclear arms cannot bolster the security of any nation because they represent a threat to the security of the human race. These incredibly destructive weapons are an affront to our common humanity, and the tens of billions of dollars that are dedicated to their development and maintenance should be used instead to alleviate human need and suffering”.
Oscar Arias, former President of Costa Rica, Nobel Peace Laureate

The continued threat of nuclear weapons takes many shapes:
  • The US and Russia have thousands of weapons on hair-trigger alert, and maintain the capacity for ‘launch on warning’, meaning they could respond to an unverified warning of nuclear attack by launching nuclear weapons within minutes.
  • The US intends to rejuvenate its nuclear program, building a ballistic missile defence system and recommencing testing if necessary.
  • Security of nuclear facilities in the former Soviet Union has deteriorated substantially, posing a serious proliferation threat and increasing the risk of accidental launch.
  • NATO continues to rely on nuclear weapons, which it claims “remain essential to preserve peace”.
  • Tensions between India and Pakistan are made worse by the fact that both have nuclear weapons and have committed to using them against each other ‘if necessary’.
  • In the midst of national conflict and regional instability, Israel holds nuclear weapons and the capacity to use them against its neighbors.
  • Other states of concern, namely North Korea, Iran and Iraq, have attempted to acquire or build nuclear weapons in the past and may continue to do so.
  • The destruction from the detonation of just one nuclear weapon would be devastating, causing mass casualties and destruction, widespread radiation with its long-term effects, and extensive environmental damage. A nuclear weapon would kill soldiers and civilians indiscriminately and its effects would not be limited to military targets. Therefore, use of a nuclear weapon could not possibly comply with international humanitarian law, and is completely inconsistent with the will of God. Yet nuclear weapons states seek to justify maintaining immense nuclear arsenals.

    The international response

    A multilateral arms control regime is in place to address the threat of nuclear weapons. Central to this system of legal treaties is the Treaty for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The NPT commits 187 states to prevent the further proliferation of nuclear weapons, calling those already in possession of them to systematically disarm their arsenals. At the 5th NPT Review Conference in 2000, states committed to 13 practical steps toward complete nuclear disarmament.

    Although there is an apparatus in place to progressively disarm the world of nuclear weapons, it is essential for state parties to fulfill their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. They must commit to stop the production of fissile materials, maintain the moratorium on weapons testing, and implement existing treaties, while nuclear weapons states must make verifiable and irreversible reductions of their nuclear arsenals.

    The response of the WCC

    The Psalms state: “The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.” (NLT) As stewards of God’s creation, Christians have an instrumental role to play in achieving systematic and total nuclear disarmament. Heeding the call of the WCC Central Committee, member churches and ecumenical organizations have the moral obligation to join non-governmental organizations and concerned citizens worldwide in the struggle for nuclear disarmament, rejuvenating the appeal for abolition.

    The WCC is calling on all its members and partner organizations to seize the opportunity provided by the Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace (2001-2010) to call for nuclear abolition. It is the responsibility of the churches to continue to bear witness to the immorality of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons do not foster security but only insecurity, maintaining the imbalance of power that blocks the way to peace with justice.

    A challenge to the churches

    Practical ways to get involved:

  • Advocate immediate measures toward threat reduction, including removing all nuclear forces from high-alert, and concluding agreements on no-first-use and no use against non-nuclear states.
  • Speak out against recent efforts to increase the political and military value of nuclear weapons, particularly statements by the US and UK that nuclear weapons might be a viable response to the threat of biological or chemical weapons.
  • Call on your government to uphold the Non-Proliferation Treaty in preparation for the 2005 Review Conference, by implementing the 13 Steps toward complete disarmament and fulfilling all obligations under the Treaty.
  • Mobilize public opinion, educating your community about the continued threat posed to creation by nuclear weapons and the need for nuclear abolition.
  • Advocate the creation of Nuclear Weapons Free Zones in the Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East.
  • Encourage your national church to make a public call for nuclear disarmament.
  • Inform the WCC of your advocacy efforts for nuclear abolition and join the WCC Peace to the City Network to highlight your efforts internationally.
  • Back to main Peacebuilding and Disarmament page
    Back to the WCC and Microdisarmament page

    “Campaiging for the abolition of nuclear weapons” is one aspect of the Peace to the City Seven-Point Peace Plan

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    “Because there is global insecurity, nations are engaged in a mad arms race, spending billions of dollars wastefully on instruments of destruction, when millions are starving. Just a fraction of what is expended obscenely on defense budgets, would make the difference in enabling God's children to fill their stomachs, be educated, and given the chance, to lead happy and fulfilled lives.”
    Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa, Nobel Peace Laureate