Solutions to Violent Conflict

Ethical Challenges of Global Zero

In Catholic, Nuclear disarmament on May 28, 2014 at 12:40 pm

Gerard F. Powers

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. Catholic bishops and other religious leaders have given much greater attention to the moral imperative of nuclear disarmament. But a gap exists in the ethical analysis needed to sustain this moral imperative. The quality of reflection on the ethics of nuclear use and deterrence needs to be matched by the development of an equally sophisticated ethics of disarmament.

Three issues exemplify this nuclear ethics gap.

First, an ethics of deterrence must be married to an ethics of disarmament. In their 1983 pastoral, The Challenge of Peace, the bishops proposed an “interim ethic” whereby nuclear deterrence could be morally acceptable if it is limited to deterring the use of nuclear weapons, is not based on achieving nuclear superiority, and is used as a step toward progressive disarmament. In 2013, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican foreign minister, seemed to question this conditional moral acceptance of deterrence, saying that the “chief obstacle to starting this work [on nuclear disarmament] is continued adherence to the doctrine of nuclear deterrence.”[1]

Catholic Universities and the Nuclear Threat

In Catholic, Nuclear disarmament on May 28, 2014 at 12:39 pm


Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.

Fifty-one years ago, Pope John XXIII issued his encyclical Pacem in Terris, which declared that “the arms race should cease” and urged that “all come to an agreement on a fitting program of disarmament.”

In revitalizing the Catholic voice first raised by Pope John, Catholic universities play a special role. We have an obligation to use our scholarly abilities to research and teach on the most pressing issues of life and death — including on the catastrophic power of nuclear weapons. We also have the opportunity to work in collaboration with the Bishops of our Church, the ethicists and academics from other universities, and with national security experts who’ve held the highest positions of responsibility in the United States government.

Moral and Spiritual Values for Nuclear Disarmament

In Catholic, Nuclear disarmament on May 28, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Margaret Pfeil

Over the last 30 years, the Catholic Church’s teaching on the morality of nuclear deterrence has developed in response to post-Cold War conditions, appealing to a vibrant, traditional value system.

In their 1983 pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace, the U.S. bishops judged nuclear deterrence to be morally acceptable only as an interim step toward progressive nuclear disarmament. In 1997, the Holy See’s representative at the United Nations stated: “Maintaining nuclear deterrence into the 21st Century will not aid but impede peace. Nuclear deterrence prevents genuine nuclear disarmament. It maintains an unacceptable hegemony over non-nuclear development for the poorest half of the world’s population.”[1]

More recently, in an address to the high-level U.N. meeting on nuclear disarmament on September 27, 2013, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, named the doctrine of nuclear deterrence as the main impediment to a phased and verifiable process of nuclear disarmament.


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