This week we take another look at the anti-nuclear weapon movement from the perspective of America magazine, the Catholic journal that has special relevance as the first Jesuit pontiff of Catholics is moving the Church’s formal position on nuclear weapons actively toward ‘abolition’ and a legal, international ban on nuclear weapons
Fr. James Martin, Editor, SJ
At the Hague, Marshall Islands former Foreign Minister Tony de Brum said he watched one of the U.S. nuclear tests as a 9-year-old boy while fishing with his grandfather off the Rongelap Atoll. It was the testing of a thermonuclear bomb in 1954, 1,000 times the strength of the Hiroshima bomb. “The entire sky turned blood red,” he told judges in an emotional speech. After the explosion, he testified, it began to rain radioactive fallout at Rongelap. Within hours, the atoll was covered with a fine, white, powder-like substance.
“No one knew it was radioactive fallout,” said de Brum. “The children thought it was snow. And the children played in the snow. And they ate it.” De Brum testified that some of his country’s islands were “vaporized” by the tests.
Pope Francis has frequently spoken of the church’s revived concerns with the status quo on nuclear deterrence and the lack of progress on disarmament. Last year during his historic address before the U.N. General Assembly in New York Pope Francis presented the Church’s call for the “complete prohibition” of nuclear weapons and condemned the doctrine of deterrence. “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, which would end up as ‘nations united by fear and distrust,’” he said. “There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the Nonproliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.”
- The United Nations’ highest court on Oct. 5 rejected nuclear disarmament cases filed by the tiny Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands against Great Britain, India and Pakistan. The International Court of Justice, in a close decision, ruled that the Marshall Islands failed to prove that a legal dispute over disarmament existed between it and three nuclear powers before the case was filed, “consequently the court lacks jurisdiction.” The 16-judge bench ruled there was no evidence that the Marshalls had been involved in a prior dispute with any of the three nuclear powers or sought bilateral negotiations on the issue.
The groundbreaking suit was first brought to the I.C.J. by the Marshall Islands in 2014. The international court had been perceived as a possible equalizing option for small nations hoping to force nuclear powers to make more progress on disarmament. The Marshall Islands originally filed cases against all nine nations that have declared or are believed to possess nuclear weapons: The United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. But only the cases against Britain, India and Pakistan got to the preliminary stage of proceedings. The I.C.J. had refused to take up cases against the other countries as they did not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.
Phon van den Biesen, a Dutch lawyer who represented the Marshall Islands, said he was deeply disappointed by the rulings.
“If the court keeps creating this sort of threshold, what is the court for?” he said. “It’s a dispute that is clear to all of the world except for eight judges here.”
Resolution Introduced to Hold Nuclear Ban Conference
Text / UN resolution to negotiate, in 2017, a treaty banning nuclear weapons
- The United States is leading efforts to prevent any disarmament negotiations over which the U.S., and other states friendly to the U.S., do not hold veto power.
- A security agreement at the U.N. for a nuclear weapons ban would be a long process, beginning with a vote on the initial resolution text by a U.N. committee on disarmament around Nov. 1 that could send it to the assembly in December.
- The U.S. seeks alternative resolution aimed at banning “nuclear tests”
On Thursday, 13 October, a cross-regional group of nations formally submitted a draft resolution to the First Committee of the UN General Assembly to establish a mandate for negotiations in 2017 on a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.
The resolution acts on a recommendation made in August by a UN open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament in Geneva. More than 100 nations participated in the working group, with an overwhelming majority expressing their support for the prohibition of nuclear weapons as a first step towards elimination.
Co-sponsors of the resolution include Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa.
The resolution proposes two negotiating conferences to be held over 20 days in March, June and July 2017, at the UN Headquarters in New York. All UN member states, along with international organizations and members of civil society, will be invited to participate. The negotiations could continue into 2018.
A treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons would close the “legal gap” in the existing regime governing nuclear weapons. It is an anomaly that these are the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited under international law in a comprehensive and universal manner.
Chemical weapons, biological weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions are all expressly prohibited. Most nations agree the prohibition of nuclear weapons is the only appropriate course of action in light of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of their use.
Via LASG — Faith communities and ecumenical councils such as the World Council of Churches have been very active and effective participants in this process. Especially here in New Mexico it is important to note the very clear position of the Catholic Church. This past Monday, for example, the Holy See called nuclear deterrence a “tragic illusion.” “Nuclear arms offer a false sense of security and the uneasy peace promised by nuclear deterrence is a tragic illusion,” said the Vatican, as the Catholic News Agency reported. (Original statement here in French.) “‘The indefinite possession of nuclear weapons is morally wrong,’ an affront to the ‘entire framework of the United Nations’ and a contradiction to its vocation of service to humanity and the global common good,” the agency reported.