Vatican's UN Official Outlines Doctrine on Nuclear Weapons

Says a World Without Nuclear Arms Is Possible, Urgent

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KANSAS CITY, Missouri, JULY 6, 2011 ( «A world without nuclear weapons is not only possible, it has now become urgent,» says the Vatican’s representative to the United Nations.

Archbishop Francis Chullikatt made this assertion Saturday, not in the U.N. offices in New York, but in Kansas City. He was invited by that diocesan Human Rights Office to give an overview of Church teaching on nuclear weapons.

His address was part of a diocesan endeavor to educate the public on Church doctrine in this matter, efforts which responded to a proposed nuclear weapon parts plant in Kansas City.

The extensive address considered the history of the Church’s position on the question of nuclear weapons.

«New attention is being paid to the unresolved problem of 20,000 nuclear weapons located at 111 sites in 14 countries,» the prelate said. «More than half the population of the world lives in a nuclear-armed country. Each year, nations spend $100 billion on maintaining and modernizing their nuclear arsenals.»

«The indiscriminate use and devastating effects of nuclear weapons have led the Church to abhor any use of nuclear weapons,» he added.


Archbishop Chullikatt initially considered the policy of amassing nuclear weapons in order to deter potential attacks.

The 58-year-old India-native said that the fathers of the Second Vatican Council, though advocating a universal prohibition against war, «with the understanding they had at that time, seemed to have rather reluctantly accepted the strategy of nuclear deterrence. The accumulation of arms, they said, serves ‘as a deterrent to possible enemy attack.'»

Pope John Paul II clarified in a 1982 address to the United Nations that «‘deterrence’ based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself but as a step along the way toward a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable.»

«This statement made clear that nuclear deterrence during the Cold War years could only be acceptable if it led to progressive disarmament. What is intended therefore is not nuclear deterrence as a single, permanent policy,» Archbishop Chullikatt noted. «Here lies the central question of deterrence: The Church’s moral acceptance of nuclear deterrence was always conditioned on progress toward their elimination.»

After the Cold War

In the wake of the Cold War, international pressure increased to halt the proliferation of nuclear arms.

The Church’s efforts also increased, becoming focused «on challenging what we came to see as the institutionalization of deterrence,» the prelate said. «Deterrence was not being considered anymore as an interim measure. Rather, nuclear-weapon states started to pursue nuclear advantage, maintaining that nuclear weapons were fundamental to their security doctrines.»

Such was the situation that in 2005 when nations gathered to review the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the treaty was on the verge of collapse, Archbishop Chullikatt said. Commitments to disarm were being ignored and «the very concept of nuclear elimination was dismissed out of hand by the nuclear-weapon states.»

The Holy See reiterated its position that deterrence was never accepted as a permanent measure and was tolerated only as «a step on the way towards progressive nuclear disarmament,» he said.

The next year, in Benedict XVI’s message for the World Day of Peace, the Pope reminded that «in a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims.»

The Holy Father has also observed that the money wasted on maintaining and developing nuclear arsenals vastly outweighs that spent on assisting peoples.

«With development needs across the globe far outpacing the resources being devoted to address them, the thought of pouring hundreds of billions of additional dollars into the world’s nuclear arsenals is nothing short of sinful,» Archbishop Chullikatt said. «It is the grossest misplacement of priorities and truly constitutes the very ‘theft from the poor’ which the Second Vatican Council condemned so long ago.»

The Vatican official went on to cite the Holy Father, who has called for «negotiations for a progressive and mutually agreed dismantling of existing nuclear weapons,» and last year asked delegates at the Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to «overcome the burdens of history.»

«From this body of teaching, the Church has made clear its growing abhorrence of nuclear weapons,» the archbishop stated.

«International law and the Church’s Just War principles have always recognized that limitation and proportionality must be respected in warfare,» he explained. «But the very point of a nuclear weapon is to kill massively; the killing and the poisonous radiation cannot be contained — Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl are permanent ominous reminders. The social and economic consequences of nuclear war in a world whose life-support systems are intimately interconnected would be catastrophic.»

Getting nowhere

Archbishop Chullikatt went on to call for increased efforts in eliminating nuclear weapons.

He lamented that «comprehensive negotiations called for by the International Court of Justice have not even started. The bilateral START treaty between the U.S. and Russia only makes small reductions and leaves intact a vast nuclear arsenal on both sides, with many nuclear weapons held on constant alert status.»

The prelate noted how the U.N. secretary-general is calling for a new convention or set of mutually reinforcing instruments to eliminate nuclear weapons, backed by strong verification.

«The Holy See supports this plan,» he said, «and strongly advocates for transparent, verifiable, global and irreversible nuclear disarmament and for addressing seriously the issues of nuclear strategic arms, the tactical ones and their means of delivery. The Church remains fully engaged in efforts both to stem proliferation and to move forward on negotiating a binding international agreement, or framework of agreements, to eliminate existing arsenals under effective international verification.»

«Viewed from a legal, political, security and most of all — moral — perspective, there is no justification today for the continued maintenance of nuclear weapons,» the archbishop declared. «This is the moment to begin addressing in a systematic way the legal, political and technical requisites for a nuclear-weapons-free world.»

The Holy See representative said it is thus urgent to begin preparing a convention or framework agreement leading to the phased elimination of nuclear weapons.

Simply unacceptable

Archbishop Chullikatt proposed a simple truth about nuclear weapons: «Being weapons of mass destruction by their very nature, they cannot comply with fundamental rules of international humanitarian law forbidding the infliction of indiscriminate and disproportionate harm. Nor can their use meet the rigorous standards of the Just War principles’ moral assessment of the use of force.»

It is not only the use of nuclear weapons that is barred by law, he said, but even the threat to use them.

«It is unlawful to threaten an attack if the attack itself would be unlawful,» he clarified. «This rule makes unlawful specific signals of intent to use nuclear weapons if demands are not met. It also makes unlawful general policies of so-called deterrence declaring a readiness to resort to nuclear weapons when vital interests are at stake.»

Since the threat to use and the use of nuclear weapons are unlawful, then the legality of their very possession is called into question, he continued.

«The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty prohibits acquisition of nuclear weapons by the vast majority of states. In conformity with the good faith principle, it cannot be lawful to continue indefinitely to possess weapons which are unlawful to use or threaten to use, or are already banned for most states, and are subject to an obligation of elimination,» he said.

mprehensive approach

The Holy See representative observed that it is increasingly clear that a comprehensive approach is needed to address nuclear disarmament.

«The Holy See believes there needs to be a binding together of steps into a coherent commitment to eliminate nuclear weapons in clearly defined phases for an incremental disarmament,» he said. «Only the expression of a visible intent to construct a global legal basis for the systematic elimination of all nuclear weapons will suffice. It cannot be considered morally sufficient to draw down the stocks of superfluous nuclear weapons while modernizing nuclear arsenals and investing vast sums to ensure their future production and maintenance. This current course will ensure the perpetuation of these weapons indefinitely.»

The prelate restated the Holy See’s declaration already in 1997: «If biological weapons, chemical weapons, and now land mines can be done away with, so too can nuclear weapons.»

«This,» he said, «is the challenge before the international community today. It is the challenge before the Church today, and it is the challenge facing all people of good will today, believers and non believers alike.»

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