Faith leaders' appeal to government on a nuclear weapons-free world

By Steve Hucklesby
March 13, 2015

Today (13 March 2015) 26 senior figures from various faith groups published a letter in The Times newspaper calling on the UK government to join with others “to develop a robust plan of action that will lead us to a world free of nuclear weapons”.

In common cause together they state that the use of nuclear weapons “violates the principle of dignity for every human being that is common to each of our faith traditions”.

The faith leaders’ statement calls on nuclear weapons states such as the UK to “join” the endeavour to achieve a nuclear free world, rather than to lead. The reality is that nuclear weapons states have shown themselves to be incapable of providing leadership in this respect. They have opposed promising initiatives in recent years. In 2010, for example, they vetoed the UN Secretary General’s proposal for a conference to discuss a five-point plan on disarmament and have blocked other initiatives since then. The UK’s obstructive stance has been the subject of dialogue and correspondence between Church leaders and UK Foreign Office ministers over the past few years.

There is now interest in establishing a nuclear ban treaty under international law. Pope Francis, made an important intervention in a message read out at the Conference on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna in December 2014.

In the message he said “Military codes and international law, among others, have long banned peoples from inflicting unnecessary suffering. If such suffering is banned in the waging of conventional war, then it should all the more be banned in nuclear conflict.”

Since then, 50 States (including the Vatican) have joined the Government of Austria in a pledge to fill the legal gap with respect to nuclear weapons. Proposals are likely to be put forward for a nuclear ban treaty to give nuclear weapons a similar status under international law as chemical and biological weapons.

Today UK faith leaders have reflected this new international mood. While they did not make direct reference to a nuclear ban treaty, they recognise that nuclear disarmament is an agenda for all those potentially impacted by the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons – it is no longer perceived as the agenda of the ‘possessor states’ who have vested interests.

The letter in The Times urges that we move beyond the division of our world into ‘recognised nuclear weapons states’ and ‘non-nuclear weapons states’. Nuclear disarmament is being recast as a humanitarian issue; it is also an issue of justice and of equal rights under law.

In his message the Pope also encouraged “sincere and open dialogue between parties internal to each nuclear state, between various nuclear states, and between nuclear states and non-nuclear states. This dialogue must be inclusive, involving international organizations, religious communities and civil society, and oriented towards the common good and not the protection of vested interests.”

The call for a nuclear ban treaty will no doubt be raised during the forthcoming Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference starting 27 April. Sooner or later responsible nations must get on board with a comprehensive approach to nuclear disarmament. Those signing the statement to The Times urge that our Government act now.

* The Times letter: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/letters/article4380266.ece (partly behind a paywall)

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© Steve Hucklesby is Policy Adviser for the Joint Public Issues Team of the Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed Churches, sometimes in collaboration with the Quakers and the Church of Scotland. See: www.jointpublicissues.org.uk Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jointpublicissues Twitter @publicissues

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