CAMPAIGNERS are urging the UK to sign the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which will come into effect on 22 January.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, with more than 30 Church of England bishops, called on the Government in November to accept the treaty, which, they said, would “give hope to all people of goodwill who seek a peaceful future” (News, 20 November 2020).
It has been signed by 51 states. They will now be required to stop producing, developing, testing, or stationing nuclear weapons, and will be required to help any victims of their testing and use. Their financial institutions will be expected to stop investing in companies that produce nuclear weapons.
The UK, the United States, France, and Russia have not signed the treaty. Clergy and church leaders were reminded in a briefing by the Network of Christian Peace Organisations (NCPO), on Tuesday, of the overwhelming support given to a Lambeth Conference resolution in 1998, which called on the Government and the UN to press for an international mandate for all member states to prohibit nuclear warfare.
Now was the time to fulfil that, Rebecca Johnson, one of the architects of the treaty and a founder member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), said. Nuclear weapons must be known for what they really were — weapons of mass destruction — and the phrase “nuclear powers” must be replaced with “nuclear-armed states”.
The treaty was a legal one, but it would work by persuasion and not by coercion; it was normative in taking away any status attached to hanging on to nuclear weapons, and in labelling as pariahs those who did. “We all need to think about what we can do to bring this treaty into force in our own countries. There is an important job here for faith leaders to do,” she said.
Although the C of E had a blanket policy of not investing in companies with an interest in nuclear weapons, everyone should examine investment practice in their churches, the policy adviser on international affairs for the ecumenical Joint Public Issues Team, Steve Hucklesby, said.
The treaty brought “a very real possibility of a new norm on nuclear weapons across the whole finance and business sectors; but be clear: there is resistance to change,” he continued. Pressure could be applied to banks and pension providers if individuals saw this as something relating to their own lives. “The issue now becomes compliance with an international treaty, to be applied across the whole of an institution’s business.”
An international meeting to be held in Vienna later this year will establish mechanisms for compliance. It will be open to observers from nuclear-armed states, who will not be able to vote but who should be urged to “attend, listen, and learn,” Ms Johnson said. “It is so important for the UK to join sooner rather than later . . . to be at the table.”
Russell Whiting, who chairs Christian CND, described a world in which President Trump, or even Joe Biden, had their finger on the nuclear button, as “an incredibly dangerous place”. The treaty has been declared dangerous by the Prime Minister, and by the former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. These governments had “misrepresented” the treaty wherever they went, saying that it would undermine the existing non-proliferation treaty, Ms Johnson said.
The General Synod called for the elimination of nuclear weapons in July 2018, but it stopped short of urging the Government to sign the treaty. The Government’s refusal to do so was described by the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cotrrell, then Bishop of Chelmsford, as “hugely disappointing” and “a decision that looks like complacency”. He questioned the billions of pounds spent on Trident (News, 13 July 2018).
The general secretary of the Roman Catholic peace movement Pax Christi, Pat Gaffney, said on Tuesday that RC bishops had issued a statement asking the Government to support the treaty — a move that she described as “a huge step forward, because they have habitually said it undermined the existing non-proliferation treaty. Catholics need to write to their bishops affirming what they are doing.”
The NCPO is holding a service online at 11.30 a.m. on 22 January, to mark the treaty. It will conclude with the ringing of the peace bell at Coventry Cathedral.