An unprecedented 107 nations have signed a pledge to “stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and associated risks” at the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in New York.
Four major UK Churches – the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church – have welcomed the news, but called on the UK Government to unblock discussion of new multilateral disarmament initiatives.
The 107 governments who have signed the humanitarian pledge call for new legally binding treaties to prohibit the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. As we approach the 70th anniversary of the devastation of Hiroshima (6 August), Governments supporting the humanitarian pledge have affirmed “that it is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances”.
The 2015 NPT Review Conference has failed to agree an outcome document due to a lack of consensus on how to move forward on a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East. But the conference also revealed the depth of divisions in Europe over approaches to disarmament:
- France and the UK previously boycotted a conference hosted by the government of Norway on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.
- Ireland and Austria insist that there must be a new legally binding treaty to place nuclear weapons on a par with biological and chemical weapons; however, this position is opposed by the UK.
- Several European states have joined 159 other countries in urging that the humanitarian agenda should underpin all efforts to achieve disarmament and that all states share the responsibility of preventing the modernisation of nuclear arsenals, whilst the UK proposes spending £25 billion on upgrading Trident.
Speaking on behalf of the four UK churches, policy adviser Steve Hucklesby said:
“Faith groups in the UK are united in their conviction that any use of nuclear weapons would violate the sanctity of life and the principle of dignity core to our faith traditions. To address the security challenges that we face today, we must build relationships based on mutual cooperation rather than the threat of mutual destruction.
We now have a serious division in Europe on nuclear weapons. Ireland and Austria insist that we must have new legal treaties to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, and other states in Europe may be willing to join the call. Sadly the UK remains intransigent, boycotting or blocking any effective forum for the discussion of new multilateral disarmament initiatives. This further risks undermining trust in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The UK must act to restore confidence in the direction of travel on nuclear disarmament.”
In March of this year, senior leaders of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church were among 26 UK faith leaders to call on the UK Government to support a robust plan of action on nuclear disarmament.
Churches across the UK are being encouraged to pray for and write to their MPs in response.