WASHINGTON – Everyone on the panel at The Catholic University of America to discuss “The Ethics of the Obama Administration’s Nuclear Weapons Policy: Catholic Perspectives” seemed to indicate that the eventual elimination of nuclear arms is a goal.
None, however, are convinced that “global zero,” is likely very soon, and it may not even be possible.
Building on talks on the path to zero nuclear weapons he delivered in July 2009 at a Defense Department Strategic Command symposium in Omaha, Neb., and this February at a Global Zero Summit in Paris, Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of Baltimore said, “In Catholic teaching the ethics of deterrence, disarmament, non-proliferation and peace are profoundly linked. Our nation and world must have the courage and vision to move beyond deterrence to disarmament.”
The archbishop was joined at the panel symposium, sponsored by CUA’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, by Rose Gottemoeller, Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation; Dr. Maryann Cusimano Love, IPR fellow and associate professor, Department of Politics, Catholic University; General William Burns, professor at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., and a leader in the Global Zero movement; Dr. William Barbieri, IPR fellow and associate professor, School of Theology and Religious Studies, Catholic University, and former faculty director of CUA’s Pax Christi group.
“The moral end is clear: a world free of the threat of nuclear weapons,” Archbishop O’Brien said.
Harkening back to the U.S. bishops’ 1983 pastoral “The Challenge of Peace,” he added, “Every nuclear weapons system and every nuclear weapons policy should be judged by the ultimate goal of protecting human life and dignity and the related goal of ridding the world of these weapons in mutually verifiable ways.”
He noted that the Department of Defense’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review “represents a significant, yet modest, shift toward a world free of nuclear weapons.”
The NPR “outlines the (Obama) administration’s approach to promoting the president’s agenda for reducing nuclear dangers and pursuing the goal of a world without nuclear weapons, while simultaneously advancing broader U.S. security interests.”
The archbishop said the Nuclear Posture Review “does not go as far as the bishops urged and does not declare that the sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is to deter nuclear attack against us or our allies. But the Nuclear Posture Review embraces the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. … These directions are morally sound, but more progress is needed to meet our moral responsibilities to rid the world of this disproportionate and indiscriminate threat to human life.”
He concluded, “A world with zero nuclear weapons will need robust measures to monitor, enforce and verify compliance. The path to zero will be long and treacherous. But humanity has a moral obligation to walk this path with both care and courage.”
Gottemoeller told the audience of approximately 70 people, about half of them CUA students, that the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons “should drive our policy one step at a time” and she noted that is the goal of the Obama Administration.
She noted that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, the president also affirmed that the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary and guarantee the defense of our allies.”
She added that the New START treaty, which she recently helped to negotiate with the Russian Federation, is a prelude to expanding the bilateral agreement to an eventual multilateral agreement.
She said if the international community is serious about drawing down the number of nuclear weapons, it must also constrain the ability to build up the number.
“That means placing constraints on the production of fissile materials that can be used for nuclear weapons,” she said, adding that work is being done on many levels at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and she is hopeful for an agreement.
Cusimano-Love encouraged the audience, especially the students, to embrace the notion that controlling nuclear weapons is not the job only of governments. “The job is too important to leave to the governments,” she said.
The fellow at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom noted that non-state actors – groups with an agenda or individuals with profit or other motives – without ethics can have a role in the spread of nuclear weapons. Conversely, she said, non-state actors with ethics can have a positive effect on the issue.
Gen. Burns said he spent the first 25 years of his career working with nuclear weapons of all types, and then the next 25 years “trying to get rid of them.” He was director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency from 1988 to 1989 and served as the first U.S. special envoy to denuclearization negotiations with former Soviet countries under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program authorized by the Nunn-Lugar legislation of the early 1990s.
He said Global Zero must be the goal, but that all nuclear powers – not just those who are currently signatories on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – who have the capability now and might in the future must agree to zero nuclear weapons.
Such a measure would require absolute controls, including Draconian sanctions for those who violate a ban.
“I’m talking about a different kind of world,”Burns said. “I’m talking about a world where if nuclear weapons have been abolished and a country acquires nuclear weapons, it loses its independence; it’s no longer recognized by the United Nations and military action would be taken to suppress that government and create another entity.”
In the question-and-answer session following the prepared talks, Burns admitted that “the genie is out of the bottle” and it will be virtually impossible to return to a world where some nation or non-state actor does not use the knowledge and ability to create a nuclear weapon. It would be very difficult and very expensive to create a security system to detect and destroy a weapon before it can be used.
Like some of the other panelists, Barbieri addressed the just war theory, but he questioned whether the intent to use nuclear weapons as a deterrent would be as morally wrong as the act itself.
He decried the fact that the current administration policy, which aims to reduce nuclear weapons, still pumps an additional $7 billion into the federal budget.
Responding to a question about the increase of conventional weapons to replace nuclear weapons as part of the United States’ overall strategy, Archbishop O’Brien said it would be “foolhardy” to do so, “always keeping in mind (that) self-defense is a right.”
“Questions arise every year, almost every day as to the changing face of warfare and self-defense. We have some very conscientious people doing these negotiations. They have to be alert to these questions. We as a moral force have to keep bringing up these just-war principles,” the archbishop said.
For the full text of Archbishop O’Brien’s text at the symposium, see
Moral Reflections on U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy .