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.