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Nuclear war ‘is untold slaughter beyond commensurable gain’

22 April 2016


THE Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields and visiting professor of Christian Ethics at King’s College, London, the Revd Dr Sam Wells, has warned that nuclear war “is not, by any conventional definition, war. It is untold slaughter beyond commensurable gain”.

Dr Wells made the comments at a parliamentary meeting on the ethics of nuclear weapons, held yesterday, in the House of Commons, at which he joined the Labour MP Ruth Cadbury as a guest speaker.

The open meeting was held to debate the merits in achieving a “nuclear-free world”, and to discuss the consequences of having and using nuclear weapons. It was chaired by the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Seema Malhotra, and was followed by a Q&A session.

“Almost all the arguments that make conventional war plausible make nuclear attack inadmissible,” Dr Wells argued. “By entering a nuclear conflict, one departs from centuries of attempts to circumscribe the catastrophe of war and enters the realm of unlimited destruction with undetermined outcomes; a realm currently occupied only by the terrorist.”

He went on: “The longer the nuclear powers go without going to war with one another, the greater the claim will be that their state of mutually assured destruction should get much of the credit. These are the only circumstances in which nuclear weapons can be regarded as in any sense a good — for some see them as securing decades of relative peace.”

Another guest speaker, the co-ordinator of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons UK, Rebecca Sharkey, focused on the international developments and humanitarian initiatives of the United Nations.

The parliamentary meeting, led by the Heston Justice and Peace Group, Pax Christi, and the Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), was its first on the subject, though the group have previously hosted a discussion with MPs on countries that have given up nuclear weapons, such as South Africa.

The Christian CND has also held a theology day school, at St John’s College, Oxford, on the morality of deterrence.

To help MPs and interested parties decide on their standpoint, on Thursday the groups created an interactive “Nuclear Morality Flowchart”, which asks the user “moral and practical questions designed to encourage and enable a full and rational response” to the issue.

Introducing the chart, the co-chair of Christian CND, Martin Birdseye, said: “The application of ethics in the real world is subject to many difficulties and distortions and the sheer complexity of the problems that we try to resolve. . . It would be foolish to go forward without at least applying the moral principles that we normally live by.

”The Nuclear Morality Flowchart is simply a decision tree. You have to make the decisions. For you, for your individual conscience, it is an ethical algorithm. That is, it will enable you to arrive at the right answer for you.”

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