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The Ethics of Nuclear Weapons GENERAL SYNOD 2095

July 5, 2018

Synod members will be asked in July 2018 to welcome last year’s United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons “and the clear signal it sends . . . that nuclear weapons are both dangerous and unnecessary”, and to urge the British Government, which has not signed it, to reaffirm its commitment to non-proliferation.

This 18-page briefing from the Mission and Public Affairs Council spans history, ethics, and theology (including reference to the “Hauerwas/Niebuhr conflict”), and demonstrates “how ambiguous the position is here . . . theologically as well as politically”, the Director of Mission and Public Affairs, the Revd Dr Malcolm Brown said. In stark terms, it warns of the erosion of the “liberal international order” and “a second nuclear age”.

The Synod’s Secretary General, William Nye, described it as one of several motions that would provide “an opportunity for the Church to speak into the life of the nation and the world”.

THE General Synod last addressed this subject in 2007. Since then, there have been important developments in the international scene. Last December, the Nobel Peace Prize was won by the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons. Also last year, with the support of the majority of the world’s states, a Nuclear Ban Treaty was introduced.

At the Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of Hiroshima, took to the podium. She said: “I saw all around me devastation — a procession of ghostly figures shuffled by. Grotesquely wounded people, they were bleeding, burned, blackened, and swollen.” Ms Thurlow’s first-hand account is desperately uncomfortable to hear, but we must listen. As Hiroshima and Nagasaki slip further into the annals of history, there are fewer people alive today to give us a direct account of that horror.

In 2017, the Nobel Peace Prize gave recognition to the many people across the world who, like Ms Thurlow, have demanded that the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons be outlawed. Three recent international governmental conferences have shown that even a limited nuclear exchange would result in death and suffering on a scale that would overwhelm the capacity of emergency services anywhere. Most governments conclude that, because of their indiscriminate impact, any use of nuclear weapons will always be contrary to principles of international law. These principles are not derived just from the sum total of statutes and government statements: they reflect a global public morality.

Last July, on the basis of these principles, 122 nations agreed a text for a new global Nuclear Ban Treaty. It bans the use of nuclear weapons as well as their possession and future development.

Not surprisingly, countries possessing nuclear weapons, including the UK, oppose this treaty, arguing that it is a destabilising influence on the balance of power. Our Government, understandably, wants the UK to retain an active engagement in world affairs after Brexit, but not, apparently, in the promotion of comprehensive treaties for multilateral disarmament.

CHRISTIAN denominations in the UK have actively campaigned for the introduction of the Nuclear Ban Treaty, and, together with other faiths, are raising awareness. The Vatican has taken a particular lead. Days after the treaty opened for signature, the Vatican signed and ratified it to encourage its eventual entry into force.

The Church of England has not yet added its voice to this international coalition of good will.

It considers possession of nuclear weapons with a conditional intent to use them. Such use would entail massive suffering, widespread immediate deaths, radioactivity and the likelihood of a nuclear winter, damaging effect on generations yet unborn, and could never be defended on just war criteria. Indeed any willingness of Christians to support such use is deeply corrosive of their love for neighbour and for enemy.

It looks at possession of weapons of mass destruction per se. Even if there is no intent to use, there are considerable risks in such a strategy. Everyone on the chain of command needs to know that the missiles would never be fired. There is always the risk of accidental nuclear war, either by technical failure or human error. Although the likelihood is small – but events like Cuba or occasions when flocks of geese were mistaken for incoming missiles remind us that the possibility is present – the severity of nuclear war makes the risk a huge gamble with human survival. It also means that resources are used to prepare for war rather than for enabling human flourishing.

It says:

the campaign to eradicate nuclear weapons has never looked so far from achieving its goals. Nuclear weapon states are modernising their arsenals, smaller nuclear powers are building their capacity, while others are trying to cross the nuclear threshold. A second nuclear age with more actors and less stability is beginning to take shape.

Over the last year, the world has got closer – much closer – to the brink of a significant conflict. The prospects of a nuclear war between North Korea and the US might have diminished, but relations between Iran and the United States have worsened significantly in recent months

The ethical arguments for and against nuclear weapons, and in turn the case for unilateral versus multilateral disarmament, have however remained constant over time even if the weight of opinion has shifted back and forth.

we live in the theological interim – the period between Pentecost and the Parousia,

For Hauerwas, the church’s vocation is emphatically not to be accommodating to the reality of sin but to witness to the demands and new life of the Kingdom of God in its fullness – to be the precursor and epitome of what that Kingdom offers as transformative potential to the world.

The UK has reduced its operationally available stockpile of nuclear weapons to fewer than 200 warheads, which amounts to a 70% reduction in the potential explosive power of its nuclear forces since the end of the Cold War. It has also reduced the readiness of its current nuclear forces. By the mid-2020s the UK will have achieved a 65% reduction in the size of its nuclear stockpile, making it the smallest of all the NPT nuclear weapons states.

Despite its laudable intentions there are some problems with the Treaty which reflect the fact that it was negotiated in haste, in a little over 6 weeks, without any participation by those states that possess nuclear weapons. The original intention was that the Treaty would be a short political and moral statement prohibiting and stigmatising nuclear weapons and that it would be followed later by a Nuclear Weapons Convention providing detailed procedures for the safe and irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons, along with a comprehensive verification regime to monitor the process. However, during the drafting process those that had wanted the Treaty to require the elimination of nuclear weapons prevailed thereby signally a path independent of the nuclear weapons states.

The Treaty leaves unresolved how the entry into force of the Treaty will work for signatory states, especially those that are nuclear weapon states. In terms of verification, the Treaty leaves it to each nuclear weapon state to decide for itself what its proposed elimination procedures should be and how these should be verified thereby creating the prospects of multiple verification regimes.

You can download if from here.

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