Commentary: Treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons would help build a bridge towards peace

War in Ukraine demonstrates the threat of nuclear war is still very much with us.

As people of faith, we believe in working for peace and encouraging conflicting parties to discuss their disagreements to avoid violence and harm to the extent possible.

Specifically, in light of the Russia-Ukraine war and threats of nuclear annihilation as a strategy to end it, we must ask ourselves, how can we best nurture peace? How can we promote negotiations? What images might guide us in bringing opposing parties together?

William Ury, an expert negotiator, gives us a powerful image in an interview on his website www.williamury.com. Ury shares that Shimon Peres, who was president of Israel from 2007 to 2014, once said: “I have good news and bad news; the good news is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The bad news is that there is no tunnel.”

Thus, our job as peacemakers in the midst of this latest conflict can be understood as helping to build a tunnel — or a bridge — by which nations can withdraw from violent posturing and we can begin to build assurances that global needs are being reasonably addressed.

To build this bridge we believe the U.S. must begin a sincere global dialogue about nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. It is time for all nations to recognize that nuclear warfare does not result in victory, but creates billions of victims along the way.

The victims of our long and fruitless nuclear arms race are legion. It is not just the first victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who we commemorate each August, yet do little to reduce the likelihood of a similar event. Rather, the victims include the millions of individuals who have suffered from the development of nuclear arms in the decades since the Manhattan Project began.

The victims include down-winders who have died and continue to suffer from the deathly effects of nuclear fallout from testing in the 1940s and 50s. The victims are the thousand deaths from uranium mining that continues to poison primarily First Nations peoples in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. The victims are nuclear weapons workers exposed to radiation and toxic chemicals. The victims are the countless individuals living in areas where toxic waste is buried in unlined pits, leading to seepage into soils and water supplies. The victims are millions of people living in poverty who will remain in poverty as the U.S. earmarks $1.7 trillion to revamping old nuclear warheads and developing ever more weapons capable of mass annihilation.

One building block, thus, for that bridge of peace could be a change in the U.S. posture towards the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (the TPNW), which was approved by the majority of the members of the U.N. on July 7, 2017. Sixty-six countries have now signed and ratified the TPNW; however, no NATO nation has yet taken that first step to sign the TPNW. Almost certainly, many NATO nations would join the TPNW if the U.S. supported such action.

If the U.S. took this step, perhaps Russian and other leaders would understand the change as a move towards peace and an affirmation that the U.S. and NATO do not want war but rather security for all European nations.

All wars are terrible. One of the dangers of war in Ukraine is that it could escalate into a nuclear war. Meanwhile, the continued buildup of nuclear weapons ensures billions of victims of the environmentally destructive development and manufacture of weapons, and at the expense of other, much needed expenditures.

We have an opportunity to be peacemakers in Ukraine and against future devastation. We can help build a bridge to end the war in Ukraine and the proliferation and use of nuclear arms. We urge support for the TPNW and a global discussion about the very real costs and dangers of continuing to stockpile nuclear arms.

Rev. AJ Bush, First and Centenary United Methodist Church; Rev. Brigette Weier, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Rev. Chelsea Page, United Church of Christ; Rev. Curtis Price, First Baptist Church; Rev. David Nichols, Mount Tabor Lutheran Church; Rev. Hansen Wendlandt, Community of Grace Presbyterian (Sandy); Jean Welch Hill, Office of Life, Justice & Peace, Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City; Rev. Lora Young, Unitarian Universalist minister; Rev. Monica Dobbins, Unitarian Universalist minister; Pastor Tyler Marz, Community of Christ.