This much-loved passage that is a vision of hope and peace is a cornerstone of the Advent season. Isaiah gives us beautiful words which promise the coming of the one who will reconcile a broken world to God. These words of hope and peace are needed no less now than when they were first written, and this year, there is some news to be grateful about for those who work for peace: the international Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons coming into force.
International treaties enter into force when 50 member states of the United Nations ratify them and they become part of international law. Honduras was the 50th country to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (commonly called the Nuclear Ban Treaty), which will now come into force on January 22, 2021. This auspicious action comes only months after the 75th anniversary of the dates when atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima (August 6th and 9th of 1945).
The global community, however, is far from the destruction of the 14,000 nuclear weapons (90% of which are held by the United States and Russia, but which are also held, in much lower quantities, by the United Kingdom, France, Israel, Pakistan, India, China and, though information is sketchy, North Korea) that now exist in state arsenals. It was the persistent call for action by non-nuclear countries and peace organizations that drove the momentum of the Nuclear Ban Treaty from conception to international law. Nuclear-holding countries and NATO participants, including Canada, have opposed the Treaty.
Living Faith says: “We protest against the world arms race that diminishes our ability to fight hunger, ignorance, poverty and disease. We fear nuclear war and the devastation it would bring. We affirm that God is at work when people are ashamed of the inhumanity of war and work for peace with justice” (8.5.3). In 1985, General Assembly called on the Government of Canada to renounce the policy of general deterrence (general deterrence threatens first nuclear strike to a perceived threat), and to urge NATO to renounce first use, to cease arming with weapons for preemptive attack, and to abandon military strategies contingent upon the use of nuclear weapons. It also called upon the Government of Canada to plan for a world free of nuclear-threat-posturing and to provide leadership in seeking global nuclear disarmament and peace.
In 2018, General Assembly adopted a recommendation urging the Government of Canada to adopt and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Canada did not participate in the negotiations of the Ban Treaty and continues to not support the Ban Treaty. NATO defense strategies rely on the continued presence of nuclear weapons, which are incompatible with the Ban Treaty. Despite these obstacles, the church persists in calling for a world with justice and peace because it is integral to our Christian faith and witness.
Deterrence (or mutually assured destruction, a military doctrine based on the assumption that a potential aggressor will not use nuclear weapons against another country because this will provoke a nuclear response by the country that has been attacked) remains a doctrine that guides many people. There is also a debate about the role of “limited” nuclear strikes (with lower yield weapons) in specific kinds of situations that presumes that the impact of a nuclear strike could be controlled. Is it enough? For nuclear peace to hold, deterrence mechanisms must work every time. For nuclear war to break out, deterrence mechanisms need to break down only once.
In January 2020, The Doomsday Clock, an internationally recognized indicator of risk of nuclear war, was set at 100 seconds to midnight—the closest it has ever been set. In spite of this, 2021 will open to a new indicator of hope—the passage of the Ban Treaty into international law. As we enter the season of Advent, a needed and timely message must shine this hope out into the world: the Prince of Peace comes! Let us work for peace.