Nuclear DisarmamentNuclear Disarmament

A world free of nuclear weapons

In January 2007, four former US statesmen (incl. Henry Kissinger) argued in the Wall Street Journal that nuclear deterrence was becoming an increasingly hazardous and ineffective method to counter security threats. Their plea for targeting the zero option instead of merely reducing was, in 2009, endorsed by the new US Administration as well as Russia. When CSC, at the beginning of 2010, launched its process to support the efforts towards global zero several European states had indicated their willingness to rally to the cause, but neither the European Union nor NATO had clearly endorsed this goal.

2010 provided Europe with two important and rare occasions to show its commitment to nuclear disarmament.

1) The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May 2010 was an opportunity to upgrade the world’s ambition. The last Review Conference five years ago had ended in failure. Although the EU's position paper - to which CSC contributed with its statement (see below) - turned out to be better than at previous review conferences, for instance by a more balanced approach of the three 'pillars' of the NPT, the EU's role in New York was marginal. Still the Review Conference itself was a modest success, by agreeing about an action plan and other steps.

2) NATO adopted a new Strategic Concept at the Lisbon Summit on 19-20 November 2010. This Strategic Concept was a disappointment to the churches (see the CSC statement and the press releases here below). While endorsing the goal of creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons, NATO also stated that it will remain a nuclear alliance as long as nuclear weapons exist. Moreover, NATO failed to make a clear departure from its Cold War posture and to indicate how it plans to translate its re-affirmed commitment to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation into new steps.

However, NATO's new Strategic Concept did provide some space for more forward-looking actions: It no longer stated explicitly that there should be U.S. nuclear weapons stationed in Europe. Furthermore, in the Lisbon Summit, NATO took a decision to review its defence and deterrence posture. In March 2011, CEC together with the World Council of Churches, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA and the Canadian Council of Churches addressed NATO and Presidents Obama and Medvedev welcoming the review as "a new opportunity for change that is long overdue and widely anticipated." In their letter, the four ecumenical organisations made specific recommendations concerning NATO's future nuclear policy.

Therefore, it was a disappointment when NATO, at its Chicago Summit on 20-21 May 2012, again failed to make any significant progress in changing its nuclear posture. However, on both sides of the ocean the interest of NGO’s, experts, churches and civil society has been raised and this will not be the end. In the meantime, the four ecumenical councils also have offered a discussion paper on the tactical nuclear weapons of the Russian Federation. 

Public support continues to be vitally needed everywhere to make changes happen. Churches in Europe can play a pivotal role in relation to political leaders and in society to encourage Europe to create and seize new opportunities. Peace in the world cannot depend on the potential for mass destruction.

A 20 page fact sheet by Laurens Hogebrink (last updated February 2013) offers access to the main sources of the new nuclear weapons debate since 2007, plus comments

And for a new background memo on withdrawing tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, see Picking the Low Hanging Fruit (February 2013)

For more information on this issue please contact the Church and Society Commission.



Key statements of the Church and Society Commission of CEC:

Evaluation  of Deterrence and Defense Posture Review, adopted by Chicago Summit, by Laurens Hogebrink for IKV Pax Christi – 22 May 2012

Appeal to NATO Summit of 20-21 May 2012 in Chicago by WCC, reiterating earlier joint calls by CEC, WCC, NCC and CCC, urging NATO not to further delay withdrawal of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from Europe – 15 May 2012

Discussion Paper on Russian tactical nuclear weapons , offered by WCC, CEC, NCC and CCC (see also WCC website) – 6 March 2012

The joint letter of CEC, WCC, NCC and CCC to NATO and to Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev and to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen - 11 March 2011
Response of Secretary General Rasmussen - 28 March 2011 

Press Release: Churches urge NATO to withdraw tactical nuclear weaponsEndorsing the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, international and national ecumenical organisations have sent a message to NATO - 17 March 2011

Press Release: European churches disappointed about NATO’s new Strategic Concept not effectively contributing to nuclear disarmament - 22 November 2010

Press Release: In a meeting with NATO Assistant Secretary General, Churches advocate ending the role of tactical nuclear weapons in NATO's New Strategic Concept - 24 September 2010

Public Statement "Time to reconsider the role of nuclear weapons in NATO's Strategic Concept 2010" – 23 July 2010

Public Statement setting out proposals for the EU policy to the 2010 NPT Review Conference – 12 March 2010

Press Release: CSC reacts to the Nobel Peace Prize of US President Barack Obama by reiterating the plea for Europe to back Obama’s nuclear policy – December 2009

Joint letter: CSC, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) and the Christian Council of Sweden (SKR) call upon the European Union for transparency in the preparation of the EU position for the NPT Review Conference and requested to be involved in the process – November 2009

Joint statement: CEC, the World Council of Churches and the Church Councils in the USA and Canada address world leaders - October 2009

The Public Issues Statement of the CEC Lyon Assembly expresses strong support for Obama’s new zero policy – July 2009

Other church statements/campaigns

Read WCC statements on nuclear weapons

Visit the UK churches' advocacy website


Read also

European Disarmament is a recently launched blog by Methodist United for Peace with Justice (USA) to foster public discussion about possibilities for European disarmament

The website of “Reaching Critical Will” is an excellent source of information on nuclear disarmament

The website of the Nuclear Threat Initiative offers daily news and in-depth resources about the global threats from weapons of mass destruction

Arms Control Today provides analysis and commentary on arms control proposals, negotiations and agreements

Disarmament Diplomacy is another excellent source of information on disarmament negotiations, multilateral arms control and international security