June 8, 2015

Catholic Panel Goes Nuclear on Deterrence

On May 7, 2015, the Carnegie Council Events hosted a session entitled From Nuclear Deterrence to Disarmament: Evolving Catholic Perspectives. The unanimous opinion of the speakers was best summed up by Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, who observed:

“The Holy See…has taken a moral stance against nuclear weapons, even before the birth of nuclear weapons and has always called for their abolition. And has worked…for a world not only without nuclear weapons, but one that increasingly moves away from war. So the context is much bigger than nuclear disarmament.”

Archbishop Auza also outlined a number of reasons why he believed deterrence, the concept that nations should hold each other in check with the building up and threat of nuclear weaponry, is morally inexcusable. First, the sheer amount of damage nuclear weapons can cause violates humanitarian law. He further argued deterrence does nothing to obstruct the ability of terrorists to obtain a nuclear bomb. He warned that every dollar spent on nuclear weapons is another dollar that can’t be spent on the welfare of the poor. He also noted that deterrence destroys the moral authority to compel non-nuclear states to stay non-nuclear.

The Archbishop’s critique of deterrence is quite problematic. How exactly does one calculate how much damage is “too much” before the weapon itself is evil per se? For example, in the firebombing of Tokyo on March 9-10, 1945, allied bombing killed 100,000 civilians, a body count that exceeded the immediate casualties of the Hiroshima bomb by 20,000 and the immediate casualties of the Nagasaki bomb by 60,000. Does this mean that normal weaponry is intrinsically evil because of its incredible damage capacity? What if the use of nuclear weapons saves more lives than the alternatives, as it did in World War II? Are they still evil?

Second, his argument that deterrence will not stop terrorists from securing a nuclear bomb is hurt by the fact that disarmament leaves the problem unaddressed. Terrorists do not respect international law and would still be able to find someone who can supply them with a nuclear weapon.

Auza’s contention that the funding for nuclear weapons obstructs the use of said money for the betterment of the poor can be applied to any government program. One does not have to choose between defense and humanitarian care.

His final point is arguably his strongest argument. At first glance it does seem hypocritical for a nuclear nation to tell another nation to stay non-nuclear. However, this can be bypassed by noting that not every nation needs nuclear capabilities and that regional stability may require states to forego them.

The panel also featured Maryann Cusimano Love, Associate Professor of International Relations at Catholic University of America, who attempted to provide what she called a “peacebuilding framework” and apply it to the nuclear controversy. This framework is based off building right relationships, and work towards disarmament, demobilization, reconciliation. After looking at Jesus through the lens of a political scientist, Love concludes the idea of a “negative peace” through the “sword,” or military strength and threats, is unacceptable for Christians:

Jesus was born in a war zone….under foreign military occupation….He and his family were refugees according to the 1951 definition in the Convention on Refugees. They fled genocide as described in the 1948 Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the crime of genocide. So he knew war personally….All his ministry was a ministry of peacebuilding, of people building, of relationship building, of reconciling enemies, of participating in dialogue with enemies, and the poor and marginalized persons…healing people impoverished in that war torn…communities, driving out their demons, what we would call trauma healing today. He established these processes of reconciliation and communion to draw people together in peace. He enjoined us to do the same.”

Love’s take on Jesus is marred by the fact that she is approaching him as a political scientist. One has to approach Christ in the context that he established for himself, namely the culmination of the prophecies of the Old Testament (Matt 5:17-19), and not impose modern concepts, such as the Convention of Refugees, onto the text. Additionally, there is no scripture to suggest that Christ considered his birth under Roman occupation to be important enough to color the character of his ministry. Furthermore, Christ’s primary aim was to reconcile man to God; reconciling men to each other was an occasional byproduct that took a backseat to the former initiative (Luke 19:10, Matt 10:34-36). Christ’s teachings and actions in His earthly ministry were not meant to be viewed as models of nuclear disarmament. Love’s contention that Christ is against peace through strength is not only wrong, but is arguably an inversion of the Biblical command. In Romans 13:4, God says that government exists to be “a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” While this verse not a primer on international relations, it makes it clear that God endorses the idea of using force to contain human evil. Finally, Love makes the mistake of looking only at the Gospels to find the character of Christ. When one looks at the full picture of Christ as revealed in the entirety of the Bible, which is as He presents himself (John 10:30, II Tim 3:16-17), the image of a pacifistic peace broker fades.

Ultimately, the conference seems to be marked by a misunderstanding of humanity and doctrine. Mankind’s problem is not nuclear weapons; it is man’s sinful nature (Gen 8:21). Christ warns us through James that conflicts erupt because of man’s lusts for and envy over things they want but do not have (James 4:1-3). Not once was this idea touched upon in the panel. In fact, the opposite sentiment was expressed through Auza’s invocation of Pope Francis, “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.”

Scripture tells us that the human heart does not desire “peace” or “fraternity,” but its own lusts (James 4:1-3). It also warns that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). Experience with tyrants confirms this testimony.

The panel’s apparent lack of appreciation for the depravity of man blinds them to the fact that barring the advent of more dangerous weaponry, a non-nuclear utopia is a pipe dream that requires a suspension of human nature.


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