By Sarah Bueter, University of Notre Dame ‘18
On November 10-11, 2017, the Holy See hosted the first international gathering on nuclear disarmament since approval of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, signed by 122 countries at the United Nations in New York on July 7, 2017. Eleven Nobel Peace Laureates attended the “Perspectives for a World Free From Nuclear Weapons and For Integral Disarmament,” conference, including Beatrice Fihn of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), recipient of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. They were joined by high-level representatives and experts from civil society, academia, churches, states, and international organizations, as well as students to discuss a variety of related issues, including a path forward on the ban, which was not supporeted by NATO or the countries that now hold nuclear weapons and would still require ratification to take effect.
Integral human development
In his address to the conference, His Holiness Pope Francis denounced the use and possession of nuclear weapons, stating that “the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned.” In light of the Catholic Church’s mission in service of development, peace, and disarmament, this position draws particular attention to the humanitarian and environmental effects caused by such weapons. On the occasion of the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in 2014, Pope Francis affirmed, “Nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutually assured destruction cannot be the basis for an ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence among peoples and states.”
The Church’s focus on the possession – not only the use – of nuclear weapons furthers the profound connection between disarmament and human development. Foremost in the Pope’s statement was the condemnation of the possession of nuclear weapons themselves, regardless of intent; such a declaration of the moral wrongness of possession is, as Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego noted, “new and, of course...very significant.” In effect, the Church is saying that to invest in the fallacy of weapons is to divest from the poor, squandering the earth’s resources and the intelligence of scientists and neglecting healthcare, education, and development for our fellow human beings. A commendation of nuclear weapons is a condemnation of our planet and our humanity.
Let’s be realistic
Conference participants unanimously agreed that working towards a world without nuclear weapons is not naive and utopian but represents the most realistic, sustainable alternative in light of the unstable environment in which we find ourselves. Nuclear weapons are, Pope Francis has repeatedly said, no basis for peaceful coexistence. Indeed, they provide only a false sense of security.