Churches criticise ‘weak’ commitments on nuclear disarmament

An alliance of nine churches has condemned the failure of nuclear-weapon states to agree a timetable for nuclear disarmament at last week’s conference in New York.

The conference ended on Friday with a deal affirming the commitment of Britain, China, France, Russia and the US to reducing their nuclear weapons stockpiles, and the Middle East to becoming a nuclear-free region.

While the church alliance welcomed progress on the Middle East and the announcement from Foreign Secretary William Hague last week that Britain would not exceed 225 nuclear warheads, it remained highly critical of the refusal of the nuclear powers to commit to timeframes for future discussions on disarmament.

The five nuclear powers reject a change to the Non-Proliferation Treaty that would bind them to a time limit on disarmament.

“Nuclear weapons are a legacy of the cold war era and have little relevance to the threats that we face today,” said the Bishop of Reading, the Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell.

“There is a growing recognition that having one set of rules for some nations, and a different set of rules for everyone else is unsustainable.

“Moving towards the elimination of nuclear weapons is not only morally right but the best possible guarantee for our nation’s security.”

In addition to the Church of England, the Time is Now alliance includes the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church, and the Baptist Union of Great Britain.

The alliance is calling on the British Government to commit to achieving a nuclear-free world by making possession or use of nuclear weapons illegal and bringing all bomb-grade material under international control.

The President of the Methodist conference, the Rev David Gamble, said the consensus on non-proliferation was a major achievement that “reflects a growing understanding that nuclear weapons are a threat, not a guarantee to our security”.

He added, however, that in failing to agree to a timeframe for further discussions, world leaders appeared to be paying only “lip service” to the concept of nuclear disarmament.

“We didn’t expect the conference to produce a detailed plan for banning nuclear weapons, but we were looking for a commitment to move forward on the issue,” he said.

“The International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament and a whole host of others, from NPT state parties, former ambassadors and NGOs have all produced versions of a road map that could take us to zero nuclear weapons. The nuclear states stand alone in shying away from discussion of the detail.”

President Designate of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Rev Pat Took, warned that if nuclear states did not go further in demonstrating their readiness to relinquish nuclear weapons, international commitments could “unravel”, heightening global insecurity.

“The call to work towards a world free of nuclear weapons comes not only from the majority of the world’s governments but also overwhelmingly from people of all nations,” she said.

“I pray that we will raise our voices loud enough such that our governments have no choice but to be spurred into action.”

by Jenna Lyle



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