Vatican observer to the UN addresses nuclear weapons, disarmament

Bishop Finn (r) listens as Archbishop Chullikatt explains Catholic Church teaching on the proliferation of nuclear weapons. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter

KANSAS CITY – More than 125 people gathered in the Cardinal Baum Room of the Catholic Center July 1 as Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations, presented the teachings of the Catholic Church on nuclear weapons and their proliferation.

With the growing awareness and concerns over the construction of a $1 billion plant for the manufacture and assembly of non-nuclear parts for nuclear weapons in Cass County, it became clear that Catholic Church teaching on nuclear weapons and their proliferation was unclear to the general public. Jude Huntz, director of the diocesan Human Rights Office, proposed a conference on the nuclear question, which was held at the Catholic Center. Huntz said the aim of the conference was to present and explain Catholic Church teaching on nuclear weapons, continue to raise awareness of the plant under construction in Cass County, and continue the conversations about nuclear weapons and human rights in the community. “Since the groundbreaking last September, they’ve been building a nuclear weapons plant here in our city. We thought this would be a good teaching moment.”

Bishop Robert W. Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph invited Archbishop Chullikatt to address the conference because of his expertise on the church’s teaching on nuclear weapons, their use and the goal of global disarmament. Before his July 2010 appointment as the Vatican’s top envoy to the U.N., the Indian prelate served as apostolic nuncio to Jordan and Iraq.

Archbishop Chullikatt, from the Latin-rite Archdiocese of Verapoly in Kerala, India, was ordained in 1978. He holds a doctorate in canon law. He joined the Vatican’s diplomatic service in 1988, and has served in Honduras, in a number of countries in southern Africa, in the Philippines, and in Jordan and Iraq. He speaks 13 languages, including his native tongue, English, French, Hindi, Latin and Italian, German, Spanish, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, and several African dialects.

Bishop Finn introduced the archbishop by saying that, “in the past few years, nuclear arms have had a particular relevance in our community.” He said the archbishop would provide some insight into Catholic Church teaching on nuclear armament, an important moral issue.

The archbishop began his talk by introducing two goals: the development of a framework agreement for the phased elimination of all weapons of mass destruction and the changing of “our perceptions of nuclear weapons.”

It is not a simple issue, he continued. “For more than 60 years since the dawn of the nuclear age, people have struggled with the morality of the question.”

The issue has long concerned the Catholic Church. Beginning with the Second Vatican Council, church teaching has strongly urged nations to progressively disarm themselves of weapons of mass destruction. At Vatican II, Archbishop Chullikatt said, the Council Fathers declared, “Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.”

At the height of the Cold War, during the arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States in the early 1980s, Catholic Church leaders reluctantly agreed that nuclear weapons arsenals intended as deterrents, was morally acceptable, but only if the deterrence was an interim measure, a step in the direction of progressive disarmament. Pope John Paul II said that deterrence was not an acceptable alternative to peace. It was only acceptable as a way of limiting the use of nuclear weapons by others.

About the same time, Archbishop Chullikatt noted, a few world leaders, notably U.S. President Ronald Reagan, voiced the same goal. In his second Inaugural Address, in 1985, he said, “There is only one way to safely and legitimately reduce the cost of national security and that is to reduce the need for it … We are not just discussing limits on a further increase of nuclear weapons. We seek instead to reduce their number. We seek the total elimination one day of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.”

As early as the late 1950s, the international community was urging disarmament of nuclear weapons. The Treaty for Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was signed by the five nuclear weapons countries — the United States, the Soviet Union, France and the United Kingdom in 1968, followed later by China and went into force in 1970. The treaty was to remain in effect for 25 years, and reviewed every five years. In 1995, the treaty review conference extended the treaty indefinitely. It remains the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear weapon states. By 2010, 189 countries had signed onto the treaty.

When the treaty was extended in 1995, international attention focused on Article VI, which stated, “The nations of the world agreed to forego any development of nuclear weapons in exchange for a commitment from the nuclear weapon states to eliminate their own arsenals, and provide access to nuclear technology for peaceful uses.”

Unfortunately, Archbishop Chullikatt reminded his audience, the nuclear weapon states did not live up to their obligations under the treaty; instead they engaged in reinvestment in nuclear weapon complexes, and poured billions of dollars into the new technologies to design, test and deploy weapons of mass destruction into the future.

By the beginning of the 21st century, deterrence was no longer considered an interim measure while nations prepared for disarmament. The archbishop said, “We are now witnessing an extended deterrence, by which non-nuclear countries are put under the protection of a friendly nuclear weapons country.” Nuclear weapons states began maintaining that the weapons were basic to their county’s security, and dismissed the notion of disarmament out of hand. One nation, which had originally ratified the Non-Proliferation Treaty, violated it several times and then withdrew in 2003. Another country proceeded to escalate their development of nuclear technologies with the clear intent of producing a weapon. Still others have been clandestinely developing nuclear capabilities. Some experts estimate as many as 40 countries have the capability of becoming nuclear weapons states.

Archbishop Chullikatt noted that the international community is paying closer attention to the unresolved problem of 20,000 weapons of mass destruction stored in 111 sites in 14 countries across the globe. Non-proliferation efforts will only be effective if they are universal, he said.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2009 World Day of Peace Message, focused on nations that aspire to have nuclear weapons as well as “those governments which count on nuclear arms as a means of ensuring the security of their countries … one can state that this point of view is not only baneful but also completely fallacious. In a nuclear war, there are no victors, only victims.”

So, what is to be done? Archbishop Chullikatt said that International law and the Church’s Just War principles have always recognized that limitation and proportionality must be respected. “The very point of a nuclear weapon is to kill massively –killing and poisonous radiation cannot be contained” – the world remembers Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and more recently, Chernobyl and Fukishima, Japan, he said. The archbishop of Nagasaki visited the UN, and Archbishop Chullikatt listened to his stories. Later he visited Nagasaki and saw the pieces of the city and human lives that could never be put back together. “I saw Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and I was changed,” he said.

“The social and economic consequences of nuclear war in a world whose life-support systems are intimately interconnected would be catastrophic,” Archbishop Chullikatt said. A nuclear explosion, whether due to an act of war, caused by an earthquake, tsunami or hurricane, or the result of a design or manufacturing error in containment equipment, would result in “severe physical damage from radiation, followed quickly by the collapse of infrastructures, food production and distribution, as well as water supplies. The healthcare system would also fail. These would be followed by widespread starvation, rampant disease and chaos, he said.

In light of this horrific picture, the Catholic Church has stated unequivocally, “Nuclear weapons are incompatible with the peace we seek for the 21st century. They cannot be justified. They deserve condemnation.”

But what about the nations that don’t agree with the Church’s views or dismiss them out of hand? What if war breaks out and nations are threatened? Archbishop Chullikatt said the Church believes international law is essential to maintaining peace among nations. “When peace breaks down, international law, setting limits on the conduct of warfare, is essential to the reestablishment of peace at the end of the war.”

The archbishop called for preparatory work to begin as soon as possible on a convention or framework agreement leading to the phased elimination of nuclear weapons. In order to accomplish this, “we must rethink and change our perception of nuclear weapons. No force on earth will be able to protect civilian populations from the explosion of nuclear bombs, which could cause millions of immediate deaths. We must understand the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.”

The dangers inherent in nuclear weapons are not confined to their use in warfare. “Workers in the nuclear weapons industry report exposure to radiation at production facilities across the globe,” Archbishop Chullikatt said. “Many highly toxic substances are used in the production and maintenance of weapons of mass destruction, and their non-nuclear components.” Those substances cause a range of illnesses, including cancers, many affecting workers only after years of exposure. Workers, their families and advocacy groups urge transparency and guarantees about safeguards, a necessity also in the disarmament process. “In the past,” he said, “even today, secrecy surrounding the nuclear weapons programs has led to a failure to inform — or mislead — workers and the civilian population living in close proximity to production facilities, about the dangers to human health.” Archbishop Chullikatt added the damage the nuclear reactor in Fukishima, Japan, sustained in the earthquake earlier this year, and the resultant environmental and health problems, have refocused attention on the inherent dangers and indiscriminate nature of radiation. It may have spurred Germany to make the recent decision to close all her nuclear reactors by 2022, he said. Safeguards and transparency are a necessity throughout the disarmament process, he said.

The archbishop said the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has urged a 5-point plan for nuclear disarmament, specifically calling for a new set of “mutually reinforcing instruments” to eliminate nuclear weapons. Ban has also asked that the 193 U.N. member nations start negotiations.

The archbishop quoted Ban Ki-moon: “Nuclear disarmament is not a distant unattainable dream. It is an urgent necessity here and now. We are determined to achieve it.”

The Holy See delegation to the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review conference expressed deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons. It also reaffirmed the need for all nations at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law (which governs the conduct of warfare). Archbishop Chullikatt said that statement laid the groundwork for the possible outlawing of nuclear weapons.

According to Catholic Church teaching, the task is not to make the world safer through the threat of nuclear weapons, but to make the world safer from nuclear weapons through mutual and verifiable nuclear disarmament.

The Holy See delegation, addressing the U.N.’s Disarmament and International Security Committee, known by its acronym, First Committee, in 1997, stated strongly the Church’s position on nuclear weapons. “Nuclear weapons, aptly described as ‘the ultimate evil,’ are still possessed by the most powerful States, which refuse to let them go … If biological weapons, chemical weapons and now landmines can be done away with, so too can nuclear weapons.”

In a press conference following the presentation, Bishop Finn further explained the significance of the Kansas City Plant, currently under construction in Cass County.

“What is taking place, since the groundbreaking on Sept. 8, 2010, a production plant is being built to produce non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons. While it’s good that they are non-nuclear components, it raises the question: is this the kind of thing we should be doing, spending large amounts of resources to produce weapons that most of us hope will never be used? What is moral and ethical about that?

“The old Bendix plant has already been associated with serious illnesses, not from nuclear materials but from other substances and metals. They were not detected in time to prevent or cure due in large part to secrecy.”

Many other questions arise. “What are the checks and balances at the new plant? What about accountability? Are we making any progress toward deterrence and eventual elimination, or are we promoting escalation, not by design but by circumstances?

“The Church speaks of sufficiency (sufficient numbers of weapons and no more); how much more do we need — both in quantity and in sophistication?

Bishop Finn concluded, “We don’t want it — it has no fundamentally good purpose.”

Archbishop Chullikatt said there were encouraging, positive realities. “After the nuclear explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1945), there have been no other nuclear explosions in the world. We have proliferation, but so far, no country has used nuclear weapons in an attack on another country in more than 60 years. If we can make it to 60 years, we can make it to 100 or more.”

Another positive: “The United States and Russia need to take leadership in disarmament. Russia is keeping its agreement to phase in disarmament. She agreed to come down to 1000 warheads between 2010-2014; then to cut that number in half between 2014-2018; between 2018-2023, she is to come down to 0 warheads. From 2024-2030, Russia is to phase in total disarmament.

“Yes, there are some encouraging, positive things,” Archbishop Chullikatt said, “but are we satisfied with the status quo? If we have no security or stability, there will never be peace, even if all nuclear weapons were eliminated.”

He was asked about the threat Iran holds for Israel, and the concerns over North Korea. “Those are bad apple nations,” he said. “Bad apple nations will always be with us. But they can be isolated, through sanctions and withdrawal of trade. We live in a global world, and the bad apple nations don’t want to be isolated. We need to foster development in countries aspiring to be nuclear weapons states — that will change their perspective. According to Pope Paul VI, the other name for peace is development.”


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December 05, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph