Pope Francis: Do More To Ban Nuclear Weapons

Pope Francis: Do More To Ban Nuclear Weapons December 8, 2014

In the post-Cold War world, most people don’t spend too much time thinking about nuclear weapons. But they still exist, and are fearsome. There are still people who are working for a global ban on nuclear weapons.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative, an American nuclear security NGO, was gracious enough to invite me along with other religious journalists, to its Vienna conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.

The big highlight of the first morning has been a message from Pope Francis, delivered by Abp. Silvano Maria Tomasi, the Holy See’s nuncio to the United Nations in Geneva.

In the message, Pope Francis reiterated the Holy See’s longstanding advocacy against the existence of nuclear weapons. The message reiterated longstanding Catholic positions that the world needs to move towards the abolition of nuclear weapons; that peace is not merely a balance of power but true justice. The Pope said that the world needs to move beyond the mere ideal of the abolition of nuclear weapons–enshrined in article 6 of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty–and take concrete steps towards meeting that goal.

During the Cold War, the Holy See’s policy was that possession of nuclear weapons was immoral, but it made allowances for possession if two conditions were met: if the goal of possession is to prevent war, and if it was only a step towards complete disarmament, opening a door for the deterrence-based possession of the Western bloc.

The Pope’s official message did not explicitly close this loophole, but it did offer a strong statement that “nuclear deterrence cannot be the basis for peaceful coexistence”, and Vatican officials who did not wish to be identified because they were not speaking officially for the Holy See have told me that the feeling in the Vatican is that current nuclear states are not meeting the conditions of the deterrence loophole, since they have not taken enough steps towards complete disarmament; these officials also stressed the risks of proliferation and nuclear arms races related to the continuing existence of nuclear weapons.

So while the Vatican is not (yet?) officially calling possession of nuclear weapons immoral full stop, this message by the Pope brings the Holy See as close as it’s ever been to that stance.

The conference goes on for a further two days, and so look forward to me writing more on the topic.


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  • It will never happen, and if it did it might actually cause more wars and bloodshed. Possesion of nuclear weapons causes deterence. They have only been used once in their entire history. You can’t say that for any other weapon.

    • I can’t even say that for nuclear weapons. Depending on whose history you believe, and your definition of “nuclear weapons”, atomic technology has been used somewhere between two and seven times just by America alone, and likely by other nations as well.

      Big atomic weapons? Twice- both in Japan at the end of WWII and never since.

      Tactical battlefield nukes yielding less than a kiloton blast? Possibly twice, though both may have also been fuel-air bombs that have a similar signature and yeild (including radioactivity)- the attack on Tripoli and the invasion of Grenada.

      Most recently, depleted uranium bullets (which pack more punch than lead due to the density of uranium, and also stick around in the environment far longer) were used in Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

      So while once is certainly false, if you’re talking about the big region-destroying blasts, 3 megaton and above, they’ve only be used twice.

      • I counted the two atomic bombs that ENDED WWII (my emphasis on ended, because who knows how many deaths and destruction would have happened otherwise) as one incident. I have no idea what your “seven” times refers to.

        Depleted uranium bullets are not atomic weapons and have no more destructive capability than tungsten, which is also widely used. Depleted Uranium bullets are not explosive in any way, nor do they create any nuclear reaction. The only reason they are used is because they have slightly better penetration capability through armor. As to the environment, because they have a slight radiation (less than what you would get from sitting in the sun) they are easier to find and cleanup than other heavy metals, which have the same environmental and health issues. The attack on depleted urtanium bullets is based on pure ignorance. Which is par for the course when it comes to environmentalists.

        By the way, depelted uranium is used (or was, not sure if current)in airplane design as ballast. They are part of the wing tips of every airplane.

        • Which is why I said, depending on who you talk to and what your definitions are.

          The other two of my seven (depleted uranium being three, the original attacks on Japan being two, add up to five) might have been low yield tactical nukes, or just as likely might have been high yield fuel-air devices (which is the Pentagon’s current story). They’re “bunker busters”, take out a city block or so.

          • No, no Ted. The depleted uranium are specialized bullets, and thousands got fired in both Iraq wars. They are not atomic or nuclear in any way other than the base material being uranium, and as the term goes, it’s depleted of radioactivity. Though not quite depleted. They still retain somesmall radioactivity, something on the order of what the sun puts out. The bunker busters probably use depleted uranium (though I don’t know for a fact). The reason they would use depleted uranium is because it penetrates dense materials without fracturing. It has nothing to do with nuclear reactions. By the way I’m an engineer who’s designed with heavy metals for various application. What you might be confusing with bunker busters is that some types use themobaric explosions, but that has no depleted uranium in it, as far as i know. Themobaric explosions are also not nuclear, but they do generate quite a punch, and perhaps some people confuse it with nuclear explsions. They are not the same thing.

          • Manny, you think I’m arguing with you, I am not.

            On the depleted uranium- like I said, that’s arguable. The bullets were created usually by a nuclear process back at the factory while producing power as a byproduct- or another way to look at it is that the reactor was producing power and the bullets are a byproduct. My defense was of my “two to seven, depending on who you ask” numbering methodology.

            I think we’re agreed on the two explosions in Japan.

            Thermobaric explosions and small yield tactical nukes, from evidence *after* the explosion, are very similar, but for completely different reasons. A small yield tactical nuke is an actual nuclear device. A thermobaric explosion is just atomized fuel sprayed out and then ignited. What radioactivity is in the second comes entirely from radioactive impurities in the fuel itself, NOT from the explosion- but the explosion itself is ferocious enough to drive any impurities in the fuel into the surrounding debris.

            That’s why 5 of my 7 are debatable, but I didn’t say I wanted to debate them.

          • I wasn’t really arguing. Just trying to instruct since I have some knowledge in this area. Peace, my friend. 🙂

    • Sophia Sadek

      It could be argued that the US used nuclear weapons on other occasions without actually dropping he bombs. After all, bullying another nation with the threat of nuclear devastation is another way to use the weapon. Both Soviet Russia and Communist China were bullied by Truman and Eisenhower respectively.

      • If we didn’t use it, then we didn’t use it. Your logic is for the birds. And siding with the Communists? Frankly your anti Americanism appalling.

        • Sophia Sadek

          Threatening a country with a weapon is a way of employing the weapon. I do not side with the Communists despite the fact that they never dropped their nuclear devices on live urban targets. If there is any example of nuclear deterrence, it is on the side of the Communists, not on the side of the US.

          • You don’t even know what the word deterence means. The fact that no atomic bomb has ever been dropped on the US seems to me that deterence worked quite well. Kudos to Harry Truman for his deterence rhetoric. No country with an atomic bomb has ever been invaded. Why do you think Iran is so eager to get them? Putin just a few weeks ago as he sent troops into Ukraine made sure he stipulated that Russian still had atomic weapons. If Ukraine had atomic weapons, they might now have been invaded. Certainly history suggests so.
            Sophia, I really don’t want to continue this. Your ignorance of military matters is just too apparent.

          • Sophia Sadek

            You only think of deterrence in the notion of deterring an invasion of the US. You fail to see how nuclear weapons have been used to deter invasions by the US.

          • My original point was that deterence works all around. Thank you for remaking my point. 😉
            Peace Sophia. I wish you no ill will. 🙂

  • Sophia Sadek

    My father worked on the Manhattan Project, so I have had a life-long interest in nuclear policy issues. One of the things that I saw as extraordinarily hypocritical was the verbal assault on Saddam Hussein’s regime over issues of weapons of mass destruction by a super power that has actually used such weapons in the past and has plans to use them again in the future. In order for the pope to be a credible voice in the nuclear weapons debate, he would need to recognize the vicious and brutal nature of the use of those weapons when they were first developed.

    • May I ask what’s the difference in using an atomic bomb and the carpet bombing of the German city of Dresden that occured just before the atomic bomb was fully developed? Dresden was reduced to rubble and arguably worst than what happened in the two Japanese cities.

      • Sophia Sadek

        There were more firebombings than that, of course. The description of the bombing of Hamburg are horrific. Nuernberg, Leipzig, Muenchen, and other cities were subjected to mass slaughter. Japanese cities went up in flames as well. The Brits started the carnage in Germany in retaliation for the bombing of Coventry by the Germans. Curtis LeMay linked his exploits in Japan to retaliation for the Japanese surprise attack on the military installation at Pearl Harbor.

        • You didn’t answer the question. What difference is it between that and an atomic bomb?

          • Sophia Sadek

            The amount of destruction and the number of casualties in a nuclear blast are greater than in a conventional firebombing. The environment is poisoned with radioactive debris. The cost of developing the nuclear weapon are greater, especially given environmental contamination in the country that creates the weapon.

            Indiscriminate strategic bombing is morally reprehensible no matter what kind of weapon is employed. It is the mark of a military that has gone off the rails.

          • The mark of a military that has gone off the rails?
            Hmm, were the Germans when they bombed England off the rails? Were the Japanese when they bombed Pearl Harbor off the rails? It seems to me that bombing is par for the course in war. We are bombing ISIS right now, and if ISIS had the ability, they would bomb us today. Actually Al Qaida did the next best thing on 9/11/01.
            Your moral outrage seems to be directed toward the winner, or is it just an inherent anti-Americanism, I don’t know? But the facts are clear. The Allies bombed Dresden and Hamburg and other cities, and they won the war. We bombed Japan and we won the war. Off the rails? Hardly. Quite reasonable and logical.

          • Sophia Sadek

            The bombing of Pearl Harbor was not an indiscriminate strategic bombing. It was a preemptive attack on a military installation. The Germans were off the rails when they indiscriminately bombed London and Coventry. Just because they were off the rails does not excuse the US and England going off the rails as well.

  • Mike Blackadder

    “So while the Vatican is not (yet?) officially calling possession of nuclear weapons immoral full stop, this message by the Pope brings the Holy See as close as it’s ever been to that stance.”

    I don’t know that I agree with that assessment. It seems perfectly reasonable given the previous position of the Holy See to assert that nations who possess nuclear weapons are failing to use a time of nuclear peace to diminish nuclear capability to a satisfactory extent (to the point that the nuclear programs of many nations are in fact immoral), nor do I see any reason why the Church would at any point disagree with Francis’ assertion that we ought not be satisfied with nuclear deterrence as a basis for peace. Why would we assume, based on these assertions that the Vatican is moving towards an irresponsible approach to disarmament in contradiction of its own wisdom on the matter?