Archbishop O'Brien: Nuclear Deterrence Only 1st Step

Underlines Ultimate Goal of Disarmament

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OMAHA, Nebraska, JULY 30, 2009 ( The archbishop of Baltimore is affirming that the Church supports the use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent only as an interim step toward the goal of total nuclear disarmament.

Archbishop Edwin O’Brien stated this Wednesday in a presentation on «Nuclear Weapons and Moral Questions: The Path to Zero.»

The prelate, who is a member of the U.S. bishops’ conference Committee on International Justice and Peace, gave the keynote address at the first Deterrence Symposium, which was hosted by the U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha.

The symposium gathered academic, government, military and international experts to discuss the topic of deterrence, a press release from the bishops’ conference reported today.

Deterrence as a military strategy refers to a government preparing a defense system and making it known such that a potential aggressor is aware of the great risk of retaliation, and thus refrains from attacking.

It may include weapons of mass destruction, and the threat of «mutually assured destruction» if nuclear arms are used between two countries.

The archbishop, who also served as an Army chaplain with soldiers in Vietnam and later as archbishop for the military services, affirmed, «I know the moral struggles that come with battlefield decisions.»

He continued, «It must be said at the outset that our Church supports building international agreements and structures that will make war ever less likely as a means of resolving disputes between nations and peoples.»

«Ultimately we must work for a world without war,» he added.

Just war

However, Archbishop O’Brien stated, «in this fallen and often dangerous world, at this point in human history, the traditional principles that guide the just use of force can, and should, inform moral assessments of all aspects of war, especially policies on nuclear weapons and deterrence.»

Nuclear policy, he said, must take into account several principles, which are guidelines for any just war.

The use of force must be a last resort, the prelate asserted, and should be discriminate so as to avoid targeting civilians, as well as proportionate so that the destruction does not outweigh the good to be achieved.

As well, he noted, there must be a probability of success.

The archbishop explained that «nuclear war-fighting is rejected in Church teaching because it cannot ensure noncombatant immunity and the likely destruction and lingering radiation would violate the principle of proportionality.»

He continued: «Even the limited use of so-called ‘mini-nukes’ would likely lower the barrier to future uses and could lead to indiscriminate and disproportionate harm.

«And there is the danger of escalation to nuclear exchanges of cataclysmic proportions.»

Archbishop O’Brien cited the Holy See and the U.S. bishops’ conference, noting that both have spoken about the strategy of nuclear deterrence as an «interim measure.»

Safer world

He added, «In Catholic teaching, the task is not to make the world safer through the threat of nuclear weapons, but rather to make the world safer from nuclear weapons through mutual and verifiable nuclear disarmament.»

«The moral end is clear,» the prelate affirmed, «a world free of the threat of nuclear weapons.»

He continued: «This goal should guide our efforts.

«Every nuclear weapons system and every nuclear weapons policy should be judged by the ultimate goal of protecting human life and dignity and the related goal of ridding the world of these weapons in mutually verifiable ways.»

The bishops stated that deterrence is not «an end in itself and must lead to progressive disarmament,» the archbishop said.

He noted the Church’s support for several steps toward nuclear disarmament, including the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, and the revision of military doctrines to renounce the «first use of nuclear weapons.»

The prelate suggested that to «build international confidence in our nation’s commitment to working for a world without nuclear weapons, our nation should renounce the first use of nuclear weapons, declare that they will not be used against non-nuclear threats, and confine our nation’s nuclear doctrine to deterring the use of nuclear weapons by others.»

«We take up this task mindful of the fears of nuclear war,» he acknowledged, «but ultimately we are driven by hope for a better future for humanity.»

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