The U.S. bishops are calling for diplomatic efforts rather than military action in addressing concerns over the possible development of nuclear weapons in Iran.
“In Catholic teaching, the use of force must always be a last resort,” said Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.
He urged the U.S. government to “explore all available options to resolve the conflict with Iran through diplomatic, rather than military, means.”
In a March 2 letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Bishop Pates expressed “profound concerns” about Iran’s “lack of transparency” and refusal to allow international inspectors to access its nuclear facilities.
This behavior, along with the country’s failure to acknowledge its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, raises suspicions that it may be developing its nuclear capabilities for the production of weapons rather than merely energy, he said.
Noting an “alarming escalation in rhetoric and tensions,” the bishop said that he is particularly troubled by recent speculation on the use of force against Iran, including a possible Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Due to the lack of immediate threat against the U.S. or our allies, current military action “would constitute an act of preventive war,” he cautioned.
He explained that the Church teaches that engaging in a preventive war without “clear proof” of an imminent attack raises “serious” moral questions.
Although there are reasons for concern in Iran, military action cannot be justified before exhausting all alternatives, he said.
These alternatives include “effective and targeted sanctions” in addition to the ones that are currently in place and “incentives for Iran to engage in diplomacy” and cooperate with international inspectors.
Bishops Pates said that the suggestion of military action “is unwise and may be counterproductive.” Even the perceived threat of a military strike will likely strengthen the current regime in Iran and isolate those who wish to cooperate with international standards, he said.
The bishop recalled the recent statement by Iran’s supreme leader that the country is not pursuing nuclear weapons because it considers the possession of them a sin and believes holding such weapons would be “useless, harmful and dangerous.” He called on Iran to back these words up with actions by allowing international inspectors to access the country’s nuclear facilities.
Observing that Iran poses a “significant threat” to global security, Bishop Pates said that the situation should be viewed in light of the broader goal of “a just and peaceful world built on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.”
“A morally responsible non-proliferation strategy must be tied to a clear strategy for reducing and ultimately ending the reliance on nuclear weapons by any country,” he said.
The bishops believe that nuclear weapons violate just-war principles of “proportionality and discrimination in the use of force,” he explained, adding that the bishops’ conference has previously voiced objections to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, believing that it would destabilize the already fragile region and hinder non-proliferation efforts.
Bishop Pates pointed to Pope Benedict XVI’s call for “tireless efforts” towards a “negotiated solution” in Iran that satisfies both “the legitimate demands of the country and of the international community.”
He called on the Obama administration to focus on engaging Iran in ways “that reduce the threat of nuclear non-proliferation while maintaining stability in the Middle East.”