Religious Leader Advocacy for Nuclear Disarmament

September 4, 2018

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This year marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the American Catholic bishops’ powerful pastoral letter “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response,” in which they condemned nuclear warfare as a threat to human life and human civilization without precedent. In the 2000s, the Church’s position shifted to viewing deterrence as an unacceptable moral rationalization for nuclear armament, and a November 2017 Vatican conference featured Pope Francis widely condemning the possession of and threat to use nuclear weapons. In the past few months, talks with Iran and North Korea to halt their nuclear programs have further returned the issue to the forefront of public consciousness. In May, President Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, which restricted Iran’s nuclear ambitions for about 10 years in exchange for ending some sanctions against the country. Although Iran, France, Germany, and Britain committed to continuing their compliance, some companies and financial institutions have announced plans to discontinue engagement with Iran in anticipation of renewed U.S. sanctions. In June 2018, President Trump met with Kim Jong-un of North Korea and insisted that North Korea would end its nuclear ambitions after this historic meeting. However, less than a month later, satellite images indicated that North Korea was rapidly completing a major expansion of a key missile manufacturing facility. The international community remains fragmented on nuclear disarmament, illustrated by the indefinite postponement of the U.N. Conference on Nuclear Disarmament scheduled for May 2018. Despite these events, some think it is possible for progressives and religious conservatives to work together on specific nuclear disarmament policies.

This week the Berkley Forum asks: What role should religious leaders and institutions play in negotiating nuclear disarmament agreements? Do the opinions of religious institutions have the ability to significantly sway public opinion on this subject? Do their opinions have any significance in regards to shifting attitudes among world leaders toward nuclear disarmament? Can religious leaders across the spectrum work together at the national level to enact change in regards to nuclear disarmament?

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