Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

U.S./Russia Nuclear Disarmament Talks: A Matter for Prayer

Next week, the U.S. and Russia  begin our first serious talks about nuclear disarmament since the end of the Cold War.  Both sides want to make deep cuts in nuclear arsenals–perhaps getting to under 1,000 warheads each. (Then we’d go from being able  to blow up the world several thousand times over to being able to blow it up “only” several hundred times over.)   Together, the U.S. and Russia account for over half of all the nuclear weapons worldwide.  That’s why nuclear disarmament must begin with us–the nuclear arms race began with us. 

This is huge.  1. That’s a lot fewer nuclear weapons that could be stolen or targetted by terrorists.  2.  It shows a serious desire to get to a non-nuclear world.  It’s MUCH easier to convince, say, India and Pakistan, that their nuclear arsenals threaten the  subcontinent and make both LESS safe when it doesn’t just look like the U.S. wants all the nukes for itself.  Our moral leverage vs. the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and  Iran increases (although, for Iran, it would also help if we forced Israel to declare its nukes–it has about 30–and start giving them up, too).  3.It saves money–not the most important thing from a peace perspective, but it may be that the economic downturn actually helps the forces of peace.

For readers who are persons of faith, I urge that we all pray that more than talk happens. Pray for a strong and binding treaty that makes deep cuts (with promises of more as these are made) and gets quickly ratified. (The GOP will definitely try to filibuster ratification of any meaningful treaty. There used to be anti-nuclear Republicans, including, during his last 3 years of office, Ronald Reagan–persuaded by the Australian medical doctor and anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott and by his Secretary of Defense, William Cohen.  And the first Pres. Bush took unilateral steps after the end of the Cold War to get us going in this direction, too.  But, so far as I can tell, only Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) is left of the anti-nuke Republicans in political office.)

Share your hopes for these talks with your elected officials (of any party) and with the press. We need to show massive public support for the success of these talks.  I want to especially urge this for Republican readers who may not like Obama.  I was never a Ronald Reagan fan. But when he went to Iceland to meet Gorbachev and try to get disarmament, I prayed for success. It was hard for the Democratic partisan in me because I knew that if those talks were successful, Reagan would get the credit and Republicans would win more public approval.  But I had to put the welfare of the planet ahead of my partisan desires.  We Christians are always told to pray for public officials–whether we voted for them or not. (And if you think of some politician as your enemy, as I came to think of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, then Jesus gave us specific orders to pray for our enemies.) I have to say that I prayed harder for Reagan–and Gorbachev–during that time than ever before or after.

Readers in other nations, especially if your nation also has nukes (U.K., France, China, India, Pakistan, possibly North Korea, Israel), please do what you can to support this process, too.  Tell your officials that you want your nation to support this process by also beginning to disarm your nukes.  It would REALLY help if, after the U.S. and Russia agree to this first round of massive cuts, one of the Western powers like France or the UK could simply go for the zero option.  Can we have a contest for which nation will be the first since South Africa to completely give up its nuclear weapons program and invite international inspectors to verify this?  Imagine the moral leverage that would give the world with Iran and North Korea.  The new message,  even from generals, is that we are safer the FEWER nukes exist.

We also need you international readers to urge your governments to keep up the pressure on the U.S. and Russia:  No matter how deep, a first round of nuclear cuts should not be the last.

We cannot un-invent the technology.  So, there will always be the threat of nuclear terrorism.  But a nuclear arsenal is no deterrent to terrorists. And if we cannot completely erase the threat of nuclear terrorism, we can erase the threat of nuclear war. 

From a global perspective, if these talks are successful and lead to a new nuclear DIS-armament race, they will be the most important initiatives of the Obama presidency (and Medvedev presidency!).

Please pray–and put your prayers into  action with letters to editors and phone calls, letters,  and emails to elected officials  (of any party).  Next week’s negotiators need to know that the world has their backs on this one.


April 18, 2009 - Posted by | nuclear weapons, peacemaking, prayer


  1. You’re not welcome here (except you personally are welcome) until you give up ALL nukes. Less nukes is probably the same amount as you had when we got stroppy with you anyway.

    Comment by steph | April 19, 2009

  2. Steph, I’m hurt. If you mean that U.S. nuclear ships aren’t welcome in NZ waters, ok. But if you mean that, say, a visit from Secretary of State Clinton would be rebuffed, then I am deeply offended. That’s no way to practice the kind of diplomacy that leads to a more peaceful and just world.

    As for the step-by-step disarmament process: The history of peace negotiations have shown conclusively that unilateral disarmament in a conflict situation is a bad move. It can encourage aggression or it can encourage a coup in the unilaterally disarming govt. by those at home deeply scared.
    For 50+ years Americans and Russians have been given the propaganda that they “need” nukes for safety. We need to build levels of trust. So, I want the first steps to be as big a scale-down as possible, but I’m not surprised that no one is proposing unilateral disarmament.

    Remember the danger of backlashes, too. When the UK Labor Party put unilateral disarmament in its platform at the height of the Cold War, it led to the election of Thatcher and the Torries. Dubbed “the longest suicide note in history,” that Labour platform led to their being in the UK political wilderness for a long time.

    One key always to progress in politics: Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 19, 2009

  3. It was your ships I was referring to as I mentioned in a previous post comment. However, now you mention it, I personally am not very happy with Clinton begging us to change our minds and join the war in Afghanistan by sending combat troops and now, despite us refusing, Obama has sent a formal request. Can’t he hear NO for an answer? Trouble is, I don’t know how many weak knees our present government has. They’re saying no now and the NZ public wouldn’t let them get away with any ‘yes’. So I hope Clinton doesn’t come knocking on our door because I won’t be giving her roses until she stops nagging and changes the subject.

    I know what you’re saying and I agree with you in reality but at the same time I wonder about any advantage in just scaling down. Is it three each or America nine because it’s got more? And do they actually stop making them or carry on same as before? It’s all a bit lippy service to ‘peace’

    Comment by steph | April 19, 2009

  4. Steph, you’re wrong (about the nuclear disarmament anyway). The U.S. has not made new nukes since the end of the Cold War, although Bush wanted to and tried to get Congress to approve a new generation of nukes.

    I think you’re wrong about state visits, too. Yes, keep telling us “no” on troops to Afghanistan. We need that kind of refusal. But not welcoming is the same attitude as when Bush would not meet with Iranian leaders or N. Korea. Even when you have strong disagreements, you have to meet with people. Cold shoulder attitudes lead to hostility between nations.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 19, 2009

  5. Well Steph I have always preferred Hawaii but I have nothing against your country. Are Russians and Chinese welcome there? They have Nukes too. Nuclear weapons are a plague on humanity!

    Comment by Paul | April 19, 2009

  6. OH Michael – I mean me personally! I imagine if Clinton came begging for troops she’d be met by our leaders but met in the street by protestors.

    Of course Russians and Chinese and Americans are welcome here as long as they don’t promote their governments’ nukes. The only Americans I know here are anti Bush, anti war and anti nukes … that’s why they’re here.

    Comment by steph | April 19, 2009

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