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Kevin ClarkeDecember 09, 2014
Representatives of several faith traditions assemble to discuss no-nukes movement at forum in Vienna.

Speaking at a conference on the potential and current humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, a two-day event which drew the participation of 150 nations and media from around the world but which has been largely ignored in the United States, a representative of the Holy See questioned the persistence of deterrence as the ethical underpinning of the geopolitical strategy of the world's nuclear powers. "We all know the risks of nuclear weapons, not least that of the instability they cause," said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi as the Holy See took its turn during a round of international statements on nuclear weapons. "Is it reasonable to think that the balance of terror is the best basis for the political, economic and cultural stability of our world?" he asked.

Archbishop Tomasi, the permanent Representative of the Holy See to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, said, "The status quo is unsustainable and undesirable. If it is unthinkable to imagine a world where nuclear weapons are available to all, it is reasonable to imagine a world where nobody has them."

Reminding conference members of the church's long commitment, dating back to 1963's "Pacem in Terris," to a world liberated from the menace of nuclear annihilation, the archbishop said, "the Holy See continues to question the ethical basis to the so-called doctrine of nuclear deterrence. Ethical and humanitarian consequences of the possession and use of nuclear weapons are catastrophic and beyond the rational and reasonable."

Acknowledging that achieving nuclear weapons abolition will be a difficult task, especially as conflict in Ukraine stirs cold war memories, Archbishop Tomasi added, "the goal of a world without nuclear weapons" is "even more necessary in this time of international tensions." The archbishop said that a reduction of the nuclear threat and disarmament require "a global ethic"of solidarity.

"The role of churches and religious communities, civil society, academic institutions is vital to not let hope die, to not let cynicism and realpolitik take over." he said. "An ethics based on the threat and mutual assured destruction is not worthy for future generations. Only an ethic rooted in solidarity and peaceful coexistence is a great project for the future of humanity." 

He expressed the Holy See's frustration with the pace of disarmament. "Some positive steps have been made towards the goal of a world without nuclear weapons," he saod. "The Holy See, however, still thinks that these steps are limited, insufficient and frozen in space and time. The institutions that are supposed to find solutions and new instruments are deadlocked. The actual international context, including the relationship between nuclear weapons states themselves, does not lead to optimism."

As if to confirm that assessment, a U.S. delegation took pains to lower expectations before it arrived in Vienna. In a State Department release announcing U.S. plans to participate for the first time in the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons Conference, U.S. officials reiterated the nuclear super-power's commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as "the focus of our efforts on disarmament" and cautioned "this conference is not the appropriate venue for disarmament negotiations or pre-negotiation discussions and the United States will not engage in efforts of that kind in Vienna."

All the same, delegates from other nations applauded the arrival of the Americans for the first time at HINW. The U.S. was joined by another delegation of first-timers from the United Kingdom. Other nuclear powers India and Pakistan already participate in the HINW process. Nuclear powers Russia, China, North Korea and suspected nuclear power Israel did not send delegations. To many who seek a rapid nuclear weapons disarmament, nuclear superpowers such as the United States and Russia have come to be perceived as foot-draggers, but U.S. officials insist that the administration's commitment is real, but that it can only proceed with appropriate security assurances in place. "Underpinning all of our efforts, stretching back decades, has been our clear understanding of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use," Ambassador Adam Scheinman, the Obama administration's Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation, said. "We will not relent in the practical and responsible pursuit of our disarmament goals and we are glad to be among so many who share these goals."

The participation of the Americans is significant as it signals the global arrival of a new civil society movement against the bomb which the United States apparently feels it can no longer ignore. Reminding conference members of its commitment to disarmament and progress so far—the U.S. nuclear arsenal has been reduced by 85 percent since the end of the Cold War—Ambassador Scheinman said, "The United States stands with all those here who seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. The United States has been and will continue to work to create the conditions for such a world with the aid of the various tools, treaties and agreements, including the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty regime."

Ambassador Scheinman added that the United States remained willing to continue negotiations with the Russian Federation toward further nuclear force reductions, then seemed to acknowledge the growing international sentiment, emboldened by recent successes on land mines and cluster bomb, supporting a complete nuclear weapon abolition with or without the cooperation of the world's nuclear powers. "As we can see from this conference," he said, "we collectively have the growing political will to pursue a practical disarmament agenda," the ambassador said. "We must also have a practical way to do it." The ambassador announced a new effort to improve "verification and monitoring tools," the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification, as "a critical key to progress."

He added, "Verification will become increasingly complex at lower numbers of nuclear weapons, while requirements for accurately determining compliance will dramatically increase. Everyone here and around the world who shares our goal of a world free of nuclear weapons should join us in devoting ample time and energy to address this challenge right now."

Beyond the potential and continuing threats nuclear weapons pose—accidental detonation, acquisition by terrorists and the ongoing contamination of the environment and workers within the nuclear weapons industry—Archbishop Tomasi challenged the reasonableness of the resource sacrifices that the maintenance of nuclear arsenals require, particulalry in light of force modernization plans in the United States and Russia. "The world faces enormous challenges—environmental problems, migration flows, military conflicts, extreme poverty, regular economic crises, etc.. Only cooperation and solidarity among nations is able to confront them. To continue investing in expensive weapon systems is paradoxical. In particular, to continue investing in the production and the modernization of nuclear weapons is not logical. Billions are wasted each year to develop and maintain stocks that will supposedly never be used. Can one justify such a high cost only for reasons of status?"

Archbishop Tomasi spoke favorably of reinvigorated civil society efforts to pressure the world's nuclear powers to accelerate disarmament efforts and shore up non-proliferation regimes. "We are now witnessing a renewed awareness after two decades lost to the cause of nuclear disarmament," he said. "The 'humanitarian initiative' is a new hope to make decisive steps towards a world without nuclear weapons. The partnership between states, civil society, the ICRC, International Organizations, and the UN is an additional guarantee of inclusion, cooperation and solidarity. This is not an action of circumstance. This is a fundamental shift that meets a strong quest of a large number of the world’s populations which would be the first victims of a nuclear incident.

"Now more than ever the facts of technological and political interdependence cry out for an ethic of solidarity in which we work with one another for a less dangerous, morally responsible global future. The response that the international community gives will affect future generations and our planet."

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Nathan Cheong
9 years 7 months ago
According to the Catholic Just War Theory, actions in war must never succumb to nuclear war. Jus in Bello also states that civilian populations or non-military targets cannot be targeted by the war. In the use of nuclear weapons, both enemy and civilian targets will be targeted by the bomb. Because of these cases, it should be no surprise for the church to seek to ban nuclear bombs. I don't believe, though, the church will be successful in banning these weapons because of its popularity among the world's superpowers. Instead of seeking to ban the bomb, I believe the church will have an easier time preventing the use of nuclear weapons.
Thomas Clemente
9 years 7 months ago
I think that under the laws of Christian Ethics, it would be advisable for nuclear disarmament. Christian tradition states that the killing of civilians in a war is unjust, and nuclear bombs are known to cause massive amounts of casualties. In addition, the amount of money spent on the development of these arms, never to be used as stated in the article, could be much better spent on other things that would be beneficial to our society, such as fighting poverty or homelessness. This emphasis on war is not productive for our society and is not Christian in its practice. The unjust use of these weapons is also a potential reason for their misuse, as they can be abused and used to strong-arm other countries into obeying the larger ones. This is certainly an issue that we have to think about in coming years to see how it will influence the way we live.
E.Patrick Mosman
9 years 7 months ago
"Archbishop Tomasi spoke favorably of reinvigorated civil society efforts to pressure the world's nuclear powers to accelerate disarmament efforts and shore up non-proliferation regimes." Which "civil society" is pressuring China, India,Pakistan, the rogue regime in North Korea to give up the "Bomb" or the mullahs in Iran to stop any and all efforts to develop the "Bomb" in a verifiable manner. Without any control on rogue regimes disarmament by any nuclear power is the pathway to their own destruction.
Bennet Lima
9 years 7 months ago
I really admire the efforts the church is making to strive for righteousness and eliminate the need for nuclear weapons. I however am doubtful in the amount of progress they may be able to make. A large number of the nations who possess nuclear weaponry are not catholic and because of that will likely not take the catholic call for a reduction in nuclear weapons as a serious matter and would rather keep them for their own defensive needs. Nations that are more receptive to the catholic plea will then be just as hesitant to disarm their own weaponry because of the threat of those who keep their own weapons. In order to make a true difference, the catholic church may have to reach out to other religions and nationalities foreign to them. I feel that there is no real need for the nuclear threat and there are very limited uses of atomic weaponry that can be considered just, that being said it would be very difficult to convince nations that possess this capability to surrender it. Doing so would very much reduce their defense and could potentially lower the respect they earn by holding this capability.
Zachary Karbasian
9 years 7 months ago
The massive loss of life, massive destruction of the environment, and massive financial damage that would disproportionately impact the poor and would be an almost unimaginable blow to the rule of law and justice. The excessive amount of civilian deaths go directly against the Distinction and Proportionality components of the Just War theory, (Jus in Bello). Nuclear weapons do not distinguish between innocents and non-innocents. Even though Nuclear deterrence has worked in the past, other countries have developed their own Nuclear weapons and those who haven’t surely will. This is going to lead to a metaphorical “stick up” like a bunch of people in the movies who point their guns at each other waiting for the other to shoot. These threats, accidental detonation, acquisition by terrorists and the ongoing contamination of the environment and workers within the nuclear weapons industry are all very unreasonable as Archbishop Tomasi said. This issue is something that is very frightening to think about in regard to the future.
Haun Hwang
9 years 7 months ago
The Catholic Just War Theory says no power should ever have to use such devastating force because it would harm many citizens and non-participants of a war. The Catholic Church has logic in trying to ban the use of nuclear weapons, but how will they when there are so many warheads that take a lot of effort to and money to disarm? To be honest, Nuclear weapons are just a measure of a country's power and psychological weapon, not an actual physical weapon because I do not see any country employing the use of nuclear weapons anytime soon. Countries are smart enough to know what will happen in such wars, and they will try to prevent such devastating wars before it actually occurs. That being said, the Catholic church will not be successful in banning the possession of nukes.
E.Patrick Mosman
9 years 7 months ago
A nuclear weapon has not killed a combatant or innocent civilian since August 1945, almost 70 years. However innocent civilians in the hundreds are being killed almost daily, not by any nation, but by Islamic terrorist organizations, by Islamic suicide bombers and by individual Muslims. Where is the call by the Catholic Church, all member states of the UN and HINW for a stop to the killing of innocents by the followers of Islam in the name Allah? The sound of silence is deafening. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent holding international meetings to discuss a non-issue,nuclear weapons, while ignoring the reality of innocents being slaughtered today. As Ebenezer Scrooge would say "Humbug".
Kevin Clarke
9 years 7 months ago

The Holy See has spoken out frequently about the plight of ME Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in IS occupied territory and has long defended interreligious freedoms in Muslim lands. I'd suggest that the current military alliance active over Iraq now suggests the seriousness of EU states in protecting Christians.

E.Patrick Mosman
9 years 7 months ago
Further to my previous comment BBC America reported this evening that an "investigation by the BBC World Service and King's College London has found Islamic jihadists have killed more than 5,000 people in November 2014. The data gathered by the BBC found that 5,042 people were killed in 664 jihadist attacks across 14 countries - a daily average of 168 deaths, or seven every hour. About 80% of the deaths came in just four countries - Iraq, Nigeria, Syria and Afghanistan, according to the study of media and civil society reports. Iraq was the most dangerous place to be, with 1,770 deaths in 233 attacks, ranging from shootings to suicide bombings. In Nigeria, 786 people, almost all of them civilians, were killed in 27 Boko Haram incidents. These tended to be large and indiscriminate bombings and shootings such as the attack on the central mosque in the northern city of Kano, which left 120 dead." http://www.bbc.com/news/world-30080914 While these killings were taking place Pope Francis was making nice with Muslims in the Blue Mosque, the National Cathedral in Washington DC was opened for a Muslim service and the Obama administration gave Islamic Iran an additional seven months grace in its development of a nuclear weapon. Most of these innocents were and more will be killed by old fashioned weapon, guns, knives, bombs, explosive devices now and in the future.

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