Babylon the Great flouts international law by ignoring nuclear weapons prohibition treaty

U.S. flouts international law by ignoring nuclear weapons prohibition treaty

Voices / Letters from readers

The writer serves as pastor of Centre Congregational Church (United Church of Christ).

On Aug. 13, I stood on Main Street, Brattleboro, with my two friends, Daniel Sicken and Bill Pearson, to protest the United States’ arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Here is what I learned while standing in solidarity with them: Nuclear weapons are against international law, and the United States (legally) violates that law.

How can this conclusion be made?

The United Nations’ Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons outlaws the development, manufacture, testing, possession, transfer, acquisition, stockpiling, use or threat of use, control or receipt, stationing, or deploying of nuclear weapons. This treaty renders nuclear weapons under the same prohibitive category as land mines, cluster munitions, chemical and biological weapons, and poison gas.

The treaty entered into force when the respective legislatures of 50 countries ratified it (October 2020). 

Under its terms, those nations that do not ratify it are not bound by its requirements.The United States and all of the remaining nations that possess/deploy nuclear weapons neither signed or ratified the treaty.

The treaty is an expression by those nations that signed it (86) and ratified it (53) of their frustration with those many nations that have not sufficiently abided by its goal to pursue disarmament “in good faith.” It has been over 50 years!

As of September 2020, the United States has the most deployed nuclear weapons in the world: 1,750.

Russia has 1,572 deployed weapons.

China possesses only 320 nuclear weapons (total).

France has 200 deployed nuclear weapons. The United Kingdom has 60 deployed nuclear weapons.

Pakistan has 160; India, 150; Israel, 90; and North Korea, 35 nuclear weapons (total).

As a student of international relations at the American University’s School for International Service, I studied nuclear brinkmanship. I suppose that if one’s highest allegiance is not faith, the study of the worthiness, morality, and effectiveness of nuclear weapons is debatable, and their possession and use are even justifiable.

But, if the paradigm to which one is ultimately accountable is theological and not geopolitical, is spiritual and not militaristic, is Christocentric and not nationalist — is the morality and, thus, legality of nuclear weapons even debatable?

I strive to think primarily as a Christian and secondarily as a United States citizen. Yet, this proves difficult because since I began to attend school I was told to pledge allegiance to the flag, and even singing the national anthem before every professional sports match has somehow become a cultic ritual.

Many still hail the United States as a “Christian nation.” Yet, as the famous theologian H. Richard Niebuhr once stated, “Christendom has often achieved apparent success by ignoring the precepts of its founder.”

And what is a precept of our Lord and Savior? “You have heard that it was said, ’Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-44).

To that, I respond, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

Thank you, Daniel and Bill, for your witnesses.

Rev. Dr. Scott Couper
Brattleboro

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