Securing Humanity’s Future
Faith Communities Stand Together Regarding Nuclear Weapons
Religion News Service Press Release
Led by PAX, Pax Christi International, Soka Gakkai International (SGI), United Religions Initiative (URI), and World Council of Churches, the press release below has been posted on numerous faith-based and religious anti-nuclear websites.
On October 16, Faith Communities Concerned about Nuclear Weapons, a group of diverse faith-based organizations and individuals committed to a nuclear-weapon-free world, presented a joint statement on the occasion of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security in New York.
The statement was introduced by Bruce Knotts, president of the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security (NGOCDPS), during a side event, “To Safeguard Future Generations – Multi-Faith Responses to the Threat of Nuclear Weapons.”
Endorsed by 14 groups and individuals of varied Christian, Quaker, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist traditions, the statement urges the General Assembly to address the issue of disarmament not only from a military and political perspective, but also as a “moral and ethical imperative.”
It reads: “As people of faith, we advocate for the right of all people to live in security and dignity; we seek to heed the commands of conscience and the call to justice… The horrific destructiveness of nuclear weapons makes their abolition the only path to authentic human security.”
Dr. Emily Welty, vice moderator of the World Council of Churches (WCC), commented as follows: “Speaking collectively about how nuclear weapons violate the values at the core of our diverse faith traditions, working together to assist victims, restore the environment and demand that powerful governments care for human beings is what I believe we are called to do as people of faith.”
The statement is the tenth of its kind issued by the group since 2014. For the first time it also stresses the dangers posed by Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), as well as the threat of a new international arms race.
SGI executive director for Peace and Global Issues Kazuo Ishiwatari commented on the statement: “No machine should ever have the right to decide on life and death. It is frightening to imagine any further advance in the automation of the processes controlling the targeting and launching of nuclear weapons.”
At the side event, the crucial role of faith-based organizations was stressed by Ambassador Thomas Hajnoczi of the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Ira Helfand, co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), and speakers from various faiths.
The event, held at United Nations Headquarters in New York, was co-organized by NGOCDPS and the Permanent Missions to the UN in New York of Austria, Nigeria, Thailand, and South Africa. The full text of the statement is as follows.
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Public Statement Submitted to the 2018 UN General Assembly First Committee
by Faith Communities Concerned about Nuclear Weapons
October 2018, New York
As people of faith, we advocate for the right of all people to live in security and dignity; we seek to heed the commands of conscience and the call to justice; we are united in our determination to protect the vulnerable and to exercise the stewardship that will safeguard Earth for present and future generations.
Article 26 of the United Nations Charter envisages the “establishment and maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources.” However, in the decades since the adoption of the Charter, the world has committed immense stores of material, economic, technical, and intellectual resources to the production and maintenance of a vast and growing array of armaments. Far from ensuring peace and security, these preparations for war and violence have locked states into the “security dilemma” of escalating mistrust and fear. They have inflamed and entrenched conflicts throughout the world, bringing unimaginable suffering to vast numbers of people. These armaments have squandered precious resources that could be used to meet human needs, hampered human development and human rights, and undermined the cause of human security. They have not made the world safer.
We share the concern expressed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in the UN’s new disarmament agenda “Securing Our Common Future,” that the world today stands on the “brink of a new cold war.” We fully support the Secretary-General’s call to tackle this new reality through disarmament to save humanity, disarmament that saves lives, and disarmament for future generations.
To its enduring credit, the UN has proven itself as a forum for building new norms and treaties in arms control and disarmament. Recent examples include the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). In furthering the disarmament agenda, it has also established the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), which is examining the use of unmanned and increasingly autonomous weapons systems. Such processes demand sustained international commitment. They have shed light on the need to improve compliance, capacity and transparency throughout the chain by which arms are designed and manufactured to where they are put to use. Multilateral forums are essential because new technologies must not be allowed to escape ethical and legal restraints under a collective commitment to the rule of law.
LAWS can select and engage individual targets without meaningful human control. Such weapons are unlikely to be able to adhere to International Humanitarian Law as it is unlikely that they will be able to properly distinguish between civilians and combatants, or to make a proportionality assessment. While the deployment of LAWS might result in an asymmetric lowering of military casualties, it is likely to also lower the threshold for the use of force and could increase civilian harm. These weapons could lead to accidental and rapid escalation of conflict as fully autonomous weapons react and interact with each other at speeds beyond human control.
As people of faith, we share common concerns about fundamental moral and ethical questions that LAWS raise regarding the right to life, the principles of international humanitarian and human rights law, as well as the threat of a new international arms race. A machine should never be allowed to make the decisions of life and death. These concerns have led to movements urging the start of international negotiations on a legally-binding instrument prohibiting lethal autonomous weapons systems.
Nuclear weapons manifest the dire results of new lethal technologies that have been allowed to escape the dictates of public conscience. The continued maintenance, modernization and proliferation of nuclear weapons systems represent the nadir of humanity’s self-destructive impulses and a deplorable diversion of resources from the imperatives of sustainable human development. Nuclear weapons profoundly violate all these values and commitments. We can never accept a conception of security that privileges the concerns of any state or nation over the good of the human and planetary whole. The horrific destructiveness of nuclear weapons makes their abolition the only path to authentic human security. In July of last year, in an important step toward a world free from nuclear weapons, the TPNW was adopted by 122 governments. We strongly urge all States that have not yet done so to sign and ratify the TPNW.
Therefore, as people of faith, we urge the General Assembly to:
Address the issue of disarmament not only as integral to the security agenda seen from military and political perspectives but also as a moral and ethical imperative;
Support proposals for substantive discussions in multilateral forums on a legally-binding instrument to prohibit LAWS;
Heed the voices of the world’s hibakusha (all the victims of nuclear weapons) and recommit to the unequivocal undertaking to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons;
Recognize that the fundamental justification for the TPNW is the prevention of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of such weapons and that its early entry into force is necessary.
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