2015-05-12 10:36:00

Holy See's Permanent Observer: credibility of NPT at stake

(Vatican Radio) The Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, delivered an address to the 9th review conference of the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty earlier this month. In his prepared remarks, Archbishop Auza told his fellow delegates the very credibility of the Treaty is at stake. “If  commitments  to  nuclear  disarmament  are  not  kept  and  result  in breaches of trust,  nuclear weapons  proliferation  will  be  the  foreseeable  corollary,” he said. “This threatens the credibility and ultimately the existence of the NPT,” he continued.

Below, please find the full text of Archbishop Auza’s remarks, in English


The Holy See on the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons

H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza

Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and

Head of Delegation to the ninth review conference of the Treaty on the NonProliferation of Nuclear Weapons

From Nuclear Deterrence to Disarmament: Evolving Catholic Perspectives

A Conference at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs

New York City, 7 May 2015

Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening!

Thank you very much, Mr. Speedie, for hosting us  here at the  seat of the  Carnegie Council for  Ethics  in  International  Affairs.  Thank  you,  Dr.  Powers,  for  serving  as  our  Chairperson. Thank you, sponsors  and organizers, for making this conference possible. Thank you all  for the interest in the topic of this evening’s discussion: “From Nuclear Deterrence to Disarmament: Evolving Catholic Perspectives.”

This evening’s event comes while the 191 Parties to  the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) are in the ninth quinquennial review  conference. The review is considering how best to build on the successes of the NPT to date, as well as  how  to address the failures that continue to block the full implementation of the terms of the Treaty.

On the one hand, the Holy See appreciates the substantial reductions in nuclear weapon stockpiles on the part of  some  nuclear weapon states  and  the remarkable reach of the Treaty to the 186 non-nuclear weapon states. It welcomes the continued implementation of the New Start Treaty and of the array of safeguards agreements governing peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

On the other hand, the Holy See notes the lack of progress towards the realization of the commitment made by Parties to the NPT,  namely  “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to [the] cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and  to  nuclear  disarmament,  and  on  a  Treaty  on  general  and  complete  disarmament under strict and effective international control”  (Art. VI). Moreover,  given  the inability of  the  Conference  on  Disarmament  to  begin  negotiations  on  a  treaty  governing  the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons  and the unstable situations  in  many regions of the world, we have the potential for the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

I would like to develop my reflection on the topic under three sub-themes: First, the Popes and the constant call for the abolition of nuclear weapons; Second, Pope Francis and the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons; and Third, Some Elements of the Holy See’s call for nuclear disarmament.

1.  The Popes and the calls for the abolition of nuclear weapons

Has the Catholic teaching on nuclear weapons evolved? If yes, in what way? To attempt to answer these two questions,  I  would give a  brief summary of  the teachings of the Popes during the nuclear era.

In 1943, two years and a half prior  to the  Trinity test  in 1945,  Pope Pius XII  (1939-1958), alerted  to  the  discovery  of  nuclear  fission,  voiced  deep  concern  regarding  the violent use of nuclear energy.  After repeated warnings,  in his Easter  Message  in 1954, Pope Pius XII called for “the effective proscription and banishment of atomic  …  warfare,” citing “the vision of vast territories rendered uninhabitable and useless to mankind,  … transmissible diseases  … and monstrous deformities.”  He called the arms race a “costly relationship of mutual terror.”

In 1963, Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) issued the Encyclical “Pacem in Terris” (Peace on Earth)  just a  few months after the nerve-wracking experiences of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, an event some of us in this room lived through. John XXIII was aware  of  the  theory,  or  strategy,  of  nuclear  deterrence.  Rejecting  it,  he  called  for  the abolition  of  nuclear  weapons,  for  the  cessation  of  the  arms  race  achieved  through  “a suitable  disarmament  program,  with  an  effective  system  of  mutual  control.”   This approach foreshadows Article VI of the NPT, in which the abolition of nuclear weapons is placed within the framework of effective verification  through  effective international control. In order “to banish fear and the anxious expectation of war from men’s minds,”John XXIII called  for  “the  realization that true and lasting peace among nations” and said that it  “cannot consist in the possession of an equal supply  of armaments but only in mutual trust.”  John XXIII’s position that “trust should be verified” sounds like the forerunner of Ronald Reagan’s “trust and verify.”

Pope Paul VI (1963-1978), like his predecessors, rejected reliance on nuclear weapons. He  defined the  sort of  peace created by nuclear deterrence  as  “a tragic illusion.”  Along the line of his strong emphasis on the development of peoples, to which he dedicated his Encyclical  “Populorum Progressio,” he brought  the theme of development into the  moral argument  for  the  abolition  of  nuclear  weapons,  repeatedly  asserting  that  the  nuclear arms  race  retarded  the  development  of  peoples  and  contributed  to  the  “crying disproportion between the resources in money and intelligence devoted to the service of death and the resources devoted to the service of life.”

The  Pastoral Constitution “Gaudium et Spes”  of the Second Vatican Council  (1962-1965) stated, “To be sure, scientific weapons are not amassed solely for use in war. Since the defensive strength of any nation is considered to be dependent upon its capacity for immediate retaliation, this accumulation of arms, which increases each year, likewise serves, in a way heretofore unknown, as deterrent to possible enemy attack. Many regard this  procedure  as  the  most  effective  way  by  which  peace  of  a  sort  can  be  maintained between nations at the present time.”

The document went on  strongly  to challenge this argument, saying,  “Whatever be the facts about this method of deterrence, men should be convinced that th e arms race in which  an  already  considerable  number  of  countries  are  engaged  is  not  a  safe  way  to preserve a steady peace, nor is the so-called balance resulting from this race a sure and authentic peace….  Therefore, we say it again: the arms race is an utterly treacherous trap for humanity, and one which ensnares the poor to an intolerable degree” (GS 81).

With  Pope John Paul II  (1978-2005), one may affirm that, in the  context of the  Cold War and the fight against communism, he left the door temporarily ajar for a temporary accommodation of the minimally morally acceptable argument of deterrence, but he did so strictly within the framework of  the process towards the total abolition of nuclear weapons. In his message to the second special session of the UN General Assembly devoted to disarmament in 1982, he says that in the “current conditions of the Cold War, ‘deterrence,’  considered  not  as  an  end  in  itself  but  as  a  step  toward  a  progressive disarmament, may still be judged  morally acceptable. Nonetheless, in order to ensure peace,  it  is  indispensable  not  to  be  satisfied  with  this  minimum,  which  is  always susceptible to the real danger of explosion.”

Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013) spoke out against nuclear weapons several times, calling the argument that nuclear weapons are a basis for peace as “completely fallacious,” while affirming that  "peace requires that all ...  strive for progressive and concerted nuclear disarmament." In brief, the Holy See took a moral stance against nuclear weapons even before their creation, has always called for their abolition, and continues to work for a world , not only without nuclear weapons, but one that increasingly moves away from war. From veryearly on, the Catholic Church has consistently rejected deterrence as a reliable or, much less, permanent basis for peace.

2.  Pope Francis and the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons

The Catholic Church’s continued call for nuclear disarmament has found echoes among many  states and non-state organizations, in particular in the conferences on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons,  beginning  in Norway  in 2013, then in Mexico in February 2014 and in Vienna in December 2014.

At the Third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in  Vienna, the Holy  See issued  three  documents  outlining  the  moral  argument  for  the  abolition  of nuclear weapons: the  Message  that  Pope  Francis  sent  to  the  President  of  the  Vienna Conference Sebastian Kurz; the Statement delivered by the Delegation of the Holy See atthe Conference; and a paper entitled “Nuclear Weapons: Time for Abolition.”To  lend  further  impetus  to  nuclear disarmament efforts  and  to  highlight  the  moral argument for the abolition of nuclear weapons, on 9 April this year,  the Holy See Mission to the United Nations  organized a conference at the UN Headquarters in New York. I was pleased to host Bishop Oscar Cantu, Bishop of Las Cruces and Chairman of the US Catholic Conference of Bishop’s Committee on  International Justice and Peace, as well as  an Anglican Bishop, an Evangelical Minister, a Rabbi and an Imam, who argued for the abolition of nuclear weapons from the perspective of their respective faiths.

Moreover, the Holy See joins some 160 States Parties to the NPT in a common Statement that  has  been  getting  circulated  at  the  ongoing  NPT  Review  Conference,  demanding effective  implementation  of  the  terms  of  the  NPT  and  the  inclusion  in  the  outcome document of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

3. Some elements of the Holy See’s argument

In  advancing the moral argument against the possession and use of nuclear weapons  and against the “doctrine” of deterrence, the Holy See has also focused on the illegitimacy of the  use  of  nuclear weapons vis-à-vis the international humanitarian law; the incompatibility of the nuclear weapons with “just  war” principles; the current and emerging  grave threats by non-state actors;  the scandal of extreme poverty; the perpetuation of inequality contained  in  the NPT; and the lack of progress  in nuclear disarmament as a threat to the very existence of the NPT.

Nuclear weapons, because of the incalculable and indiscriminate consequences of their use,  are  clearly  against the international humanitarian law and their use would inevitably violate it.  As the Vatican II Fathers affirmed, “Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation”(GS  80). As the body of evidence of  the unimaginably  disastrous  humanitarian and environmental impact of any use of nuclear weapons has continued to grow, the NPT eighth review conference  in  2010  recognized  for  the  first  time the "catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons". The Holy See calls on all to build on this positive development  to strengthen both the moral and legal arguments

against nuclear weapons.

With regard to terrorism, the prospect that non-state actors may acquire nuclear weapons cannot be countered by reliance on nuclear deterrence. Concerning extreme poverty, the investments in military forces, including nuclear weapons and modernization programs, divert financial resources and political will from the needs of the poor. I argue that a dollar spent on development has a much greater impact on global peace and security than a dollar spent on advancing the nuclear weapon programs. Extravagant sums are being spent for weapons, which cannot remedy the miseries afflicting our world today. It would be naïve and myopic if we seek to assure world peace and security through nuclear weapons rather than through the eradication of  extreme poverty, making healthcare and education accessible to all, and promoting peaceful institutions and societies through dialogue and solidarity.

In relation to NPT inequality, the non-proliferation regime is rooted in it. In the grand bargain at the Treaty’s foundation,  the non-possessing powers granted a monopoly on nuclear weapons to the possessing powers in return for a “transformative” good faith pledge by the nuclear weapons states to reduce and disarm their nuclear arsenals. What was intended to be a temporary state of affairs now appears to have become a permanent reality, establishing a class structure within the international system between possessing and non-possessing states. If there is little or no progress toward disarmament by the nuclear states, the NPT will be regarded as an unjust perpetuation of the status quo. Only insofar as the nuclear-armed states move towards  disarmament will the rest of the world regard the nonproliferation regime as just.

Finally, with regard to the threat to the continued existence of the NPT itself, the ancient principle Pacta sunt servanda applies .The NPT is not just a set of legal obligations; it is also a moral commitment based on trust among  Parties.  The  NPT’s  central promise of nuclear disarmament in exchange  for  nuclear  non-proliferation,  however,  remains  a distant  dream.  If  commitments  to  nuclear  disarmament  are  not  kept  and  result in breaches of trust,  nuclear weapons  proliferation  will  be  the  foreseeable  corollary. This threatens the credibility and ultimately the existence of the NPT.

Concluding Remarks

Let me end by citing Pope Francis’ message conveyed to the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in December: “I am convinced that the desire for peace and fraternity planted deep in the human heart will bear fruit in concrete ways to ensure that nuclear  weapons are banned, once and for all, to the benefit of our common home.” It is for us to make this happen, the sooner, much the better. Have it then in your bucket list.

Thank you for your attention.

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