Acting Together to Ban Nuclear Weapons
By George Arende
On August 6, 1945, during World War II (1939-45), an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The explosion wiped out much of the city, killing and injuring an estimated 150,000 people. Three days later, a second A-bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, causing another 75,000 casualties, according to conservative estimates. Tens of thousands more citizens would perish in the ensuing months, years and decades. A new and most cruel weapon had been used on Japan.
Atomic and nuclear weapons kill and injure people in three horrible ways: with heat, with blast and with radiation, The aftermath of the twin bombings saw massive devastation in the cities from the initial blast, the widespread fires that ensued and the radiation contamination that even reached rural areas far from the epicenter. Homes, schools, hospitals, temples and churches were reduced to ashes. Radio stations went off the air. In the ensuing years, radiation caused 17 types of cancers and a variety of birth defects among a range of health and psychological conditions, some of which are ongoing three generations later.
Since the attacks 72 years ago, the opposition to nuclear weapons in the world
community has failed to rally sufficient political support for the abolition of
nuclear weapon in the face of determined opposition by the nuclear powers
and public acquiescence of their citizens in the nuclear status quo. That long
wait came to an end on July 7, 2017, when two-thirds of the world’s
governments (122 countries) adopted a treaty which takes an essential step
towards the abolition of nuclear weapons. The new treaty outlaws the
development, testing, production, manufacture, acquisition, possession and
stockpiling of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, as well as related activities. (See United Nations Resolution 71/258)
The vote was 122 to 1; Netherlands voted “no”, instead advocating the “protection” of US nuclear weapons, a position also shared with 30 other US-allied countries that boycotted the negotiations and vote. Singapore abstained at the last minute, after having been supportive of the treaty along with its neighbors in Southeast Asia, which is already one of the world’s six nuclear-weapons-free zones.
The nine countries that have nuclear weapons – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea – boycotted the treaty negotiations. They instead proposed specific steps towards nuclear disarmament that have been on the international agenda for decades, mostly dependent on their commitment and action, and which have seen no progress for more than 20 years.
The five countries that have the vast majority of nuclear weapons (USA, Russia, Britain, France and China) are allowed to keep their nuclear arsenals temporarily on the condition that they take effective measures to get rid of the weapons, under the terms of the 50- year-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
In a joint statement issued the day before the treaty was adopted, the USA, Britain and France stated that it offered “no solution to the grave threat” posed by nuclear weapons and vowed “not to sign, ratify or even become party to it”.
Church involvement and members of ELCG
For six years, members of the World Council of Churches (WCC) have worked towards the realization of the abolition treaty. After the historic vote, Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of WCC, welcomed it, saying, “it could ultimately save millions of lives.” For his part, Peter Prove, a member of our church and the director of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA), reiterated that “banning nuclear weapons is essential step towards their eventual elimination, a goal the WCC has supported since it began in 1948.”
Another ELCG member, Jonathan Frerichs, has helped mobilize churches and related organizations to support the treaty on behalf of the WCC and the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi International. “Christians are called to protect human life and God’s precious gift of all life which we see around us. Nuclear weapons misuse the very building blocks of Creation to threaten our small corner of Creation,” he said. “In a way, this treaty reflects a core value of faith and of collective conscience into the realm of the rule of law in order to protect a common good.”
Frerichs noted that after the vote, a Hiroshima survivor told the packed UN conference hall that nuclear weapons have always been immoral and now they will be illegal as well.
While calling for collective involvement, Fyske Tveit said, “Churches now have a fine opportunity to help with the next step, [and] urge governments to sign and ratify the treaty and then to see that it is implemented.”
The treaty will open for signature on 20 September 2107 and will come into force when 50 countries have ratified it.
What the treaty calls for
The 10-page document urges state parties to the
treaty to be “mindful of the risks posed by the
continued existence of nuclear weapons” that
“concern the security of all humanity.” It expresses
“deep concern” about the “catastrophic
humanitarian consequences” that could result from the use of nuclear weapons.
The treaty prohibits the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. Countries that ratify are bound by the treaty to co-operate with the International Atomic Energy Agency in implementing control measures.
Victim assistance that is “gender-sensitive” and includes medical care, rehabilitation and psychological and economic support, is stipulated by the treaty for people affected by either the use or testing of nuclear weapons.
The ban treaty is strongly supported by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the International Trade Union Confederation, the World Medical Association, the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates and many other organizations. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is a global coalition of over 400 partner organizations in 100 countries including the World Council of Churches and other religious international associations.
With thanks to Jonathan Frerichs