World Council of Churches

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Appeal on the occasion of the NATO Summit in Prague

Letter from the CCIA director Peter Weiderud to foreign ministers of the non-nuclear member states of NATO

14 November 2002

Letter to foreign ministers of the non-nuclear member states of NATO, 14 November 2002.

I write on behalf of the World Council of Churches (WCC) on the occasion of the 2002 Prague Summit of NATO to encourage you and your colleagues to guide NATO and its member States on a course of irreversible nuclear disarmament in accordance with the requirements of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Two years ago NATO Foreign Ministers approved the final report of the Alliance's Nuclear Policy Review, which had been mandated in Paragraph 32 of the 1999 Washington Summit, declaring support for the thirteen practical steps toward the nuclear disarmament as set out in the final document of the NPT Review Conference of 2000. While the WCC welcomed NATO's endorsement of the 13 steps, we regretted NATO's failure to offer any plans or measures towards the implementation of those steps. I must now point out that, since then, the gap between NATO policy and obligations under the NPT has widened.

Of particular concern is the continuing assertion in NATO's Strategic Concept that nuclear weapons are essential to Alliance security and that the Alliance and its Nuclear Weapon State (NWS) members intend to retain their nuclear arsenals for the foreseeable future. From its inception, it has been the testimony of the WCC that nuclear weapons promise insecurity rather than security. Already in 1966 the WCC declared that nuclear war is against God's will and is the greatest of evils. In 1983 the WCC world assembly in Vancouver confirmed that it is a core belief of the worldwide ecumenical community that the production and deployment as well as the use of nuclear weapons are a crime against humanity and that such activities must be condemned on ethical and theological grounds.

Complete nuclear disarmament is thus an urgent moral imperative. It is also a legal obligation. In 1996 the International Court of Justice advisory opinion issued a unanimous decision that, in accordance with Article VI of the NPT, there exists an obligation to bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament.

NATO's ongoing commitment to the indefinite retention of nuclear weapons violates both moral and legal responsibility and threatens global security. The Prague Summit offers the Alliance an important opportunity to begin planning for concrete disarmament action to implement NPT obligations. The WCC, on behalf of the global ecumenical community and according to the 2001 action of the Central Committee, urges you and your colleagues to adopt the following measures:

  • to re-affirm NATO's support for early progress towards the global elimination of nuclear weapons and to commit the Alliance to take programmatic action to advance this goal;
  • to commit NATO to reducing the alert status of nuclear weapons possessed by NATO members, and to pursuing effective arrangements for the rapid de-alerting of all nuclear weapons possessed by all states;
  • to renounce the first-use of nuclear weapons by any NATO member under any circumstances, and to commit NATO to the pursuit of equivalent commitments from other states possessing nuclear weapons.

In addition, we urge NATO leaders to recommit, as agreed in the NPT practical steps (step 9), to implementing security policies that clearly involve a diminishing role for nuclear weapons. We are concerned that elements of the US Nuclear Posture Review, as reported earlier this year, indicate increased roles for nuclear weapons. We note in particular that the discussion of contributions of the new triad to defence policy goals indicates that US nuclear forces will continue to provide assurance to security partners, particularly in the presence of known or suspected threats of nuclear, biological or chemical attacks or in the event of surprising military developments. The implication that nuclear weapons would be used or threatened in such circumstances, even in response to surprising military developments, is a clear violation of the commitment to diminish the place of nuclear weapons in security policies.

We also encourage NATO to take immediate steps to remove all nuclear weapons within the Alliance from the territories of non-nuclear-weapon states. As evidence of NATO's commitment to non-proliferation, all nuclear weapons in the Alliance must be returned to the territory of the country owning them. An end to NATO's current nuclear sharing practices would bring NATO policy into line with the intent of Articles I and II of the Treaty. Article I states that each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosives or devices directly or indirectly; and Article II states that each non-nuclear-weapon State Party ... undertakes not to receive the transfer from any state whatsoever of nuclear weapons...).

In addition, we are concerned that, according to the Final Communique of NATO Defence Ministers meeting in Reykjavik in May, steps are being taken for the development of vital new capabilities in NATO and that the Prague Summit will mark a decisive step forward in achieving this objective. This proposed action, which implies a radical makeover of NATO's mission, is being pursued without any public disclosure or consultation. We call on NATO leaders not to endorse any such plans without full debate in their respective Parliaments after appropriate public consultations. To do otherwise is to denigrate the very democratic values on which NATO was founded out of the ashes of the Second World War.

Nuclear weapons, regardless of where they are and who controls them, represent an unacceptable threat to all of humanity, and any use of such weapons would represent a heinous crime against humanity. There is no circumstance in which the use of nuclear weapons could be conceived of as contributing to human security or carrying out the purposes of a loving God. The prospect of such weapons spreading to additional states or to non-state actors only adds to our collective peril. The leaders of NATO, the world's pre-eminent nuclear weapons alliance, bear a grave responsibility to lead the world towards the rapid and early elimination of nuclear weapons and to support effective multilateral mechanisms to permanently prevent their re-emergence and spread.

I pray that God will guide you and grant you wisdom and courage in your deliberations towards that urgent end.


Peter Weiderud
Commission of the Churches on International Affairs

World Council of Churches