Featured Reflection
John Warnock: Can We Eliminate Nuclear Weapons?

Here is a distillation of a 2021 essay by my friend, John Warnock, Professor Emeritus at the University of Arizona in Tucson. John's work was urgent then, and it is even more urgent now.

The complete essay, titled "Prohibition?" and published on March 6, 2021 can be found at johnw.substack.com as part of his series "You Might Want to Know," which presents John's ongoing work on the challenge of eliminating nuclear weapons in our world.

As we continue to pray for the well-being of the earth and all its creatures, thank you, John, for your dedication to this life-and-death work:

From John Warnock via johnw.substack.com :

On January 22, 2021, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons “came into force.” That is, it became “binding” under international law on the countries that had signed it.

The treaty was drafted at the United Nations and approved in the General Assembly on July 7, 2017 by one-hundred twenty-one countries. For it to come into force, the governments of fifty countries had to ratify it. As of December 11, 2020, eighty-six states had signed the treaty and fifty-one states had ratified or acceded to it.

None of the countries that possesses nuclear weapons has become a party to it.

On the day it was adopted by the General Assembly, the U.S., the U.K. and France declared together they had no intention of ever becoming a party to it. They claimed it was “incompatible with the policy of nuclear deterrence, which has been essential to keeping the peace in Europe and North Asia for over 70 years.”

Four months later, at an international conference organized at the Vatican to generate support for complete nuclear disarmament, Pope Francis questioned the belief in “deterrence.” It provides a “false sense of security,” he said.

Who’s right about “deterrence”? The U.S or the Pope?

“Deterrence” is a “fearful faith,” wrote Jill Lepore in the New Yorker in 2017. Its roots are in fear. The more important thing to recognize may be that it is a “faith,” unprovable. Lepore’s example: maybe your house wasn’t robbed because the police car was parked in front, maybe not.

When deterrence is invoked, its unprovability is glossed over, as it was in the joint statement. Cause and effect is simply assumed. We haven’t been attacked with nuclear weapons over the last seventy years, that’s true. Maybe because we had them. Maybe not.

Does the idea of deterrence give us a false sense of security? When could we know this for sure? Maybe only when it was too late.

.... Do we then give up on the project of eliminating nuclear weapons? We must not. The costs--financial, spiritual, to our thinking--and the risks to life on earth of having them in the world are unacceptable. But, as with climate change, we must face up to what will be required to eliminate them.

. . . . To eliminate nuclear weapons, we will have to change the world. How? To what? No one knows yet. But we won’t get there by simply prohibiting the weapons and policing.

In 2009, in Prague, in his first major foreign policy speech, President Obama “clearly and with conviction” committed America to “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

If we commit ourselves to elimination, we will have a chance of imagining our way to the new world. If we don’t, we won’t.

--John Warnock


More access to John's work, including his previously published books on many interesting topics, can be found at www.authorjohnwarnock.com