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By Nadine Bushell 18.01.09
Member of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice
Weapons of mass destruction point up the central security issue of our time. Many of us
remember the ongoing debate about six years ago with respect to whether Iraq had weapons of
mass destruction.
The issue was very much in the forefront of global heads then and still is up to now. It was a key
point of discussion and debate in the recently concluded United States election.
The whole issue of weapons of mass destruction forces us to ask the question – Are we going to
base our security on a culture of peace or on a culture of violence? Morality is at the core of this
issue. Honourable Douglas Roche, OC in his public address at the Lauriston Jesuit Centre in
Edinburgh in October 2006 says nuclear weapons are fundamentally immoral and their action
indiscriminate as they affect civilians, the military, innocent persons and aggressors alike.
Vatican Council II taught: “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.
Therefore the stockpiling of arms from the Church’s perspective poses a real threat to peace and
the promotion of justice.
It also constitutes a destructive use of both the earth’s resources and human creativity and
genius. The use of the resources to stockpile arms in the midst of global poverty also has
implications for the level of justice, human solidarity and the common good. Therefore countries
must, while defending their right to self-defence must ensure that they are not using unnecessary
means to defend themselves.
“The Church's social teaching proposes the goal of ‘general, balanced and controlled
disarmament’. The enormous increase in arms represents a grave threat to stability and peace.
The principle of sufficiency, by virtue of which each State may possess only the means necessary
for its legitimate defence, must be applied both by States that buy arms and by those that produce
and furnish them.
Any excessive stockpiling or indiscriminate trading in arms cannot be morally justified. Such
phenomena must also be evaluated in light of international norms regarding the nonproliferation, production, trade and use of different types of arms. Arms can never be treated like
other goods exchanged on international or domestic markets.”
There are arguments given for stockpiling arms or nuclear deterrence, which is a strategy in any
field of potential conflict of being prepared to inflict unacceptable damage on an aggressor, and
making sure the potential aggressor is aware of the risk so that he refrains from aggression.
It is claimed that the accumulation of arms serves as a deterrent to possible enemy attack. Pope
John Paul II however in a message to the United Nations Second Special Session on
Disarmament in 1982 reiterated the Church’s position by stating that deterrence that leads to
progressive disarmament may still be judged morally acceptable; however it is not sufficient to
ensure peace as there is always the susceptibility of the real danger of explosion.
The Compendium says the following on the issue of deterrence: “Moreover, the Magisterium has
made a moral evaluation of the phenomenon of deterrence. ‘The accumulation of arms strikes
many as a paradoxically suitable way of deterring potential adversaries from war.
They see it as the most effective means of ensuring peace among nations. This method of
deterrence gives rise to strong moral reservations. The arms race does not ensure peace. Far
from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them’. Policies of nuclear deterrence,
typical of the Cold War period, must be replaced with concrete measures of disarmament based
on dialogue and multilateral negotiations.”
“Arms of mass destruction — whether biological, chemical or nuclear — represent a particularly
serious threat. Those who possess them have an enormous responsibility before God and all of
The principle of the non-proliferation of nuclear arms, together with measures of nuclear
disarmament and the prohibition of nuclear tests, are intimately interconnected objectives that
must be met as soon as possible by means of effective controls at the international level.
The ban on the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical and biological
weapons as well as the provisions that require their destruction, complete the international
regulatory norms aimed at banning such baleful weapons, [1073] the use of which is explicitly
condemned by the Magisterium: ‘Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of
entire cities or extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man
himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation’.”
Next week we continue the discussion on disarmament, looking too at the issue of land mines.
Persons interested in purchasing the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, may
contact the Justice Desk, Archbishop’s House at 622-2691 or 290-1634/5. Also on sale at the
Justice Desk are the Take a Bite Social Justice Programme on DVD and the Responses to 101
Questions on Catholic Social Teaching.