Call to Conscience: A Ban on Nuclear Weapons

4 February 2011

A Call of Conscience from United Religions Initiative’s Cooperation Circle

Voices for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons

The Members of the Voices for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons Cooperation Circle consist of a dynamic group of people from around the world:


  • Mary Lou Anderson, International peace activist and business owner 
  • Peter Carpenter, Businessman and nonprofit leader 
  • Dr. Sidney Drell, Professor of Theoretical Physics (Emeritus) at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory; Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution
  • Ambassador James E. Goodby, former Ambassador to Finland; served as Vice Chairman of the U.S. Delegation to the Strategic Nuclear Arms Negotiations with the U.S.S.R. Bipartisan Security Group Expert 
  • Ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr, former senior-level diplomat.  Executive Chairman of the Board of Lightbridge
  • Jonathan Granoff, President, Global Security Institute
  • Mussie Hailu (Ethiopia), URI Regional Director for Africa and Representative at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa; Chair of the Interfaith Peace-building Initiative CC in Addis Ababa
  • Professor David T. Ives, International Steering Committee member, Middle Powers Initiative; Executive Director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute, Quinnipiac University, Connecticut
  • Dr. Abraham Karickam (India), URI South Zone Coordinator for India
  • The Honorable Secretary William J. Perry, former Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton.  Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution
  • Hiro Sakurai, Soka Gokkai  International representative to the United Nations 
  • The Honorable Secretary George P. Shultz, former Secretary of State and Chairman of the President’s Economic Policy Advisory Board under President Ronald Reagan
  • Rev. Tyler Wigg Stevenson, Board of Directors, Global Security Institute; Founder and Director, Two Futures Projects 
  • The Rt. Rev. William E. Swing, President and Founder, United Religions Initiative; Retired Episcopal Bishop of California
  • Dr. William F. Vendley, Secretary General of Religions for Peace
  • Monica Willard, URI NGO Representative at the United Nations 


The United Religions Initiative (URI) is composed of citizens from all over the world committed to working together for peace. We are a Cooperation Circle, and as part of URI, we share an appreciation for the rich diversity of religions and spiritual traditions through which the one family of humanity finds so many ways of pursuing reverence for life, love of one’s fellow beings, and humility and gratitude for the gift of creation.

We believe that the indiscriminate, destructive effects of nuclear weapons render them incompatible with civilized values and international humanitarian law. The threat to use them and annihilate vast numbers of innocent people, inflict indescribable suffering and environmental destruction is immoral, and contrary to the purposes for which the blessings of life have been given to us. Our goal is to achieve the universal, legally enforceable, nondiscriminatory and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons.

What was once only a strong spiritual admonition to see the human family as one and to treat all people as brothers and sisters has now become a practical requirement for a sustainable future. Only by building bridges of cooperation and trust amongst peoples can we effectively address unnecessary crushing poverty and adequately organize ourselves to protect the global commons, such as the oceans, the climate, and the rainforests – the living systems upon which civilization depends. A discriminatory security system with nuclear haves and have-nots is incompatible with the achievement of this necessary global cooperation. 

Every person on earth lives under the shadow of 20,000 devices of absolute terror ready - through accident, design, or madness - to unleash destruction of mythic proportions. Yet, this possible hell on earth is not mere imagination but a real existential threat we must now commit with all our passion and intelligence to retire.

Many devices in today’s arsenals yield more than 70 times the destructive capacity of the primitive, but horrific, atomic bomb dropped upon Hiroshima. A modern 150-kiloton bomb, with ten times the destructive force of Hiroshima, would likely kill millions of people (rapidly) if exploded in a densely populated city, and many more over time. A few dozen exploding in Russia or the US would end these nations and cause immeasurable suffering, even poisoning the gene pool.

The possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons by any nation provides an impetus for others to acquire them. If these weapons are of legitimate value for some then their spread is inevitable. Nothing stimulates the desire for, and acquisition of, nuclear weapons as much as the refusal of a handful of states — United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea — to commit to negotiate the elimination of their nuclear arsenals. If any state faces a perceived security threat, why would it not follow the example of the most powerful?

Now, with the spread of nuclear technology, the risks increase every day.  Nuclear weapons are more of a hazard to our well-being than any problem they seek to address.

Now is the time for action.

The use of a nuclear weapon against any state is inhumane and useless against terrorists. The Nobel Peace Laureates’ Hiroshima declaration on the abolition of nuclear weapons stated that they “have no doubt that the use of nuclear weapons against any people must be regarded as a crime against humanity and henceforth be prohibited.” 

We cannot hold life sacred and at the same time seek security by placing its entirety at risk.  We cannot countenance the continued threat to the well-being of our own communities these devices pose nor do we want to threaten the lives of millions of others with such devastation.

In the course of the nuclear age, many justified such dangers because they believed that the possession and threat of nuclear weapons could deter the greater evil of their actual use in nuclear war. The argument that by threatening to use nuclear weapons a state can deter another state from using theirs, thereby enhancing stability for all, might have been sensible during the Cold War when the USSR and the USA were existential enemies. With this situation long past, it is unacceptably risky to permit the continuation of policies which are premised on ensuring that the threat to use nuclear weapons is credible.  To accept this condition as part of daily life is to accept a morally corrupt pursuit of peace based on terror.

It is folly to believe that crossing the thin line between the posture of credible deterrence and actual use will never be violated through mechanical or human error. Mere mortals are simply not that perfect nor are our creations. Nuclear weapons and mistakes cannot coexist. It is irrational to believe that they will not be used by accident, design or madness.

The current dangerous condition of nuclear weapons deployments cannot be cured by improved management of arsenals nor by improving nuclear weapons. In fact, the more these weapons are perfected the less security the world obtains. 

Chemical and biological weapons have become outlawed through conventions. Would anyone think it legitimate to have approached the challenge of biological weapons by outlawing them, with an exception made for a small group of states to use the plague as a weapon? Similarly, it is incoherent for nine states with nuclear weapons to claim that perpetuating the status quo is a legitimate and sustainable manner of pursuing international peace and security. 

All 189 parties to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty have made an unequivocal undertaking to obtain the elimination of nuclear weapons, as has been unanimously advised by the International Court of Justice. The awakened conscience of humanity demands nothing less.

The responsibility for banning nuclear weapons does not lie solely with governments of nuclear weapons states and their citizens. It is a responsibility shared by every sovereign state and each individual. People of religion and spiritual expressions must inspire moral and ethical action. Therefore, we pledge to:

  • Work together in our homes, communities, temples, mosques, churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship, transcending differences of race, religion, and nationality, to eliminate this unacceptable, universal threat. 
  • Include the moral and spiritual imperative of the abolition of nuclear weapons in our studies and teachings, and encourage families, friends, and congregations and institutions to do likewise.
  • Persuade governments of nuclear weapon states to pledge never to use a nuclear weapon first, remove them from rapid launch status, make cuts in arsenals irreversible, and commence negotiations as rapidly as possible on the universal, legally verifiable, and enforceable elimination of nuclear weapons.
  • Align our religious institutions’ investment policies with their values, by prohibiting investments in companies producing weapons of indiscriminant effect – landmines, cluster munitions and nuclear weapons. 

The risk will not disappear with inattention. Silence under current circumstances is complicity. Our faith requires us to speak out. Our sense of awe for the mystery that has given us life, and our love for one another will inspire our actions. We will raise our voices for a world free of nuclear weapons.

Please join us in this chorus of conscience.



As we go forward we will advance specific policies which can make us all safer and pave the road to nuclear weapons abolition. These include:

(1) Obtaining entry into force of the Comprehensive nuclear Test-Ban Treaty banning further weapons explosive tests;

(2) Negotiating a verifiable Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty banning the production of more nuclear weapons grade fissile materials;

(3) Making deep cuts in existing arsenals that are irreversible and verifiable;

(4) Codifying legally binding negative security assurances ensuring countries without nuclear weapons that they will not be threatened any longer;

(5) Pledging of no first use by states with nuclear weapons;

(6) De-alerting nuclear weapons from launch-on-warning status;

(7) Dramatically strengthening the International Atomic Energy capacity to safeguard nuclear facilities and make sure they are not diverting materials for weapons;

(8) Achieving consensus that the use of a nuclear weapon against a civilian population, such as a city, would be a crime against humanity;

(9) Commencing preparations leading to the negotiation of a treaty or framework of legal instruments that universally, legally and verifiably ban nuclear weapons.