O'Brien calls for world free of nuclear weapons
Given the opportunity to address U.S. military and other officials at a symposium on nuclear deterrence on Wednesday, Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien said Catholic teaching calls on policymakers to work toward ridding the world of nuclear weapons altogther.
"As the U.S. bishops wrote in 1983: 'Deterrence is not an adequate strategy as a long-term basis for peace; it is a transitional strategy justifiable only in conjunction with resolute determination to pursue arms control and disarmament,' O'Brien said at the symposium hosted by the U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, Neb.
"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."
A former chaplain at West Point and with the Army in Vietnam, O'Brien was the Catholic archbishop for the military services before coming to Baltimore. He spoke of his respect for the military and its institutions before discoursing on church teaching on just war and on nuclear weapons.
Becaue it's an area of Catholic teaching that's frequently cited but not widely understood, we'll quote at length:
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. In the powerful and haunting words of Pope Paul VI to the United Nations that were repeated often by Pope John Paul II, 'No more war, war never again!' The international community must seek ways to make war a relic of humanity’s past if humanity is to have a future worthy of human dignity. As Pope Benedict XVI has taught: 'War always represents a failure for the international community and a grave loss for humanity.'
But 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. Of the principles that apply to war of any kind, some that are most directly applicable to questions of nuclear policy are:
The use of force must be a last resort. We have a prior obligation to avoid war if at all possible.
The use of force must be discriminate. Civilians and civilian facilities may not be the object of direct, intentional attack and care must be taken to avoid and minimize indirect harm to civilians.
The use of force must be proportionate. The overall destruction must not outweigh the good to be achieved.
And there must be a probability of success.
Popes of the modern era have applied this moral tradition to nuclear weapons and deterrence policy for decades in formal teaching and in papal addresses to the United Nations. The Holy See, in its capacity as a Permanent Observer to the United Nations, has addressed these questions in a particular way through ratification of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and active participation in the Treaty’s review conferences over the past four decades.
For our part, the Catholic bishops of the United States have examined U.S. nuclear policy in light of our moral tradition, most notably in our pastoral letters of 1983, The Challenge of Peace, and 1993, The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace, as well as in numerous public statements and ongoing dialogue with public officials to this very day.
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. 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.
As O'Brien noted, the call for a nuclear-free world is neither new nor unique to the Catholic Church.
"More than two decades ago," he said, "President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev called for abolishing all nuclear weapons. In the past two years Secretaries George Shultz, William Perry and Henry Kissinger and Senator Sam Nunn have promoted a nuclear-free world. Abolishing nuclear weapons is not a narrowly partisan or nationalistic issue; it is an issue of fundamental moral values that should unite people across national and ideological boundaries.
"It is worth noting that earlier this year President Barack Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev committed 'our two countries to achieving a nuclear free world.' And just this month they signed a Joint Understanding to guide negotiations on reducing strategic warheads and delivery vehicles and extending effective verification measures before the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) expires late this year. This is an important step down the road to nuclear disarmament."
The complete address is available at the Web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Catholic Review has a story on it here. And thanks to former Sun religion writer John Rivera for calling our attention to this.