Guidelines for Nations to Get Along

Compendium of Social Doctrine Looks at International Relations

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ROME, FEB. 5, 2005 ( The Church’s interest in the relations between nations stems from the universality of God’s action in the world. Thus starts the chapter of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church dedicated to international matters. God’s creative action embraces the whole world and, in spite of humanity’s sinfulness, he continues to bless of creation.

Initially God established a covenant with Abraham, but even at this early stage Genesis 17:4 notes that he was destined to be “the father of a multitude of nations.” Referring to a number of passages in St. Paul’s letters, the Compendium explains that with the coming of Jesus we have been given a new life in Christ, where racial and cultural differences should no longer be a cause of division. And in Pentecost the message of the Resurrection is announced to a diversity of peoples, who understand it in their own language.

“The Christian message offers a universal vision of the life of men and peoples on earth that makes us realize the unity of the human family,” explains the Compendium (No. 432). This unity is built on the supreme model of unity, namely the Holy Trinity.

Building blocks

The construction of an international community is founded on two main elements: the centrality of the human person and the natural inclination of people to establish relationships. This community, continues the Compendium, should aim at ensuring “the effective universal common good” (No. 433).

Among the obstacles that thwart the functioning of an international community, the text names factors such as “materialistic and nationalistic ideologies” and racism. In opposition to these negative tendencies the Church proposes values such as truth, justice, solidarity and freedom. Moreover, the Compendium asks that relations between nations and peoples be conducted according to “the principles of reason, equity, law and negotiation.”

The text also emphasizes the importance of international law, while also recognizing the value of each nation’s sovereignty. “The international community is a juridical community founded on the sovereignty of each member state, without bonds of subordination that deny or limit its independence” (No. 434).

National freedom and a country’s cultural identity are important elements, but the text also notes that sovereignty is not unlimited. Moreover, some of the national rights can be renounced in the search for achieving common international goals. On this point the Compendium adds that one problem in finding the equilibrium between national sovereignty and international laws is that there is no accord on what exactly is constituted by the “rights of nations.”

A moral order

The international community should be ordered by the same moral law that governs personal relations, recommends the text. The Compendium invokes a “universal moral law, written on the human heart” (No. 436) that should form the basis of international life.

The respect for principles such as the equal dignity of every people, the rejection of war, the obligation to cooperate for the common good and respecting international pacts are also essential, notes the text.

The Compendium urges that nations resolve disputes by means of “common rules in a commitment to negotiation and to reject definitively the idea that justice can be sought through recourse to war” (No. 438). To this end the further development of processes of negotiation and mediation based on international law would be an important means in order to avoid the use of force in resolving differences.

The Church, notes the text, has generally taken a favorable view of the development of intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations. However, it adds, “it has reservations when they address problems incorrectly” (No. 440).

In spite of these drawbacks the Compendium notes that the magisterium favors a universal public authority that has the effective power to safeguard security, justice and rights. However, “it is essential that such an authority arise from mutual agreement and that it not be imposed, nor must it be understood as a kind of ‘global super-state'” (No. 441).

How then to regulate the exercise of authority at this global level? The Compendium recommends that it “be regulated by law, ordered to the common good and respectful of the principle of subsidiarity” (No. 441).

A global authority, continues the text, is more necessary than ever due to the globalization of many problems that require coordinated action in order to ensure peace and development. But the international organizations that are entrusted with such a task are in need of revision in order to overcome the negative effects of political rivalries and the desire to manipulate these bodies for ends that are not in agreement with the common good.

The Compendium also welcomes the activity of private non-governmental organizations that are active in the international sphere, particularly in the area of drawing public attention to the matter of human rights.

Economic development

An important task for the international community, explains the Compendium, is ensuring the economic development of nations. There are many obstacles to be overcome, but the Church’s magisterium considers that there is a right to development.

This right is based on the following principles: the unity of origin and shared destiny of the human family; the equality between people and communities based on human dignity; the universal destination of the earth’s goods; the very notion of development; the centrality of the human person; and the principle of solidarity.

Integration into markets at the international level is an important means that poorer countries need to have available if they are to break out of their problems. Other problems to be overcome include illiteracy, the lack of food, inadequate infrastructure and a lack of basic health and sanitation. The Compendium also notes the importance of political stability and the need to ensure liberty and individual economic initiative.

But, in addition to factors that are based on economic principles, the Compendium asks that there “be an awareness of the duty to solidarity, justice and universal charity” (No. 448). It is important to be aware that there are duties toward others because of their human dignity, thus creating a consciousness of a common good that extends to the whole human family.

In fact, the poverty of billions of people should be an issue that challenges our human and Christian consciences, adds the Compendium. The world’s material goods are destined for the benefit of all people and each one of us is responsible for the good of all. It is also important not to see the poor just as a problem, “but as people who can become the principal builders of a new and more human future for everyone” (No. 449).

The chapter closes with a reminder of the need to resolve the burden of international debt that afflicts many poor nations.

The causes of the debt problem are complex, admits the Compendium, but those who bear the greatest burden of suffering are the poor of the indebted countries who bear no responsibility for this situation. We cannot ignore the importance of respecting the principle that debts should be repaid, the text concludes, but a remedy to the debt problem must be found.

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