The Pope and the Bomb: Beyond Deterrence
Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs
January 30, 2020
Jonathan Granoff. President Global Security Institute, Representative to the United Nations of the World Summits of Nobel Peace Laureates, Chair Task Force on Nuclear Non-proliferation of the International Law Section of the American Bar Association
The pursuit of security by relying on the threat to unleash the terrible power to destroy both others and, using nuclear weapons, thus also ourselves, and the demonstrated readiness to unleash this horror is the backbone of nuclear deterrence. At one point in time the illusion that a nuclear war could be won existed. We now know that the consequences of the explosion of a small percentage of the over 14,000 weapons in the world would so adversely impact the climate, because of soot clouding the stratosphere, that agricultural capacity to sustain civilization would end. Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev’s motto, asserted together at their Summit in Geneva in 1985 that was so instrumental in generating momentum to end the Cold War, remains a clear message today: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
Where are we today:
The Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Military in its recent Joint Publication 3-72 Nuclear Operations June 11, 2019 states:
“Integration of nuclear weapons into a theater of operations requires the consideration of multiple variables. Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability. Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.”
“Prevail in conflict” means winning by using nuclear weapons. Such an aspiration is stimulating a new immeasurably dangerous and expensive global nuclear arms race.
Silence in the face of such irrationality is complicity in madness. Such a policy is based on mythical thinking and such dreaming could lead to a global nightmare. It must be stopped. I believe that if the public really understood what the use of nuclear weapons will do, the level of threat under which the people of the world live daily, the outrageous downward spiral in thinking and behavior of the nations with nuclear weapons, it would demand change for the better. What is the public rationale for this policy?
The pursuit of strategic stability is the doctrine the nuclear weapons state publicly asking us all to trust their wisdom and sincerity. It rests on mutual preparedness to do the unthinkable; today, that means multiple states are prepared and signal the willingness to annihilate humanity and toss creation back to the wasteland of the early stages of Genesis.
How strange that they argue the benefits of strategic stability to the international community of the over 180 states without nuclear weapons while domestically each nation with the weapons argues for more and improved weapons to pursue military advantage. These pursuits are mutually exclusive, going in entirely different directions, and both remind me of the movie Dumb and Dumber. To extol these pursuits as virtuous routes to peace can only be called More Dumb Than Dumb and Dumber. It is the song of moral midgets risking humanity’s future with the power of technological giants.
Some say that, with proper management, the inherent dangers of nuclear weapons to be unleashed by accident, design or madness can be controlled and the posture of threatening to use these devices is normal, safe, sane, and acceptable. The situation, however, is, in fact, abnormal, immeasurably dangerous, certainly not sane, and morally unacceptable.
If William Wilberforce, the great British abolitionist, had only called for better management of slavery, that horrible institution would still be shadowing us today. The possession and threat to use nuclear weapons in the pursuit of security represents unprecedented folly of the highest order and an expression of the law of power in its most raw form. As Senator Alan Cranston used to say: “The weapons are unworthy of civilization.”
Pope Francis summed up a rejection of both the pursuit of strategic stability based on threats and the misuse of atomic energy quite clearly recently in Hiroshima:
“With deep conviction I wish once more to declare that the use of atomic energy for purposes of war is today, more than ever, a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home. The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral. We will be judged on this. Future generations will rise to condemn our failure if we spoke of peace but did not act to bring it about among the peoples of the earth. How can we speak of peace even as we build terrifying new weapons of war? How can we speak about peace even as we justify illegitimate actions by speeches filled with discrimination and hate?
I am convinced that peace is no more than an empty word unless it is founded on truth, built up in justice, animated and perfected by charity, and attained in freedom (cf. St. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, 37).”
He asks us: “How can we propose peace if we constantly invoke the threat of nuclear war as a legitimate recourse for the resolution of conflicts?”
And recently in Nagasaki he stated:
“Our world is marked by a perverse dichotomy that tries to defend and ensure stability and peace through a false sense of security sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust, one that ends up poisoning relationships between peoples and obstructing any form of dialogue…Peace and international stability are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation.”
Pope Francis has categorically condemned not only “the threat of their use” but also “their very possession.” Nuclear weapons, he told participants at a Vatican symposium on “integral disarmament,” exist “in the service of a mentality of fear that affects not only the parties in conflict but the entire human race.”
His audience included representatives from the United States and Russia. He told them that “international relations cannot be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation and the parading of stockpiles of arms.”
Pope Francis beckons us in the strongest of terms to work tirelessly now to end the threat of nuclear annihilation and the poisonous atmosphere so inimical to the pursuit of peace through dialogue and cooperation that the reliance on these devices creates.
While the leaders of the states with nuclear weapons today are weakening the institutions of law, diplomacy, and the tools of dialogue and the pursuit of global common good, the words of Pope Francis are nourishment for those who long for peace, which he called “the very fruit of justice, development, solidarity, care for our common home and the promotion of the common good, as we have learned from the lessons fruit of history.”
His condemnation of deterrence theory and the possession of nuclear weapons and the need to set forth on a new approach to address security resonates widely. Most of the nations of the world agree with him. Based on an analysis of the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons 122 states at the United Nations in July of 2017, created the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (Ban Treaty). The treaty will enter into force when 50 states have ratified it; as of this date 35 have done so. Consistent with the message of Pope Francis, the Holy See was first to step up and ratify the Treaty.
Its preamble reminds us of the moral, legal, and political norms motivating the non-use and abolition of nuclear arms, based “on the principles and rules of international humanitarian law, in particular the principle that the right of parties to an armed conflict to choose methods or means of warfare is not unlimited, the rule of distinction, the prohibition against indiscriminate attacks, the rules on proportionality and precautions in attack, the prohibition on the use of weapons of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering, and the rules for the protection of the natural environment.” The preamble then states: “Considering that any use of nuclear weapons would be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, in particular the principles and rules of international humanitarian law.” The preamble also reaffirms that “any use of nuclear weapons would also be abhorrent to the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience.”
Let me place the Treaty in context before going into a more specific analysis of some of its provisions. In 1996 the International Court of Justice in an advisory opinion unanimously concluded that there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations on nuclear disarmament. In a follow-up to that opinion, a large majority of nations adopted a General Assembly resolution calling for negotiation of nuclear disarmament convention. It was not supported, however, by the Western nuclear states and their allies, nor by Russia, and they have continued to this day to oppose such an approach.
I was part of a working group, representing Lawyers Alliance for World Security, along with IPPNW, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, and the International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation, which drafted a Model Nuclear Weapons Convention, using the template of the very comprehensive Chemical Weapons Convention. The Model Convention included extensive provisions that included incremental steps consistent with commitments made pursuant to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty regime along with verification and compliance provisions, among other things. It was circulated as a UN document. It was supported as a frame of reference for negotiations by the majority of nations evidenced by consistent General Assembly resolutions along with encouragement of the office of the Secretary General of the United Nations. However, it was not supported economically by foundations or nations. I mention this process because one of the criticisms of the Prohibition Treaty is that it lacks the very provisions of the Model Convention which the nuclear weapons states ignored. Their criticisms lack substance on that score as does their unwillingness to utilize either instrument to make progress.
Utilizing the outstanding work of John Burroughs of Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy I will outline salient issues regarding the Treaty.
In 2009 the International Committee of the Red Cross began insisting that the humanitarian consequences of nuclear explosions are unacceptable, violate principles of international humanitarian law, and should therefore be abolished. This was the same basic logic that motivated the treaty banning landmines adopted in 1997, and the treaty banning cluster munitions adopted in 2008.
The Final Document of the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference includes this provision: “The Conference expresses its deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and reaffirms the need for all States at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law.”
To their credit, the governments of Norway, Mexico, and Austria each hosted international conferences in 2013 and 2014 examining the consequences of use of nuclear weapons. The Nobel Peace Laureate organization, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, worked effectively to mobilize governments, especially lead states – including Austria, Mexico, Thailand, Ireland, New Zealand, Brazil, South Africa, along with many other civil society organizations, actively engaged and in only five weeks of negotiation at the United Nations in New York in 2017 helped produce the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (Ban Treaty). Its adoption was approved by 122 states. Immediately after adoption, the US, UK and France jointly stated that they will never join the treaty. The Permanent Five since have adopted joint statements opposing the treaty, and reportedly have lobbied states not to sign and ratify it.
The nuclear weapons states reject the Treaty stating that it disturbs strategic stability and is contrary to the NPT. Obviously, it is a step to help fulfill Article 6 of the NPT and it hardly compares to modernization efforts by the nuclear states in terms of disturbing strategic stability.
It is a powerful declaration of the imperative to put traction into the language of the World Court, the NPT, public conscience, reason and necessity.
The Treaty is a short and an easy read. It is in language normal people can understand.
The first article prohibits the development, testing, possession, and use and threatened use of nuclear weapons, and also bars assistance in any way with prohibited acts. What is the significance? Development, testing, and possession of nuclear weapons are already prohibited for most states by the NPT. This is a step beyond the NPT in prohibiting threatened use and actual use. This provision forcefully challenges the logic of deterrence and seeks to delegitimize the weapons.
Article 4 of the Treaty gives two pathways for nuclear-armed states to verifiably and irreversibly dismantle their nuclear arsenals, prior to joining the treaty or after doing so. They can join and disarm later or disarm and then join. The treaty provides that measures for verified and irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons may be addressed at meetings of states parties and thus the criticism that such necessary elements are not included is hollow. Non-states parties may attend meetings. Moreover, it is contemplated that nuclear-armed states could advance protocols to the treaty that would include necessary substantive verification provisions, for example.
The treaty fails to provide adequate monitoring of compliance by states that have disarmed beyond IAEA safeguards agreements and reports to meetings of states parties. But such a mechanism could be developed. The most important missing element of the Treaty is a lack of enforcement. That is a structural issue of enormous consequence in our current international order that goes to the heart of the Security Council capacity to address existential threats without common will.
Articles 6, requires affected states parties to provide assistance to victims of nuclear testing and use, and take measures for environmental remediation of contaminated areas.
Article 7 imposes obligations on other states parties “in a position to do so” to assist affected states parties and to provide assistance for victims even of nuclear testing. This is a very practical aspect which will trigger duties even to non-nuclear states once the Treaty enters into force.
John Burroughs states succinctly:
“Indeed, the catastrophic consequences of use of nuclear weapons vastly exceed the ordinary boundaries of armed conflict and adversely impact populations in third-party states, the natural environment necessary to sustain human life, and future generations. The use and threatened use of nuclear weapons accordingly also violates international human rights law, most centrally the right to life. It is therefore appropriate that the preamble to the nuclear weapons ban treaty invokes international human rights law as well as international humanitarian law. The treaty’s reference to human rights law has since its adoption been reinforced by an October 2018 General Comment on the right to life by the UN Human Rights Committee, a body established by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a major treaty with all of the nuclear powers except China as states parties. The comment finds that use and threat of use of nuclear weapons is incompatible with the right to life. For more information see my group’s website, lcnp.org.
The preamble additionally reflects general themes that more and more are coming to the fore. It twice refers to the interests of future generations in the non-use of nuclear arms. And it “Recognizes that the equal, full and effective participation of both women and men is an essential factor for the promotion and attainment of sustainable peace and security, and committed to supporting and strengthening the effective participation of women in nuclear disarmament.”
For people of faith, men and woman, the reliance on nuclear weapons represents a perverse love of the ultimate power over creation. It is a distortion of our humanity and a fissure of human solidarity. That is one of many reasons we are inspired by Pope Francis’ leadership. His call: “Now is the time to affirm not only the immorality of the use of nuclear weapons, but the immorality of their possession, thereby clearing the road to nuclear abolition” must be shared in every church, mosque, synagogue, the hallowed halls of the UN, and every parliament and congress everywhere.
I suggest that the convening capacity of the Berkley Center gives it the capacity to host a small focused strategy gathering of the major interfaith organizations of the world which are capable of leveraging a message to most of the world’s religious leaders. This would include the Parliament of the World’s Religions, where I serve as Ambassador for Peace, Security, and Nuclear Disarmament, the United Religions Initiative, which has a working group that includes Ambassador Goodby and Secretary Shultz and which has a web site www.thenuclearprayer.com, and Religions for Peace. The leaders of many religious traditions have offices in Washington. We should take advantage of the location, well deserved prestige of the Berkley Center, and thus advance Pope Francis’ vision of integral security and nuclear weapons abolition. If this cannot be done at the Berkley Center, we should find another venue and move forward. I just feel that if it is done here it ensures the engagement of Father Drew Christiansen, whose qualities, wisdom, and clarity commend his leadership.
Also, Georgetown University has a responsible investment program that not only includes prohibitions against investments in enterprises that advance abortion as well as against weapons of indiscriminate effect. This policy on weapons of such horror should be platformed widely and become a model of all institutions higher learning as religions and in the words of an initiative in which I am a participant, Move the Nuclear Money. Attached hereto as an annex is a brief on the subject, advocating using the Norwegian Pension Fund as an example.
I reflect on the moral passion against abortion’s capacity to become politically relevant and believe that passion for protecting the life of the entire human family could similarly become politically relevant if we can awaken and help organize that passion.
We, as people of both faith and reason, are all called to doing far better than simply getting along with the status quo. We know too well the dangers of accepting the risks. Moreover, we actually believe that we are called to learn to love one another and thus become fully human. Let that calling be the magnet that moves the moral compass for the abolition of nuclear weapons. We can and will help move the world’s nations from the hazardous love of power to the life-giving power of love.
Jonathan Granoff is the President of the Global Security Institute, a representative to United Nations of the World Summits of Nobel Peace Laureates, a former Adjunct Professor of International Law at Widener University School of Law, and Senior Advisor to the Committee on National Security American Bar Association International Law Section.