Disarmament Week: Disarming Our Fears and Our World

Nuclear war protesters demonstrate outside the White House in Washington (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Each year on the anniversary of its founding (October 24), the United Nations observes Disarmament Week. This seems particularly fitting since the United Nations was founded “to maintain international peace and security.”

Whenever I think of disarmament, I am reminded of these haunting passages from the Second Vatican Council: “[T]he arms race is an utterly treacherous trap for humanity, and one which ensnares the poor to an intolerable degree.” “Rather than being eliminated thereby, the causes of war are in danger of being gradually aggravated. While extravagant sums are being spent for the furnishing of ever new weapons, an adequate remedy cannot be provided for the multiple miseries afflicting the whole modern world” (Gaudium et spes, 81).

It is no secret that our nation and world are caught in this vicious trap. Congress and the Administration have proposed dramatic increases in military spending at the same time that they have propose dramatic cuts to resources for diplomacy and human development/poverty reduction. Our nation already spends about one-third of all military spending worldwide. The United States spends as much as the next eight nations combined, many of them are our allies.

I believe this overemphasis on armaments is driven by deep-seated fears and a lack of hope. If we want to move our world to resist the arms race, we must first resist the fears that drive it. It is possible to overcome fears and to reverse the arms race. And this doesn’t require optimism or blind trust. It just demands that we consider other options in dialogue with other nations.

For example, our nation could embrace the Arms Trade Treaty. This Treaty regulates international trade in conventional arms, making such trade more transparent and accountable. It entered into force on December 24, 2014. Ninety-two states have ratified the treaty, and 41 states have signed, but not ratified it, including the United States. The failure of our nation to ratify that Treaty is particularly damaging since our nation is the world’s largest arms exporter.

In addressing the vexing issue of nuclear disarmament, Pope Francis wrote: “Spending on nuclear weapons squanders the wealth of nations. … When these resources are squandered, the poor and the weak living on the margins of society pay the price.” The Holy Father went on to say, “The desire for peace, security and stability is one of the deepest longings of the human heart. … This desire can never be satisfied by military means alone, much less the possession of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction” (December 7, 2014).

Our hearts long for peace. We must disarm our fears in order to disarm our world.

Stephen M. Colecchi is director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Going Deeper

The Catholic Study Guide for Use with Nuclear Tipping Point can help small groups reflect on Catholic social teaching on nuclear weapons while watching the Nuclear Tipping Point film.

Church Sounds Warning on Nuclear Weapons (Once Again)

Demonstrators in Washington protest nuclear weapons April 1. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Demonstrators in Washington protest nuclear weapons April 1. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

It will not surprise anyone that Pope Francis has warned of nuclear catastrophe. In connection with the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in December 2014, Pope Francis declared plainly, “The humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons are predictable and planetary.” He went on to call for nuclear weapons to be “banned once and for all, to the benefit of our common home.”

What may surprise casual observers is that the Pope’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons is not new. In 1963, Saint John XXIII wrote in his encyclical, Pacem in Terris: “Nuclear weapons must be banned. A general agreement must be reached on a suitable disarmament program, with an effective system of mutual control.”

The Church’s profound concern for nuclear armaments was reinforced by Blessed Paul VI, Saint John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI. In his 2006 World Day of Peace Message, Pope Emeritus Benedict had a particularly poignant passage: “What can be said, too, about those governments which count on nuclear arms as a means of ensuring the security of their countries? Along with countless persons of good will, one can state that this point of view is not only baneful but also completely fallacious. In a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims.”

What motivates the Church’s engagement in the nuclear question? The answer is at once simple and profound. The Gospel requires the Church’s teachers to defend human life and dignity. In an April 2010 letter to President Barack Obama, the late Cardinal Francis George, OMI, then president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote: “The horribly destructive capacity of nuclear arms makes them disproportionate and indiscriminate weapons that endanger human life and dignity like no other armaments. Their use as a weapon of war is rejected in Church teaching based on just war norms.”

The Church is careful to stay in its own lane in public debates over nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. Church teachers do not possess military and technological expertise, but they can provide moral guidance. In that same April 2010 letter Cardinal George admitted, “We are pastors and teachers, not technical experts. We cannot map out the precise route to the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, but we can offer moral direction and encouragement…Although we cannot anticipate every step on the path humanity must walk, we can point with moral clarity to a destination that moves beyond deterrence to a world free of the nuclear threat.”

Despite the fact that the Catholic Church has a longstanding goal of pursuing a world without nuclear weapons, this is not to say that there has been no development in the Church’s moral analysis. It is fair to say that the 1983 judgment of the U.S. Bishops in The Challenge of Peace on nuclear deterrence, a judgment they made citing Saint John Paul II, is undergoing development in light of current circumstances.

Even in 1983, the “strictly conditioned moral acceptance of nuclear deterrence” was not considered “adequate as a long-term basis for peace.” Such deterrence was morally acceptable only as “a step on the way toward progressive disarmament.” At the time, the bishops called for ongoing evaluation of deterrence policy in light of the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

In more recent years, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, has articulated a shift in the moral evaluation of nuclear deterrence: “Today there is no more argument, not even the argument of deterrence used during the Cold War, that could ‘minimally morally justify’ the possession of nuclear weapons. The ‘peace of a sort’ that is supposed to justify nuclear deterrence is specious and illusory” (April 2015).

Nuclear deterrence is increasingly seen as an excuse for the permanent possession of nuclear arsenals that threaten humanity’s future. Most of the nuclear powers have embarked on incredibly expensive programs of “modernization” of their nuclear arsenals, hardly an encouraging sign of moving toward disarmament. The dire specter of miscalculation or human error could lead to a nuclear calamity.

Pope Francis in characteristically direct language said, “Spending on nuclear weapons squanders the wealth of nation. … When these resources are squandered, the poor and the weak living on the margins of society pay the price.” This is another reason why he sounds the alarm, “Nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutually assured destruction cannot be the basis for an ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence among peoples and states.”

Colecchi headshotStephen M. Colecchi is director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

This article first appeared on the Berkley Forum, November 17, 2016.


Going Deeper

The Catholic Study Guide for Use with the movie, Nuclear Tipping Point, can help small groups reflect on Catholic social teaching and nuclear weapons while watching the film. Use this guide along with the 2017 World Day of Peace message resources.

Pope Francis: “Do unto Others” Has Global Implications

photograph of Bishop Oscar Cantu

Most Reverend Oscar Cantú, Bishop of Las Cruces

Pope Francis has now returned to Vatican City, but we remain inspired and moved to action by his words and actions during his visit to the U.S. and the U.N.

As Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, I would like to recall some of his powerful international challenges to our nation and world in his own words.

To the U.S. Congress

On Immigrants and Refugees

“We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners.”

“Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War.”

Immigrants “travel north in search of a better life…for their loved ones. Is this not what we want for our own children?”

On Global Poverty

“How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty!”

“Now is the time for…combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” Continue reading

Bishop Cantu on the Iran Nuclear Framework

Iran (US Government image).

Iran (US Government image).

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday, Bishop Oscar Cantú, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, welcomed the adoption of a framework by the United States and its P5+1 partners with Iran over Iran’s nuclear program.

The adoption of this framework is important in advancing a peaceful resolution of the serious questions that have been raised regarding Iran’s nuclear program. On Easter Sunday, Pope Francis prayed that “the framework recently agreed to in Lausanne…may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.”

Since 2007 the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, reflecting the longstanding position of the Holy See, has urged the United States to pursue diplomacy to ensure Iran’s compliance with its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. For years, the Conference has supported dialogue and a negotiated resolution of the conflict, in collaboration with international partners.

It is no small achievement that the United States, the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation, China, Germany and France have reached another milestone in the process of negotiations with Iran, one that aims to curb the unacceptable prospect of Iran developing nuclear weapons. In order to achieve this goal, parties should work to finalize the details of the agreement and ensure its full implementation. As the USCCB has noted in the past, Iran has threatened its neighbors, especially Israel, and contributed to instability in the region. This agreement is a hopeful first step in fostering greater stability and dialogue in the region.

Despite the challenges, it is vital to continue to foster an environment in which all parties can build mutual confidence and trust in order to work towards a final accord that enhances peace. For this reason, the USCCB will continue to oppose Congressional efforts that seek to undermine the negotiation process or make a responsible multi-party agreement more difficult to achieve and implement. The alternative to an agreement leads toward armed conflict, an outcome of profound concern to the Church.

In January 2015, Pope Francis said, “I express my hope that a definitive agreement may soon be reached between Iran and the P5+1 Group regarding the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and my appreciation of the efforts already made in this regard.” Let us share the Holy Father’s hope.

The Conference welcomes the most recent step the United States and its international partners have taken with Iran. Our nation ought to to continue down this path. Now is the time for dialogue and building bridges which foster peace and greater understanding.

***

CSMG: The Globalization of Solidarity

“To the extent that he reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity.” Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium #180)

Untitled

Dylan Corbett, USCCB

The 2015 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering is in full swing. Hundreds of leaders in the Catholic community from across the country and as far away as Cameroon, Australia, Canada and Vatican City, have come together for this annual conference sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The climax of the gathering will take place when these leaders bring an agenda driven by justice, truth and the common good to lawmakers in Congress this coming Tuesday. These latest blog entries have attempted to throw into relief the different issues that CSMG participants are praying about and discerning in the light of Catholic social doctrine. This one will briefly explore spending priorities in the federal budget.

Last evening, Father Daniel Groody, CSC, from the University of Notre Dame, laid bare for CSMG participants what he considers the heart of Catholicism. According to Fr. Groody, “Catholicism is about bringing fractured humanity back into unity and communion.” It’s humbling to consider that Christ’s work of building solidarity is taking place mysteriously even now, in hearts, families, charitable works, in the Church’s work of prophetic announcement of the Kingdom of God and in the prophetic denouncement of injustice and fractures to the community of humankind.

Injustice, division and poverty are scandalous contradictions to the Kingdom. Our response to each of these defines us as believers. This is no less true when considering our efforts as a nation to address the fractures in our own commonweal.

The bishops of the United States have identified significant imbalances in the allocation of our nation’s resources to promote our common good, particularly in the federal budget. We are all familiar with the pervasive economic imbalances that continue to generate poverty, unemployment and underemployment. We’re also familiar with the need to resolve the problem of our federal debt. But because of the politically motivated rhetoric that often distorts perceptions of federal funding priorities, it’s not as commonly known that over half of the federal discretionary budget goes to defense spending.

This real imbalance comes at the expense of programs at home and abroad intended to address poverty and create opportunity. Not only does our nation’s discretionary budget devote disproportionate resources to the military, but the United States spends disproportionately relative to other countries. Indeed, the U.S. spends more on military and defense than the next 10 highest countries combined, most of those being U.S. allies. Investment in nuclear weapons modernization programs, currently being pursued by President Obama, undercuts the long-term goal of working for a world free of nuclear weapons.

The needs of national security cannot be denied; however, one ought not pit national security against the common good and the needs of the poor and vulnerable. Indeed, recent events around the world have given the lie to the belief that peace can be achieved by military force alone. Even national security is only at the service of the common good. Nuclear weapons modernization is but an example of the unnecessary spending that undermines both national security and human security.

When the bishops speak out on these and similar issues, it is commonly objected that they lack the necessary competence on matters of economy and federal spending. One ought to consider the consistency over the decades with which the bishops have raised these issues and the degree to which their words have been prophetic. Pope Francis’ words are also instructive here:

The Church’s pastors, taking into account the contributions of the different sciences, have the right to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being. It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven.

The serious immediate and long-term challenges facing our national economy demand a just and equitable balance of needs and resources. These choices have real consequences on people’s lives.

Dylan Corbett is manager for mission & identity outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Go deeper:
Check out the USCCB backgrounder, A Peace Economy: Rebalancing Spending Priorities.