North Korea and the Christian case for nuclear disarmament

Less than six months ago it seemed almost inevitable there would be a military conflict on the Korean Peninsula. Kim Jong Un was testing missiles and trading increasingly hyperbolic statements with Donald Trump, who in turn spoke of reacting with 'fire and fury'. The world was the closer to nuclear weapons being used than it had been for perhaps 50 years.

Reuters/KCNAA view of the newly developed intercontinental ballistic rocket Hwasong-15 test that was successfully launched, in this undated photo released November 30, 2017.

The situation today is quite different. South Korea has been engaging with Pyongyang. Following a drastic thaw in relations since the Winter Olympics North Korea has said it will stop missile tests and even close one of its nuclear facilities as Kim and Trump prepare for face-to-face talks. It represents one of the fastest and most incredible about-turns in international relations and might just bring us closer to a world free of nuclear weapons.

The North Korean regime has undoubtedly been affected by the sanctions imposed by the international community and its increasing isolation, including from close ally China. The regime has craved international legitimacy for some time. With improving relations with Seoul and the planned summit with Donald Trump that seems to have arrived.

It's disappointing that it felt the need to threaten to launch nuclear weapons to gain this legitimacy. There may be questions over the motives of the regime in seeking talks now. Perhaps they have already developed nuclear weapons and now feel they have a big bargaining chip. As Christians we are called to see the good in people, to trust and take people at their word. That should be our approach in this case too.

We owe it to the millions of people in North Korean who have suffered under the regime to pursue every avenue of peace. After all Jesus calls peacemakers 'blessed' during the Sermon on the Mount and Paul tells us to 'outdo one another in showing honour'. Sometimes this means we have to engage with people we profoundly disagree with, we have to love them and we have to trust them.

The response of those states that already have nuclear weapons to the situation in North Korea has been fascinating. There is an inherent hypocrisy in opposing one state having something when others already have it. The energy of the nuclear-armed states and those in nuclear alliances would be better served seeking to end the scourge of nuclear weapons once and for all.

There are currently nine states in possession of the roughly 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Most of them are in the hands of the Russians and Americans. Efforts to reduce the number have been stifled in recent years, including this week as countries have been unable to agree action at the latest meeting of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in Geneva.

There are many good reasons to oppose nuclear weapons. From a Christian perspective they are perhaps the ultimate threat to God's creation. Their destructive power and ability to destroy life was witnessed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and must never be forgotten. God has given us the wonderful gift of creation to enjoy and cherish, but also to steward.

The Bible has much to say about our calling to seek peace. From the words in Isaiah 2 about 'beating swords into ploughshares' from the words of Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount to the words of Paul in Romans 12:18 that we are 'if possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all'.

The old saying goes that if you want peace you have to prepare for war. That has long been the approach of our culture, but Christians are called to do things differently. If we want peace, we must prepare for peace, work for peace and pray for peace. We are not preparing for peace by maintaining and upgrading our weapons of war.

It's often said that nuclear weapons are a 'deterrent'. Well they aren't doing anything to deter the threats the government has identified as facing us, namely climate change, terrorism and cyber attacks. Our possession of nuclear weapons didn't deter Vladimir Putin from annexing Crimea and may have actually been a motivating factor behind Pyongyang developing its own system.

Another argument in favour of nuclear weapons is that they are a 'necessary evil' needed to 'keep the peace'. Well 1 Thessalonians 5:22 tells us to 'reject every kind of evil', and as Christians we can be a light in this world which is so often so dark. We must point to Jesus at every opportunity, both in the way we engage with each other but also in the way we engage internationally.

There is a better way of doing international politics than preserving the threat of destroying those we have assigned to be 'enemies'. At the United Nations last year a new treaty was agreed which will ban nuclear weapons, in the same way as chemical, biological and cluster weapons have already been banned. The treaty is supported by 122 states, the majority of the international community. These states, and more, have lived peaceably without nuclear weapons.

The United Kingdom faces a choice. We can engage with the international community, sign up to the treaty and encourage others to do the same. That doesn't mean we have to disarm immediately. We should simply enter a step-by-step arrangement, overseen by the United Nations. It will need trust, it will need patience and it will need vision. We should be praying constantly that our leaders have all three in abundance.

When Donald Trump sits down with Kim Jong Un in a few weeks, once the cameras have gone and the talks begin, there will be a chance to reduce the number of countries in the world with nuclear weapons to eight. That's a good start. Christian CND is working and praying to play our part in making that number zero, so that we may have a bit more of a glimpse of heaven while living on the earth.

Russell Whiting is development manager for the Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Follow him on Twitter @Russell_Whiting