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As long as any state has nuclear weapons, other states will want them too.
BY EDWARD PENTINRegister Correspondent
VATICAN CITY — Sen. Douglas Roche is deeply troubled.
After many years advising Pope
John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI on nuclear disarmament, the Canadian
lawmaker is visibly shaken by what he sees as indifference towards ridding the
world of nuclear weapons.
Like many others for whom nuclear
weapons are intrinsically immoral, he believes the world is living in a “second
nuclear age” that represents the “single biggest moral issue in the world.”
The central problem, Roche said in
a Nov. 17 interview with the Register, is that nuclear arsenals are becoming
permanent instruments of military policy, regarded as weapons to be actually
used in battle rather than just as a deterrent to prevent others from
The 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty,
which was supposed to lead nuclear weapons states towards disarmament, has largely
been ignored by the world’s nuclear-armed states since 2000.
The accord’s five-yearly review
conference ended in failure in 2005 and none of the major nuclear states that
are signatories to the treaty — the United States, Russia, France, Britain, and
China) is currently engaged in disarmament negotiations, despite being
compelled to do so under the terms of the treaty.
Instead, they are all in the
process of renewing their arsenals.
The U.S. government is estimated to be
spending more than $27 billion a year on nuclear deterrence and another $11
billion for nuclear development and tests.
The Bush administration maintains
that it is fulfilling its obligations to disarm by committing itself to reduce
its strategic nuclear weapon arsenal to 2,200 by the year 2010. However, that
number does not include thousands of U.S.
tactical weapons, and the United
States has been forging ahead with
development of its “bunker busting” nuclear weapons.
Britain, meanwhile, is planning to update its Trident
submarine arsenal at a cost of $40 billion over 30 years.
Elsewhere, other nations are
scrambling to join the nuclear club: North Korea
has successfully tested its first nuclear weapon and Iran is moving headlong with a
suspected nuclear weapons program. Further insecurity stems from a black market
in nuclear technology in Russia.
In light of these developments,
the Holy See and the U.N. have become increasingly alarmed. Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations, and U.N. Secretary
General Kofi Annan both
recently warned that the world is “sleepwalking” toward further nuclear
And in strong words at his World
Day of Peace Message earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI warned governments
that have based their security on nuclear weapons that they are pursuing a
policy that is “not only baneful but also completely fallacious.” The resources
involved, the Pope added, could better be used to help the poor.
Roche, in Rome to take part in a Nobel laureates’ peace
conference hosted by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, is convinced that
as long as any state has nuclear weapons other states will want them too.
“Those who worship at the altar of
nuclear weapons should not be surprised when others want to join the sect,” he
Roche said a tacit acceptance of
the current status quo is undermining international law.
Said Roche, “Nuclear weapons are
immoral, illegal and (in the face of terrorism) militarily useless.”
The Holy See’s
position, delineated in an address given by Pope John Paul II in 1982 — and
backed a year later by the U.S. bishops — is that the moral acceptability of
deterrence depends on continued progress toward nuclear disarmament. But now
that willingness to disarm has largely evaporated among the nuclear powers (due
in large part to the war on terror and an increase in so-called “rogue states”
acquiring nuclear capabilities) the disarmament-based rationale for retaining
their nuclear arsenals is losing force.
Addressing the five-year
Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference last year, Archbishop Migliore emphasized the “Holy See has never countenanced
nuclear deterrence as a permanent measure.” It is evident, he added, that
“nuclear deterrence drives the development of ever newer nuclear arms, thus
preventing genuine nuclear disarmament.”
Not all Catholics agree with that
assessment. Some argue that with the increasing nuclear threat from North Korea and
terrorist states, imprudent disarmament poses greater risks than maintenance of
the status quo.
“National security is a moral
issue, it’s not just about realpolitik,” said Kishore Jayabalan of the Rome office of the Michigan-based Acton Institute for the
Study of Religion and Liberty.
“Government leaders have a moral obligation and responsibility to protect their
Jayabalan characterized as “absolutist”
Roche’s argument that mere possession of nuclear weapons is automatically
immoral, and this approach conflicts with the more “nuanced” position of the
Jayabalan, who was previously an official
at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, believes disarmament
campaigners put too much stock in the disarmament process.
“You need states to be able to
trust each other — if countries feel threatened they’ll build up their
defenses, and the threats come from ideologies, not because certain states have
nuclear weapons,” he said.
Citing the collapse of the Soviet Union after a crippling arms race, Jayabalan argued that disarmament is the consequence of
peace, rather than the reverse.
But whatever the morality
surrounding nuclear disarmament, few dispute that it’s receiving relatively
little attention right now.
“We’re not really focused on it
systematically as it’s unlikely we’ll be able to effect a change of policy on
either side — the positions are pretty entrenched,” said one foreign diplomat
speaking on condition of anonymity. Another diplomat insisted disarmament was
an “internal matter” for nations and therefore essentially not the Vatican’s
Roche lamented that even
non-governmental organizations seem largely uninterested in the issue these
days, and he insisted the Church retains a key role in the debate.
“The voice of religion, the
Church, which emphasizes the immorality of the continued possession of nuclear
weapons, is essential,” he said. “The argument, or the feeling, that nuclear
weapons are here to stay is to set back the moral course of the world.”
writes from Rome.