Sept. 25, 2014 – Pope Francis on Friday told the nine nuclear weapon-wielding states, including the permanent five Security Council members, that their logic for possessing weapons of mass destruction is an affront to the mission of the United Nations.
Francis made the remarks during a wide ranging address to the General Assembly where he also called for a restructuring of the global financial system, responsible stewardship of the planet, and respect for the sacredness of human life.
The Holy See, which is party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has long held that the logic of nuclear deterrence is contrary to the progress of civilization and, more recently, expressed frustration during the NPT review conference that nuclear weapons states were not living up to their disarmament commitments.
In his remarks Friday, Francis noted that the preamble of the UN Charter and its first articles stress the peaceful resolution of disputes and friendly relations among nations.
“Strongly opposed to such statements, and in practice denying them, is the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass distraction, such as nuclear weapons,” he said. “An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations.”
He said that if states use deterrence as a reason to posess nuclear weapons then the United Nations would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust.”
“There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons,” Pope Francis told the packed assembly, which included dozens of heads of state.
In addition to the five permanent members of the Council, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel all possess nuclear weapons.
There are some 18,000 nuclear weapons in the world, the vast majority held by Russia and the US.
The weapons are located in more than 100 sites in 14 countries, with US nuclear weapons based in Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Turkey and Italy. Some $100 billion is spent annually on maintaining these weapons.
While the Holy See has always called for nuclear disarmament, there was a time during the height of the Cold War that Pope John Paul II said “deterrence based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself but as a step along the way towards a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable.”
Pope Francis’s clear denunciation of the policy of deterrence in his speech on Friday is indicative, not just of the Vatican’s position, but that of the majority of UN member states. There’s wide agreement among non-nuclear states that the permanent five members of the Council view the NPT as a treaty that allows them to hold onto their weapons, even though disarmament is one of the three pillars of the treaty, along with non-proliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
During the recent five-year review NPT conference, campaigners secured the signatures of 107 UN member states for a pledge that called for filling the legal gap prohibiting nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction not banned by international treaty.
Absent from the list of 107 countries that signed the pledge were the nuclear weapons states and the 29 members of NATO.
In his closing remarks, Pope Francis said states can fulfill the promise of the United Nations, that future generations will not face the scourge of war, if they “set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good.”
- Denis Fitzgerald