International News

UN Conference Urges World to Dump Nukes

By Beth Griffin

The Catholic Church has been a consistent voice prodding nations toward the distant dream of disarmament for more than 50 years, according to speakers at a U.N. conference April 9.

Representatives of eight interfaith and interreligious organizations said the moral argument is the strongest one in the stalled international effort to abolish nuclear weapons.

The event, “Nuclear Weapons and the Moral Compass” was hosted by Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations. The starting point for the discussion was a Vatican paper, “Nuclear Disarmament: Time for Abolition,” presented at the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna last December.

“Since the emergence of the nuclear age, the Holy See has not ceased to raise the moral argument against the possession and use of nuclear weapons. Because of the incalculable and indiscriminate humanitarian consequences of such weapons, their use is clearly against international humanitarian law,” Archbishop Auza said.

He traced the ardent pleas for disarmament by popes beginning with St. John XXIII. “The popes meant their voices to echo the voice speaking in human consciences directing us toward peace,” the nuncio said.

“Disarmament treaties are not just legal obligations; they are also moral commitments based on trust between states, rooted in the trust that citizens place in their governments,” Archbishop Auza said, paraphrasing the Vatican paper. “For our own good and that of future generations, we have no reasonable and moral option other than the abolition of nuclear weapons.”

Archbishop Auza said: “Despite some progress, nuclear disarmament is currently in crisis. The institutions that are supposed to move this process forward have been blocked for years.”

During the stalemate in achieving an enforceable nonproliferation treaty, the countries that are nuclear powers have not disarmed, but have modernized their nuclear arsenals, and others have acquired nuclear arms capabilities. “What is even more terrifying is the possibility that non-state actors, like terrorist and extremist organizations, will acquire nuclear weapons,” he said.

“Peace and international stability cannot be founded on mutually assured destruction or the threat of total destruction,” Archbishop Auza said. Peace cannot be reduced solely to maintaining a balance of power between enemies.

Justice, Freedom, Respect

Archbishop Auza and other speakers agreed that peace should be built on justice, socioeconomic development, freedom and respect for human rights.

“It would be naive and myopic, I believe, if we seek to assure world peace and security through nuclear weapons rather than through the eradication of poverty, making healthcare and education and other basic services accessible to all, and promoting peaceful institutions and societies through dialogue and solidarity,” he said.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, said Catholic Church teaching on nuclear weapons is rooted in respect for the life and dignity of the human person, and attempts to reconcile the need to avoid killing and the requirement to defend others. He is the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

Bishop Cantu said nuclear deterrence requires countries to spend money on weapons to the detriment of human development and addressing the underlying causes of war. For deterrence to be credible, those who use it have to intend to inflict mass destruction with extensive and lasting collateral damage, inhumane suffering and the risk of escalation, he said.

As a result, it is not a policy that stands firmly on moral ground. “One cannot intend and prepare for doing what is morally reprehensible,” Bishop Cantu said.

Virginia Gamba, deputy to the U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said: “The message of nuclear weapons is clear: people are expendable.”

However, the voice of moral suasion is being felt in a “reinvigorated frozen debate,” she said. Those who dismiss nuclear abolition as a utopian construct ignore the majority of member states who support a statement on nonproliferation and believe the moral argument is the strongest one against nuclear weapons.