Nuclear Weapons

PLUS: 'A Crime Against God and Humanity'

Spiritual and religious leaders have long condemned the inhumanness of nuclear weapons. In 1983, the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of 347 denominations from virtually all Christian traditions in more than 120 countries, rejected the doctrine of nuclear deterrence and unequivocally declared: “That the production and deployment as well as the use of nuclear weapons are a crime against humanity and that such activities must be condemned on ethical and theological grounds.”

The Canadian Council of Churches, a community of 20 denominations, stated in 1998: “The willingness, indeed the intent, to launch a nuclear attack in certain circumstances bespeaks spiritual and moral bankruptcy. … Nuclear weapons do not, cannot, deliver security—they deliver only insecurity and peril through their promise to annihilate that which is most precious, life itself and the global ecosystem upon which all life depends. Nuclear weapons have no moral legitimacy.”

In 1999, more than 7,000 people gathered in Cape Town, South Africa, for the Parliament of the World’s Religions and issued A Moral Call to Eliminate the Threat of Nuclear Wea­pons, which states: “The threat and use of nuclear weapons is incompatible with civilized norms, standards of morality, and humanitarian law which prohibit the use of inhumane weapons and those with indiscriminate effects.”

Definitive Catholic teaching on nuclear deterrence is found in the Second Vatican Council and subsequent statements by Pope John Paul II. The council affirmed that any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities “is a crime against God and [humanity].” Pope John Paul II, in a statement to the U.N. Special Session on Disarmament in 1982, said nuclear deterrence could be accepted only as “a step on the way towards progressive disarmament.” The American Catholic Bishops in their 1983 Pastoral Letter on War and Peace adopted this same position.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2008
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Sleepwalking in a Nuclear Minefield

As the 21st century unfolds, a new truth is gradually being recognized: Nuclear wea­pons and human security cannot co-exist.

Almost two decades after the end of the Cold War, there are still 25,000 nuclear weapons in existence, about 95 percent held by the United States and Russia with smaller numbers also possessed by the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, and Israel. All told, half of humanity still lives in a nuclear-weapons state. The total amount of money spent by these countries on their nuclear arsenals exceeds $12 trillion, a stupendous sum only a fraction of which could have resolved the issues of mass poverty, health deficiencies, and education neglect.

During the Cold War, the rationale for the superpowers’ buildup of strategic nuclear weapons was the theory of deterrence. The U.S. and the Soviet Union were each deterred from using their nuclear weapons, according to the theory, in the knowledge that the opponent had the capacity to strike back overwhelmingly. This stand-off was called Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). But with the post-Cold War emergence of the United States as the sole superpower, a new nuclear age has begun in which the war-fighting use of nuclear weapons is actually considered and threatened.

The Nuclear Posture Review, conducted by the Bush administration in 2001, established expansive plans to “revitalize” U.S. nuclear forces and all the elements that support them, within a new triad of capacities combining nuclear and conventional offensive strikes with missile defenses and nuclear-weapons infrastructure. Under the subsequent post-9/11 National Security Strategy, the administration said it would take “anticipatory action” (a euphemism for pre-emptive strikes) against enemies of the United States and has not ruled out using nuclear weapons, which remain a cornerstone of U.S. national security policy.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2008
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Happy (No) New (Nukes) Year!

The day after Christmas, President Bush signed an omnibus spending bill containing a major victory for all those committed to a world free of nuclear weapons: the complete elimination of funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program. This program would have led to a new generation of nuclear warheads, and possibly a new nuclear arms race, under the guise of ensuring the reliability of current nuclear warheads.


Congress saw through the program-despite its euphemistic [...]

Mitsuyoshi Toge: 'How Could I Ever Forget That Flash'

Mitsuyoshi Toge, born in Hiroshima in 1917, was a Catholic and a poet. He was in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city on August 6, 1945, when he was 24 years old. Toge died at the age of thirty-six. His first hand experience of the bomb, his passion for peace, and his realistic insight into the event made him a leading poet in Hiroshima. This poem is from Hiroshima-Nagasaki: A Pictorial Record of the Atomic Destruction (1978).

How could I ever forget [...]

News Bites

  • Travel Bans. The Treasury Department dropped the threat of a $34,000 fine against five Alliance of Baptists churches for allegedly violating the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba by sending mission teams there. Travel rules revised in 2005 have drastically curtailed the number of those licensed to travel to Cuba for religious activities.

  • Sunny Side Up. Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada has launched construction of the largest solar photovoltaic system ever built in North America. The system is expected to supply more than 25 percent of the base's annual power usage, according to a press release by project partner MMA Renewable Ventures.

  • Seek Peace. A coalition of more than 35 U.S. religious groups launched an initiative to "zero out funding for the production of new nuclear warheads," according to a recent press conference hosted by Peace Action West. In January, 74 religious organizations sent a statement to the Department of Energy opposing the construction of a new nuclear weapons complex.

  • Lending an Ear? The Vatican decided in May to restore the importance of Catholic-Muslim dialogue by returning the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue to its former status as a "separate department" after it was unceremoniously downgraded last year.

  • Home Schooling. Costa Rica will no longer send police to the former School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, for training. President Oscar Arias made the decision in May after meeting with representatives from School of the Americas Watch, which has linked the school with human rights abuses in Latin America.
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    Sojourners Magazine August 2007
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    Destructive Campaigns

    One thing missing from "A Nuclear Surge" (by Frida Berrigan, April 2007) is the money source. If we knew who the major investors in uranium mining and nuclear arms production were, we would know why the Bush administration is moving forward on a new generation of nuclear weapons.

    Also, regarding "Road Maps to Peace—or Destruction?" (by Charles Kimball, April 2007), I applaud Jimmy Carter's stand on Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. For far too long the United States has turned a blind eye to the brutal expulsion of the Palestinians from their homes. The campaign to cover up this destruction of a people is shocking.

    Susan Watkins
    Salem, Oregon

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    Sojourners Magazine July 2007
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    A Nuclear Surge

    In the Bush administration's new budget, programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, and early childhood development will be cut to make room for more than half a trillion dollars for the Pentagon and war-fighting. Against the backdrop of such enormous spending and a war that is draining $2 billion a week, the Department of Energy's "weapons activities" budget seems almost small at $6.4 billion.

    But that budget line points to a key White House policy objective that receives scant attention. Under President Bush, nuclear weapons—once viewed as an apocalyptic scourge in need of abolition, disarmament, or at the very least strict arms control—are baaaaack. In fact, they are surging forward.

    During the Cold War, spending on nuclear weapons averaged $4.2 billion a year (in current dollars). Now, almost two decades after the nuclear animosity between the two great superpowers ended, the United States is spending one and a half times the Cold War annual average on nuclear weapons.

    In 2001, the weapons-activities budget of the Department of Energy, which oversees the nuclear weapons complex through the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), totaled $5.19 billion. Since Bush's January 2002 "Nuclear Posture Review" asserted the urgent need for a "revitalized nuclear weapons complex" able "to design, develop, manufacture, and certify new warheads in response to new national requirements; and maintain readiness to resume underground testing," there has been a jump in nuclear spending of more than $1 billion a year. But it is just the beginning: The NNSA's five-year "National Security Plan" calls for annual increases to reach $7.76 billion a year by 2009.

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    Sojourners Magazine April 2007
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    60 Ways to Leave Your WMDs

    Former U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, now chair of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission in Sweden, presented the commission’s report to world leaders in June. The report, titled “Weapons of Terror,” puts forth 60 concrete steps for ridding the world of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, based on two years’ work by leading experts. First presented to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York, it was subsequently given to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Pope Benedict XVI, and the World Council of Churches to provide a concrete agenda for churches to use with their leadership statements against nuclear weapons and all weapons of mass destruction.

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    Sojourners Magazine September/October 2006
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    Words, Not War, With Iran

    As violence continues to rage in Iraq, a new confrontation is looming with neighboring Iran. The government of Iran seems determined to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, and the U.S. is determined to prevent them, including by a possible military attack. While we agree Iran should not obtain nuclear weapons, we come together as religious leaders to urge that the U.S. engage in direct negotiations with Iran as an alternative to military action in resolving the crisis.

    We are encouraged that the U.S. government is cooperating with European countries and international agencies. While we welcome the U.S. willingness to join multilateral talks with Iran, we believe that a strategy of direct U.S. diplomatic engagement with Iran without preconditions is the surest means of reducing the nuclear danger and enhancing security in the region. The United States should negotiate with Iran on a mutually acceptable settlement of the nuclear standoff while making it clear that Americans absolutely reject anti-Semitism and threats against Israel. In response to the real threat of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, strategic combinations of pressures and incentives must be seriously and persistently tried, beginning with direct negotiations.

    U.S. negotiations with Iran could also help resolve the crisis in Iraq. The U.S. should seek Iran’s support for international efforts to rebuild and stabilize Iraq, in conjunction with an orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops, the removal of foreign military bases, and the renouncing of any proprietary American claims on Iraqi oil and reconstruction contracts.

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    Sojourners Magazine August 2006
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    Back From The Brink?

    A funny thing happened on the way to possible war with Iran. After threatening Tehran for months and darkly warning that “all options are on the table,” the United States in June suddenly switched gears and joined with other major countries in offering to negotiate. This was a hopeful development that for the moment reduced the risk of military attack against Iran.

    The debate within the United States over how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program is by no means settled, however. Neoconservatives are pushing for a more confrontational approach, while pragmatists are urging patience and direct U.S. engagement. The outcome of this debate will have enormous implications for the prospects of peace, not only in Iran but more broadly in the region.

    The proposals offered to Iran by a coalition of European countries, the United States, Russia, and China tend to confirm what many critics in the U.S. have been saying about the best way to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Threatening sanctions and the use of force against Iran is counterproductive and will only harden the Iranian position. Incentives will be more successful than sanctions in gaining Tehran’s cooperation. Diplomatic engagement is the most realistic strategy for preventing the further spread of weapons and war in the region.

    THE PROPOSALS PRESENTED this spring to Iran are a step in the right direction, but they do not go far enough toward addressing the roots of the conflict. The incentives package reportedly allows Iran to purchase light-water nuclear reactors, which are less proliferation-prone than its current reactors. It includes a promise of Iranian membership in the World Trade Organization and a pledge to lift restrictions on the Iranian purchase of modern civil aircraft. The package also includes an implicit commitment from the United States to talk with Iran, although only indirectly as part of a multilateral process.

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    Sojourners Magazine August 2006
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