New developments on several fronts reinforce need for prompt attention
President Biden restated this summer his administration’s commitment to arms control with the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons. He also prioritized reducing their role in the security strategy of the United States. In January 2022 the U.S. joined with other Nuclear Weapon States to affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.
Now, leaders of U.S. religious communities in an interfaith letter are offering their support for the President’s statements and are calling on him to press for the resumption of arms control negotiations. They say that the time is overdue for the elimination of nuclear weapons and they cite two new developments that make it essential that the issue receive prompt and urgent attention.
The first development is the growing risk of nuclear war. The Russian invasion of Ukraine accompanied by nuclear threats and escalating rhetoric have created a global environment not seen since the early days of the Cold War. Nuclear Weapon States are modernizing their arsenals. Only one arms control treaty between the United States and Russia remains in force. At the same time advances in military technology are shortening warning or decision times. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said that humanity is “one misunderstanding, one miscalculation from nuclear annihilation.”
The second development is the recent release of two scientific studies that have found that, in a nuclear war, the hundreds of millions of deaths from blast, fire and radiation would be only the beginning of the horrors unleased. Climate scientists at Rutgers University calculate that in a full scale war between the United States and Russia, five billion people would subsequently die from hunger as soot and smoke from nuclear firestorms block the sun, causing drastic temperature declines and massive crop failures. Climate effects of a smaller nuclear war between Pakistan and India were projected to lead to two billion deaths from hunger. In a second study at Louisiana State University, the “nuclear cooling event” mentioned above would also have the effect of decimating marine life and causing a large expansion of sea ice which would usher in a “Nuclear Little Ice Age.” Climate models indicate that it would take many decades for oceans to return to normal.
The signatories state that subjecting humanity and the planet to these kind of dangers from the threat of nuclear weapons is not only a flagrant violation of international law but also an affront to human decency as well as the values of the world’s religious traditions. They note that similar statements have been made by, among others, the International Court of Justice and the International Red Cross/Red Crescent.
The interfaith letter has been organized by the All Souls Nuclear Disarmament Task Force in New York City. In May 2018 the task force coordinated the Interfaith Statement of Support for the release of the UN document, “Securing our Common Future: An Agenda for Disarmament.” UN Secretary General Guterres brought attention to a deteriorating international security environment, new risks and unfulfilled commitments and called for the resumption of arms control negotiations. He cited the need for stronger partnerships and unwavering determination. That urgent work continues today.
For a copy of the interfaith letter with the latest signature list:
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