LAST week, I was one of 31 Anglican bishops to sign an open letter calling on the Government to sign and ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The letter expressed regret that “the UK, together with other nuclear states, has not yet signed the accord. We call on the UK Government to do so, and thereby to give hope to all people of goodwill who seek a peaceful future.”
The TPNW has recently received its 50th ratification and will, therefore, come into force at the start of 2021 (News, 20 November).
The treaty is a moment of hope for our world: that we might be able to look forward to a future of peace, without the threat of nuclear war hanging over us.
It has been a long road. There have been calls for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons for more than six decades, and the TPNW is the result of years of negotiations, meetings, and pressure from civil society and a broad coalition of the international community. It is often easy to forget that the vast majority of states live in peace with their neighbours without nuclear weapons and oppose their existence elsewhere in the world.
The TPNW was agreed in 2017, and has since been signed by 84 states, 50 of which have completed ratification. They are states from around the world, representing all continents, ethnicities, faiths, and political traditions — from the island nations of the Pacific, which suffered so terribly from nuclear testing, often carried out by the UK, to South Africa, which has signed up after giving up its own nuclear-weapons programme in the 1990s. Our nearest neighbour, Ireland, has also signed the TPNW, doing so on the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima earlier this year.
CHRISTIANS have often been at the forefront of those calling for progress on nuclear disarmament. The Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is marking its 60th anniversary this year, and has always been a strong voice for peace, bringing together people from all backgrounds to work and to pray for a nuclear-weapons-free world.
The Holy See was one of the first states to sign the TPNW in 2017. Pope Francis used a visit to Hiroshima last year (News, 29 November 2019) to declare “with deep conviction . . . that the use of atomic energy for purposes of war is today, more than ever, a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home. The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral.”
The Pacific Council of Churches has called on states to sign the treaty urgently. In a statement to the Fijian parliament during hearings on the treaty, the Council said that “who controls nuclear weapons is of no consequence — they are no good for the Pacific, they are no good for the world.”
Shortly after the TPNW was agreed, the General Synod passed a motion which called on the UK government to “respond positively” to it, and state how it would eliminate nuclear weapons under existing international obligations (News, 13 July 2018). Since then, many of us have been working and praying to bring the Government to the table. That work will continue.
WE DO not need to wait for our Government, or those in other nuclear-armed states, to take action, however. There is one simple, practical thing that individuals and churches can do to support the TPNW.
We probably all have relationships with financial institutions that may invest money in companies involved with the production, or maintenance, of nuclear weapons. By investigating the practices of those who invest on our behalf, we can make sure that our money is not being used for purposes to which we are fundamentally opposed.
The Nuclear Weapons Finance Research Group has produced a report that sets out in detail the investment policies of institutions in the UK. In considering our investments, we would do well to remember the words of Jesus in St Matthew’s Gospel: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.”
There is still much to be done as we strive for a world that is free of nuclear weapons, and we must be under no illusions about the size of the task ahead of us. But history is full of examples of struggles that seemed impossible, until they happened. Our calling as Christians is to continue to believe in a better future, to argue for peace, and to provide a clear vision of a better world, in which nobody has to live with the constant, unseen threat of nuclear apocalypse.
If Christians come together, along with those of other faiths or none who share this goal, then we can save future generations from the fear and suffering which too many have already endured.
The Rt Revd Roger Morris is the Bishop of Colchester in Chelmsford diocese.