November 12th, 2007
Religious leaders gathering this week at the Festival of Faiths in Louisville must make a forceful call to forge a consensus of conscience and reason: Nuclear weapons are unworthy of civilization. No other threat to human survival is as immediate and hazardous as the 27,000 warheads still in existence.
In today’s nuclear arsenals, triggering devices are approximately as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. A few dozen exploding in the U.S., Russia, Pakistan or India would virtually destroy these nations, cause immeasurable suffering, and could irreversibly end what we know as civilization.
In their historic Wall Street Journal op-ed, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons” (Jan. 4), George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn set forth a practical imperative. Religious leaders should heed it for reasons set forth in Mikhail Gorbachev’s WSJ response (Jan. 31).
“We must put the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons back on the agenda, not in a distant future but as soon as possible. It links the moral imperative — the rejection of such weapons from an ethical standpoint — with the imperative of assuring security. It is becoming clearer that nuclear weapons are no longer a means of achieving security; in fact, with every passing year they make our security more precarious.”
By accident or design, over time, these weapons will be used. And nothing stimulates the desire for, and acquisition of, nuclear weapons as much as the refusal of a handful of states — United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel — to render these horrific devices universally unacceptable.
Challenges such as North Korea and Iran are symptoms of the underlying contradiction of attempting to stem proliferation while relying on the threat to use nuclear weapons as a core security policy. This hypocrisy sometimes reaches absurd proportions. For example, only two countries voted against a ban on nuclear weapons testing in the U.N. General Assembly — the U.S. and North Korea.
As Americans, why should we live with thousands of Russian weapons over our heads on hair-trigger alert? Moreover, how can we, in good conscience, tolerate threats in our names, through our own governments, to level these horrors upon millions of normal, peaceful, law abiding, innocent people?
Nuclear weapons serve no purpose against terrorists or criminals, would be indisputably immoral to use against a non-nuclear weapons state, and suicidal to use against a similarly armed state. Simply, the weapons themselves are more dangerous than any problem they seek to solve.
If the people of the world knew fully the destructive sword that hangs over the civilian populations of our cities and threatens the very viability of human life, they would summarily reject nuclear weapons, neither wanting to be subject to this threat nor wanting to threaten others — millions of innocents like themselves.
We share with Kissinger, et al., that there is a realistic way out of our crisis. First, we must clearly determine that universally verifiable, legally enforceable nuclear weapons abolition is our collective obligation. Every human being — whether heads of state, religious leaders, or citizens — has a responsibility actively to seek this goal.
Having set the compass point on abolition, we can follow a map, each step of which will strengthen our collective security, diminish the security of no state, enhance the rule of law and fulfill existing legal obligations. Here are some examples:
-Ban testing of nuclear weapons forever, thus putting a hurdle on proliferation;
-End the production of new weapons-grade fissionable material;
-Pledge never to use a nuclear weapon first;
-Take missiles off hair-trigger, launch-on-warning alert;
-Strengthen international inspection and monitoring safeguards;
-Convene a summit and commence negotiations on a Nuclear Weapons Convention.
There are no technical impediments to advancing these proposals. We are blocked only by a failure of courage and political will.
But a president of the United States could change everything by announcing to the international community that America will lead the world toward the prohibition and universal elimination of all nuclear weapons. This would re-establish America as the pre-eminent advocate of the international rule of law and fulfill disarmament duties contained in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and reaffirmed by the International Court of Justice.
This step to a safer, sustainable future is within our reach. But it will not happen without public pressure. The political realists have spoken. Let us declare this unique convergence of practical security and moral imperative. Religious leaders and citizenry have a duty to stand up — now.