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Statement on the need for churches' vigilance against nuclear proliferation

01 March 2007

Nuclear Proliferation and the Emerging Context 

For decades, the WCC has advocated at the international level for cooperative efforts to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. Recent developments in global political and military contexts call for intensified and concerted church action to achieve those goals. The Minute on the "Elimination of Nuclear Arms" adopted by the WCC 9th Assembly at Porto Alegre underlines the need for the churches to impress upon their governments the immorality of nuclear weapons, and for all states to uphold, strengthen and implement the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  

In view of these recent developments, it is imperative that churches continue to raise awareness of the threat of nuclear weapons. The testing of a nuclear device on October 9, 2006 by North Korea prompted responses from the WCC that called for the international community to put nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation firmly back on track and encouraged member churches to follow up on the recommendations of the Minute adopted at WCC 9th Assembly. North Korea's nuclear weapon and ballistic missile tests threaten to destabilize the region and to undermine the agreed international objective of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. In the Middle East, Iran's failure to assure the international community that its civilian nuclear programs are not camouflaging its intention to develop nuclear weapons capability, combined with Israel's refusal to subject all of its nuclear facilities to IAEA inspections, threatens a cascade of nuclear proliferation and frustrates the international community's agreed pursuit of the Middle East as a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction. In South Asia, the unilateral initiative by the United States to accept India as a nuclear weapon state threatens an ongoing arms race with Pakistan and with China, with severe implications beyond the region and entrenches a nuclear double standard that threatens all other non-proliferation efforts.  

The ongoing nuclear modernization programs of the nuclear weapon states - like the US, UK, France, Russia and China - along with stalled efforts to pursue arsenal reductions, exacerbates that double standard and generates growing global scepticism about the relevance and effectiveness of the NPT as an instrument for the pursuit of nuclear abolition. The dangers of the unintended or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons are heightened by the practices in the United States and Russia of maintaining nuclear weapons on high alert and available for firing within seconds of an alarm, as well as by the dangers that insufficiently secured weapons or weapons materials will fall into the hands of non-state groups committed to acts of terror. 

These developments challenge the strength of the nuclear control regime. There are, however, signs of hope for a reaffirmation of the terms of the NPT for the state signatories as well as pressure for non-signatories to respect the norms the Treaty upholds. The September 2006 signing of a treaty by five Central Asian states establishing a Central Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone demonstrates a powerful commitment to nuclear disarmament, adding to the four existing nuclear-weapon-free zones in Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and Africa. The Central Asian states also set an important precedent by legally binding themselves to adhere to the enhanced IAEA safeguards, known as the Additional Protocol, regarding their civilian nuclear resources. 

It is hoped that the 2007 session of the Conference on Disarmament (CD), after nine years of paralyzed negotiations, will demonstrate the political resolve of the states necessary to make progress. In particular, the United States and China are under pressure to end their disagreement on a program of work and thus end the stalemate in the CD by accepting the formula for negotiations on an Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty along with discussions of the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS), nuclear disarmament, and negative security assurances. 

Last year marked the 10th anniversary of the opening for signature of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This treaty developed within the CD, draws attention to the fact that an essential tool for restricting the development of new nuclear weapons has yet to enter into force. In 1995, the WCC urged the adoption of this important treaty. However some of the signatories have still not ratified it and other key states have declined to sign. In particular, it is extremely important that the United States, India and Pakistan show global leadership by initiating the steps toward their respective ratification of the CTBT. Such a commitment would be one of the most effective means of limiting the spread of nuclear weapons capability and of curtailing the growth of arsenals in the DPRK, India, Israel, and Pakistan. 

Although the effectiveness of the NPT is at risk, it is early in a new review cycle for the NPT. A 13-point action plan towards nuclear disarmament was adopted at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, the most important goal of which is "an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals." The NPT is a crucial international agreement, as it contains the only binding commitment to nuclear disarmament in a multilateral treaty.  

These developments, coupled with the continuing commitment of the vast majority of states - including the states of the New Agenda Coalition of Brazil, South Africa, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand and Sweden - to the NPT and to the ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons, indicate that the nuclear proliferation challenges now facing the world can be effectively met if there is political will and moral fortitude. The New Agenda Coalition has been instrumental in bringing the nuclear weapon states to the table in non-proliferation and disarmament discussions including the call for the "total elimination of nuclear weapons".  

Thus the challenge for the churches is to communicate an ethical and theological perspective on nuclear arms to their governments to support all non-proliferation efforts including those advocated by the New Agenda Coalition and other middle powers. The Christian tradition is clearly committed to the sanctity of human life and the protection of all forms of creation for the needs of future generations. Nuclear weapons violate those principles because they indiscriminately destroy human and natural life. Building on this principle, not only do the churches grapple with the fear of being destroyed, but many of them also have to reflect on the ethical implications of being part of a nation that can cause the destruction of another population.  

The Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Geneva, 27 February to 2 March 2007

a) reaffirms the churches' consistent call for the abolition of nuclear weapons, a call that is more urgent than ever considering the pressure being placed upon nuclear weapons control mechanisms, and  

b) encourages the churches to continue to communicate with their governments, to pursue the churches' goals of the complete rejection of nuclear weapons and the claims of deterrence; 

c) urges the churches to engage with other faith communities in exploring ways of working together toward the abolition of nuclear weapons, including cooperation among the faith communities of the Middle East in support of the international community's agreed objective of establishing the Middle East as a nuclear-weapon-free-zone (NWFZ); 

d) commends churches in the United Kingdom for their efforts to stop the replacement of the UK's Trident nuclear weapons system and adds the voice of churches around the world in support of that goal.  

e) urges the UK government to set an historic example of leadership for the whole international community in the above matter by fulfilling its disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. To do so would effectively challenge the other nuclear weapons states to abandon their own double standards regarding the legitimacy of weapons of mass destruction and would clearly remove an incentive for non-nuclear-weapons states to proliferate. 

f) calls on the churches to support the strengthening of the existing international mechanisms of verification and compliance, primarily the work of the IAEA, calls again for the CTBT to be brought into force, and to assert that the disarmament machinery such as the CD in particular, but also the Disarmament Commission and the Department for Disarmament Affairs (DDA), need to remain viable venues for action; 

g) appeals to the churches in the United States and China to persuade their governments to end their disagreement on a program of work and resolve the stalemate in the CD;  

h) calls on churches in South Africa, Sri Lanka, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Syria to encourage their presidencies at the Conference on Disarmament this year, where progress on a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT), negative security assurances (NSAs), nuclear disarmament and the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS) is urgently needed;  

i) recalls the visit to the World Council of Churches by the chair of The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, Dr Hans Blix on June 15, 2006, and expresses its full support for the continuing work of the Commission with governments and civil society organisations to absorb its recommendations into political processes and concrete actions; 

j) commits itself to support such initiatives of recent years as the New Agenda Coalition of Brazil, South Africa, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand and Sweden and the Middle Powers Initiative of international non-governmental organisations to press for the fulfillment of the NPT disarmament obligations as these provide an opportunity to work with non-nuclear powers; 

k) conveys to the Central Committee the need to organise a major discussion session on churches advocacy role in working towards complete abolition of nuclear weapons at one of its upcoming sessions.