By Michael Drohan
2017 has been a momentous year, on the one hand for the great strides made in condemning and outlawing even the possession of nuclear weapons and on the other hand for the increased volatility of the international security situation. But first, to the progress towards abolition. For several years, a group called the Humanitarian Initiative to Ban Nuclear Weapons has been working on getting the UN to pass a resolution banning nuclear weapons, on the basis of the disastrous humanitarian consequences that would follow from their use. Need we anything more than a few minutes reflection on the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons in 1945 on the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima to convince us of this?
The United Nations has already outlawed the possession or use of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction as well as cluster bombs. A loophole remained with the most dangerous of all weapons of mass destruction, namely nuclear weapons. As a result of incredible work by the Humanitarian Initiative Group, in July 2017 122 nations at the General Assembly of the UN passed a resolution banning the use of nuclear weapons. The principal negative votes on the UN resolution came from the nuclear states, including the US, who have controlled the so-called Anti-Proliferation process for decades.
The success at the UN was followed by the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) on October 17, 2017. It was awarded to ICAN for its role in pushing the Humanitarian Initiative resolution through the UN.
The last great success in outlawing nuclear weapons came at a symposium in Rome in November entitled “International Symposium on Prospects for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons and for Integral Disarmament.” One of the most astonishing developments at this Symposium was the address of Pope Francis, in which he condemned even the possession of nuclear weapons as immoral. In his address to the Symposium he stated: we cannot “fail to be genuinely concerned by the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental effects of any employment of nuclear devices. If we take also into account the risk of an accidental detonation as a result of error of any kind, the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned”. He continued “international relations cannot be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation, and the parading of stockpiles of arms.”
This marked a significant development on the part of the Catholic Church in its attitude towards nuclear weapons. In 1983, the Bishops of the United States produced what is called a Peace Pastoral in which they accepted the rationale of deterrence as a justification for the possession of nuclear weapons. However, it was only as an interim measure on the way to the complete abolition of these weapons. In the intervening years, however, there has been but scant progress and the latest development is the US devoting $10 trillion to modernizing and miniaturizing the stockpile.
The other side of the ledger for 2017 is the increased volatility of the international situation. There is now a President of the United States who has said in regard to nuclear weapons, “What use are they if we do not use them.” Former Presidents have been at least more aware of the gravity of the possible use of nuclear weapons. Added to this is the belligerence and bellicosity of the US in the international arena. Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, threatens reprisals on any nation who voted to condemn the US for its proclaiming Jerusalem the capital of Israel. In recent days, General Mattis, the US Secretary of Defense, while in South Korea declared, “Storm clouds are gathering over the Korean Peninsula” and told his audience of soldiers, “‘the US military must do its part by being ready for war.” This was followed by the head of the Marines, General Robert Neller, declaring on December 23 in Norway, “I hope I’m wrong; but there’s a war coming.”
Do we need much more evidence that the population of the US is being softened up to accept that our fearless leaders have war on their mind? The Korean War came in the 1950s, the Vietnam War in the 1960s, Central America in the1980s, Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s; all disastrous failures inflicting pain and death on millions. But nothing was learned and here they go again ready to take on a nuclear armed state. Insanity seems to have infected the body politic.
As we advance into 2018, human survival is at risk from climate dangers, nuclear weapons and reckless politicians and military crackpots. Time is not on our side to dally in ridding the planet of the most dangerous weapons of mass destruction.
Consider joining the Anti-War Committee of the Thomas Merton Center to oppose the madness of war. We meet the fourth Saturday of the month at 11 AM at the Merton Center, 5129 Penn Avenue in Garfield.
Michael Drohan is a member of the Editorial Collective and of the Board of the Thomas Merton Center.