The United States' and Russia’s preliminary agreement to cut their nations’ stockpiles of nuclear arms has been hailed as a “step forward on the difficult but essential journey that the world must take to free itself from the spectre of self-destruction”, by the World Council of Churches’ General Secretary, Rev Dr Samuel Kobia.

In a statement released in Geneva, Rev Dr Samuel Kobia describes the move as “encouraging”.

Nuclear weapons

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“As possessors of most of the world's nuclear weapons, it is necessary that these two powers lead nuclear disarmament by concrete example,” he says.

The comments follow announcements from US President Barack Obama and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev that they had signed a declaration to reach a new nuclear arms reduction pact which would replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) due to expire on 5th December this year.

The new declaration calls for a reduction in the number of nuclear warheads in Russian and US arsenals to less than 1,700 within seven years. They also agreed to cut the number of delivery systems.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, there are currently around 4840 operational nuclear warheads in Russia and some 2,700 in the US.

Rev Dr Kobia says the WCC recognised the commitment of both leaders in taking joint responsibility for nuclear arms control.

We urge them to stand side by side in that shared responsibility and make urgent and unambiguous progress together,” he says.

“In fact, we believe that by doing so they will gradually gain the moral authority needed to encourage other states in eliminating these weapons of mass destruction. 

“Making the world safe from nuclear weapons will require levels of cooperation and trust that are also indispensable in tackling the most global problems of our day.”

The World Council of Churches has long been an advocate for nuclear disarmament.

In March, the WCC joined with the Conference of European Churches, the National Council of Churches of Christ USA and the Canadian Council of Churches in signing a letter addressed to the leaders of NATO in which they said a world without nuclear weapons is not only possible but would be more secure.

“The emerging vision of a world without nuclear weapons is giving citizens and churches in every NATO country cause for hope.  We are requesting that NATO's security doctrine be realigned in a direction which establishes such hopes,” they wrote.

The World Council of Churches also recently expressed its concern at the nuclear test conducted by North Korea in May.

Nine countries are believed to have nuclear weapons. Apart from Russia and the US, they include the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Israel is also believed to have developed nuclear weapons.