On Thursday, April 9, The Holy See mission to the United Nations sponsored a two-hour gathering of religious leaders to discuss “Nuclear Weapons and the Moral Compass.” Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the nuncio to the UN, kindly invited me to attend as nine leaders from as many religious traditions offered their thoughts on the importance of reducing and eventually eliminating nuclear weapons from the arsenals of the five nuclear states as indicated by Article VI of the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty).
This is a worthwhile effort and deserves the support of everyone. It pleased me to see the Chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace present a very fine summary of the position of the Holy See through the decades since the NPT. While the world situation has changed radically since the end of the Cold War, the principles of the Church’s position remain valid and the witness of the Church in favor of nuclear weapons disarmament continues to have a strength that several of the speakers from other religious traditions applauded and endorsed.
Article VI of the NPT commits the nuclear nations, USA, Britain, France, Russia and China, to work together and to reduce the numbers of nuclear warheads each has stockpiled. Reagan and Gorbachov made great strides in this during the 1980s. Since that time nations, including our own, have given this at best half-hearted attention. This is a tragedy because the lack of will to reduce nuclear warheads by these nations gives other nations and other independent operators the excuse that they should be free to develop nuclear weapons because the NPT nuclear nations are not fulfilling their commitment according to the Treaty.
For years I have been urging our USCCB Committee to make this a priority. With the 2015 UN Convention soon to be held, I am hopeful that many groups will raise their voices calling for just such a renewed effort.
At the meeting itself there was a consensus to support such a goal. However, meetings of like minded persons, all of whom have been talking to one another for years, will need more than themselves to have an impact on the nuclear states.
Two other factors struck me as I was listening to these very fine men and women committed to a good cause. First, nothing was said of the other nations, Pakistan, India, North Korea, all of whom have nuclear weapons and have tested them. Israel, we all believe, does have nuclear weapons although Israel has never admitted this publicly. These states pose another risk because they are not bound by the NPT and they too provide an excuse for other nations and rogue groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda to shop around and see what they can purchase on the black market.
Second, not a word was said about the current most frightening prospect of the proposed “agreement” between Iran and the C5 led by President Obama. No one except the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has publicly discussed these negotiations within the context of the NPT. This is the only international agreement that addresses nuclear weapons of mass destruction. Yet people are willing to ignore it or let others say it is useless precisely because of the lack of commitment to it by nuclear and by non nuclear states.
This is a sad mistake. While international relations often seem to be in chaos these days, one of the most basic and important principles of international law is “Pacta sunt servanda,” agreements or treaties must be respected and observed. The alternative is to lose any reference points that could serve to bring a more coherent and humane sense of responsibility on the part of world leaders than currently we are experiencing.
Please join me in praying for peace. Please give careful thought to the implications of some of what is going on and some of what is not happening in international issues that touch on the peace of future generations. It has been said that “some want to make a desert and call it peace.” Peace must be the fruit of justice that is open, mutually agreed upon with a commitment to abiding by the norms of international law that deters aggression, guarantees human dignity and human rights and lessens the threats against peace even when those threats are cloaked in a rhetoric that can often be duplicitous.