Nuclear Weapons and the Moral Compass – April 30, 2014

Nuclear Weapons and the Moral Compass

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty has 190 member States, more than any other treaty addressing weapons. From April 28-May 9, 2014 its members met in the Trusteeship Council chambers of the United Nations in New York City and failed to make progress on reducing no less eliminating threats posed by nuclear weapons.

We are pleased to share this short report on an uplifting and inspiring event that took place at the same venue during a break in the deliberations that served to initiate advocacy for the elimination of nuclear weapons based on an element necessary for all human ventures, an answer to the questions: Is this course morally correct? Is this the right and good thing to do?

On April 30, 2014, in order to bring this dimension to public discourse and advocacy, the Permanent Mission of the Philippines and the Global Security Institute presented “Nuclear Weapons and the Moral Compass,” a distinguished panel that included UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane and religious and interfaith leaders including: H.E. Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations; Bishop William Swing, United Religions Initiative; Reverend Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, World Evangelical Alliance; Dr. William Vendley, Religions for Peace; Ven. Dr. Chung Ohun Lee, Won Buddhism International to the UN; Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, Fiqh Council of North America; and Rabbi Peter Knobel, Central Conference of American Rabbis. Ambassador Libran Cabactulan, the Permanent Representative of the Philippines and President of the successful 2010 NPT Review Conference, and Jonathan Granoff, President of Global Security Institute, Co Chaired the event. Supporting organizations for the event included the United Religions Initiative, Religions for Peace and the World Evangelical Alliance

The event took place against a backdrop of rising global attention to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, made possible by two international conferences in Oslo, Norway, and Nayarit, Mexico. The focus on humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons has provided hope for renewed progress toward nuclear disarmament. 

Nuclear Weapons and the Moral Compass

Influential proponents of continuing to rely on nuclear weapons to maintain international peace and security argue that the terrible humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons is why deterrence works so well. This analysis certainly will not lead to progress in disarmament nor strengthening nonproliferation. This doctrine is dangerous and risks being contagious. GSI felt that addressing nuclear doctrine at a deeper level would be of value.

The panelists presentations were in accord with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has stated that we have a “legal and moral obligation” to rid the world of nuclear weapons because “the humanitarian impact of the use of nuclear weapons cannot be reconciled with the laws of war and basic morality.” His insight leads to the very clear conclusion: “There are no right hands for wrong weapons.”


Ambassador Libran Cabactulanin his opening remarks stated that “our efforts towards nuclear disarmament will be further bolstered by bringing the moral dimension into the debate, to complement the legal and the humanitarian aspects of nuclear weapons.” The fusion of “the legal, humanitarian, and moral arguments,” Ambassador Cabactulan said, “make(s) for a very strong case in pushing for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.” He further added that this “moral responsibility” to achieve nuclear zero “does not only rest on the shoulders of the nuclear-armed states; it is the collective responsibility of all states.”

Ambassador Cabactulan Opening Remarks at “Nuclear Weapons and the Moral Compass”, United Nations Headquarters, April 30, 2014 from Global Security Institute on Vimeo.


Jonathan Granoff commented on the recent scandal in the United States, where over 90 nuclear weapons launch officers were punished after being implicated in an exam-cheating scandal. It is striking that the moral aspects of their  jobs to field, maintain and be ready and willing to launch weapons of mass destruction on an unimaginably horrible scale were never broached.

Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, graciously thanked the organizers for bringing religious leaders together on the nuclear weapons issue. “We don’t have technical solutions to offer,” he admitted, but religious leaders must speak about these issues because they “concern the future of humanity.” He cited both the words of the recently canonized Pope John XXIII as well as the Second Vatican Council, which declared that “Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities, along with their population, is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.” He called for renewed attention to the Secretary-General’s Five Point Plan, in particular its call for a nuclear weapons convention or framework of instruments leading to a global ban on nuclear weapons, which he called “a clear cut goal” that can be understood and supported by people worldwide.

United Nations High Representative Angela Kane began by highlighting the historic 1955 Russell-Einstein Manifesto, which includes this famous motto: “Remember your humanity, and forget the rest.” Ms. Kane felt “enormously reassur(ed)” that “the world religious and spiritual leaders…remain today united in agreeing that nuclear weapons pose a significant threat to humanity that requires a collective response.” She noted that disarmament is not just moral, it is also practical: “With all of its safeguards and controls, disarmament offers greater security than any alternative, including deterrence doctrines, nonproliferation, endless increases in military spending, sanctions, export controls, and other policy instruments. In short,” she asserted, “disarmament is the right thing to do, and it works.”

Dr. William Vendley, Secretary-General of Religions for Peace, delivered a compelling moral case against the possession of nuclear weapons. Citing the “intrinsically indiscriminate” destructive power of nuclear weapons which violate the “requirements of proportionality” demanded of international laws of war, he concluded that any “use of nuclear weapons is categorically immoral,” including their retaliatory use. He went further to reason that nuclear deterrence—the threat to use nuclear weapons—“represents a form of gross moral failure that can be at best tolerated while states resolutely and methodically disarm themselves.” Noting that the nuclear-armed states continue to drag their feet toward disarmament is “morally disordered,” Dr. Vendley concluded with an appeal “to update our concept of security.” Neither concept of “state security” nor even “human security” is enough, he asserted, arguing instead for a concept of shared security, believing that “we are no more secure than the most vulnerable among us,” a concept that is both practical and moral.

Bishop William Swing of the United Religions Initiative noted that interfaith work is not just a “defensive, after-the-fact” resource– such as to provide comfort in the aftermath of tragedies like Columbine, the Boston Marathon bombing, and 9/11, but also has a proactive role to advance policies that will prevent the ultimate tragedy from which no comfort could be reasonably provided: a nuclear catastrophe. He urged us all “to challenge the nuclear assumptions… to humanize the calculations.” It is within the power of interfaith leaders to “prompt believers in God to face up to the abominations that we conspire to commit,” he added. “The genius of interfaith is to gather people of a wide range of differing and conflicting persuasions in order to do something creative and deeply needed for the total community.”

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi illustrated that nuclear weapons are forbidden (haram) under Islamic law. He cited their indiscriminate nature and their disproportionate infliction of destruction in both time and space. He said they present “many other problems” such as their great expense, their vulnerability to “human or technical error” as well as “accidents or natural disasters.” He highlighted that the current, inequitable regime is also a proliferation stimulant: “There are no legal and moral criteria to permit some states to maintain WMD while others are denied. If some nations possess WMD, then there will always be incentive for others to have them.” Logically, then, “if all nations agree to get rid of these weapons then there will be no need for nuclear deterrence. Complete nuclear disarmament is the most appropriate way to achieve nuclear deterrence.”

Ven. Chung Ohun Lee stated that in Buddhism, “every life is precious and must be protected,” a belief which leads to the commitment “to end the threat posed by nuclear weapons.” Buddhism’s emphasis on “the importance of non-harming” is offended on several levels by nuclear weapons, she said. In fact, “one can hardly imagine an action more offensive to Buddhist morality than the use of a nuclear weapon.” In an echo of Dr. Vendley’s call for “shared security,” Ven. Chung asserted that we live in an “interdependent and interconnected global society” that bespeaks of a common “duty to create (a) culture of peace instead of (a) culture of violence and war.”

Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, speaking on behalf of the World Evangelical Alliance, noted that it is the first time in history that the global organizations representing two billion Christians “are in vocal agreement” on the imperative of nuclear disarmament. He said “the universal prohibition and verifiable elimination of these weapons” is the only “prudential strategy” likely to ensure against nuclear use, Rev. Wigg-Stevenson feared that politics are veering toward the opposite conclusion: the continual modernization and maintenance of these weapons and the policies that harbor them. While he humbly acknowledged that religious leaders may not have the power to influence the acts of governments, he did have a warning to nuclear-armed states: “the stakes of the nuclear wager radically exceed the moral accounts of any nation,” reminding states that states “are at best fictional constructs, albeit with guns… not created in the image of God” and that “the greatest empire has less standing in the court of heaven than a single child.”

Rabbi Peter Knobel said that no matter what secret tradition one practices, nuclear weapons and the threat to use them are “an anathema to any right thinking human being who is concerned about the future of humanity, our planet, and its fragile ecosystem.” The rabbi cited several Biblical teachings, including that of Deuteronomy: “When you lay siege to a city for many days, battling against it in order to capture it do not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them, for from them you do eat and you may not cut them down.” The ancient Hebrews were wise enough to “set rules to limit their own destructive power,” even with their primitive weapons. He called the destructive power of nuclear weapons “morally unacceptable” and called upon everyone in the room to “work assiduously to dismantle every nuclear arsenal and prevent proliferation.”

In commenting on the event, Ambassador Alexander Kmentt of Austria insightfully pointed out: 

“In the NPT, we use language such as ‘undiminished security for all’ in the context of nuclear disarmament. This is code for the nuclear weapon states for not disarming until everybody else gives up their nuclear weapons in order to maintain strategic stability. But how can one truly speak of ‘undiminished security for all’ in the context of nuclear weapons and their destructiveness if one approaches it with a moral compass? The existence of nuclear weapons is in fact what excludes undiminished security for all.” 

Ambassador Libran Cabactulan Closing Remarks at “Nuclear Weapons and the Moral Compass” from Global Security Institute on Vimeo.


Later that evening, at a private working dinner held at the Harvard Club, these religious leaders and other experts in the disarmament field discussed advancing their serious moral concerns into policy discussions at the national and international level as well as bringing heightened awareness to the public. 

The Global Security Institute was founded by Senator Alan Cranston, who coined the motto “nuclear weapons are unworthy of civilization.” That is why we look forward to working together with all likeminded people and organizations to end this threat. 

Watch the full video of the event here: 


View the Photo Gallery


The following were distributed at the event: 

Resource Guide on Nuclear Disarmament, Religions for Peace

Call to Conscience: A Ban on Nuclear Weapons, United Religions Initiative

Nobel peace laureates’ statement: nuclear abolition is a humanitarian imperative, World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates


Read the prepared remarks by: 
Ambassador Libran Cabactulan, Permanent Mission of the Philippines
Jonathan Granoff, Global Security Institute
High Representative Angela Kane, UN Office for Disarmament Affairs
Ven. Chung Ohun Lee, Won Buddhism International
Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, Fiqh Council of North America
Rabbi Peter Knobel, Central Conference of American Rabbis
Dr. William Vendley, Religions for Peace 
Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, World Evangelical Alliance 

See the summary published in the Christian Post

See the summary, “Deploying Morals Against Weapons of Mass Destruction,” published by the Inter Press Service

See the interview with GSI President Jonathan Granoff, Ambassador Libran Cabactulan and Virginia Gamba, the Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs in the Christian Post.

See also the Christian Post feature on GSI Board Member Rev. Wigg-Stevenson.


For more resources on nuclear weapons, ethics, and the law, see:


“Are We Safe Yet? Vulnerability and Security in an Anxious Age.”

Presentation at Yale Divinity School

September 19, 2008 


A United World or Divided World? Reflections and Policies for Human Unity

Presentation at Harvard University Divinity School

December 2, 2013

Event report


Moral, Ethical, Practical, and Spiritual Global Responsibility in the Nuclear Age” 

Speech delivered at a small consultative conferenced, posted by Patriarch Bartholomew, the highest ranking cleric of the Eastern Orthofox State at Halki Summit on Global Responsibility and Environmental Sustainability

Heybeliada, Turkey

June 18-20, 2012


Inner Courage and Love: The Path to Disarmament” 

Tikkun Magazine

Winter 2011 


The Call to a New Moral Imperative” 

Published in Yale Divinity School publication, Reflections

Spring 2009


A Call of Conscience: Nuclear Disarmament

Presentation delivered to the 7th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates

Rome, Italy

November 17-19, 2006


Power Over the Ultimate Evil

Tikkun Magazine

Nov/Dec, 2003


The Power Over the Ultimate Evil: In the Footsteps of Gandhi and King

Presented at the closing ceremony of the 2002 Gandhi and King Season for Nonviolence

United Nations, New York

April 9, 2002


Nuclear Weapons, Ethics, Morals and Law

Brigham Young University Law Journal

December 9, 2000


Call to Conscience: A Ban on Nuclear Weapons

This is a working group within the world’s largest interfaith organization, United Religions Initiative. 

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