Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Catholics and disarmament

I apologize for neglecting this blog somewhat over the last week. On the one hand, no news about torture is good news; on the other, there are issues worth discussing that relate to just war, military policies, and so on that would be a good fit to address here.

One problem I have in addressing these matters is that I was a late "convert" to the fullness of the Church's teaching in regards to just war theory, the incalculable evil of our use of nuclear weapons in World War II, and similar matters. I tended to dismiss serious concerns about these things as mere Catholic liberalism, which to me was identified with liturgical laxity, indifference to Church teaching about sexual morality, and the like.

It took reading some books and watching some movies about the devastation our use of nuclear weapons caused at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and going from there to explore the ideas the Church had developed about the parameters of a just war, before I realized that my positions on these issues were not at all in harmony with the Catholic faith. But because I came to this realization rather late, I have not done the amount of study necessary to be able to discuss these issues with good clarity.

Take, for instance, the recent news reports about President Obama's intention to enter a nuclear disarmament treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. On the one hand, since the scenarios where it would ever be permissible, morally, to deploy a nuclear weapon are few if they even exist at all, it seems like having fewer of these frighteningly destructive weapons around would be a good thing.

But on the other hand, I'm quite sympathetic to the logic and reason of an opinion piece like this one:

A second lesson is that the NPT invites multiple opportunities to cheat by insisting that all states, including those suspected of violations, have a "right" to civilian nuclear technology.

As Henry Sokolski of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center reminds us, "so long as there is some conceivable civilian application [for a nuclear technology], and the offending activity or material is admitted to or declared to international inspectors, the international community ultimately presumes what it senses to be suspect must be treated as if it was peaceful and legitimate and, therefore, unactionable." This is one lesson of the Atoms for Peace folly of the 1950s.

To the extent that more states haven't gone nuclear, the reason has been U.S. power, not a treaty. Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Canada could build a bomb in a week, but instead they have long relied on America's nuclear umbrella to deter aggressors. A credible U.S. nuclear deterrent is the world's greatest antiproliferation weapon.

As for New Start, its most striking trait is its Cold War mentality. The pact emphasizes the relative size of the U.S and Russian arsenals, as if a nuclear exchange between these two countries is the world's greatest current threat. The treaty is thus of little strategic consequence, though the Senate should ask why its ceiling on 800 U.S. launchers (many of which now carry conventional payloads) is below the 860 that the Pentagon prefers.

Is there any proper defensive reason to maintain a large nuclear arsenal? Is the creation of pacts and treaties just window-dressing, ignoring that the threat of a rogue nation's nuclear attack might be greater than any threat of a nuclear strike between larger countries? If Catholics think that we would likely be acting immorally to deploy nuclear weapons even defensively, is there any justification in retaining a large and aging arsenal of these weapons? Does the fact that the technology exists and is widespread and unlikely to disappear change the moral considerations at all, as concerns disarmament?

I have heard some Catholics say that disarmament, including unilateral disarmament, is the only morally correct approach to nuclear weapons. I would really like to hear from those better equipped to discuss the moral theology than I am as to whether that is true or not.

7 comments:

  1. I'm afraid I've been slacking, too. But Holy Week is as good an excuse as any!

    I agree that the entire theory of just war is important to discuss. But, like you, I'm just starting to get a few ducks in a row on that topic. I'm not entirely sure where to start.

    Any suggestions - from Red or Mark, or from any of our readers?

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  2. P.S. Zippy has an intriguing couple of posts on the topic.

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  3. RE: Nuclear Weapons

    A nuclear weapon is not inherently evil. However the Church teaches that the use of a nuclear weapon against a city is inherently evil. Apparently our country still targets Russian cities with nuclear weapons. This is an evil. This practice should stop immediately.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  4. "Is there any proper defensive reason to maintain a large nuclear arsenal?"

    I think it is dependent on what type of nuclear weapons you are talking about. Looking at Church teaching regarding this, it would stand to reason that maintaining a large arsenal of strategic ICBM's aimed at cities would be morally wrong. Holding an arsenal of smaller tactical nuclear weapons to be used in battlefield situations may be morally permissible (as, in my understanding, these tactical type weapons are the only type that are permissible to use).

    "Is the creation of pacts and treaties just window-dressing, ignoring that the threat of a rogue nation's nuclear attack might be greater than any threat of a nuclear strike between larger countries?"

    Not if those pacts and treaties are aimed at reducing the number of strategic nuclear weapons held by the countries involved.

    "If Catholics think that we would likely be acting immorally to deploy nuclear weapons even defensively, is there any justification in retaining a large and aging arsenal of these weapons?"

    I believe, under Catholic teaching, that we could use smaller nuclear weapons in defensive situations on the battlefield. I personally haven't read a whole lot on this, besides what the Catechism says regarding nuclear weapons, so if anyone has anything in Catholic moral teaching that would contradict this I would love to read it to further my understanding.

    "Does the fact that the technology exists and is widespread and unlikely to disappear change the moral considerations at all, as concerns disarmament?"

    I don't think so. Mutually assured destruction hinges on the idea that we are willing to kill civilians and destroy cities. If we prescribe to the moral law and reject this idea, having these things around only likens the chance that someone will use them.

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  5. RE: Disarmament and pacifism

    It is interesting (and confusing) that Catholics who describe themselves as progressives advocate unilateral disarmament and complete non-violent pacifism as the true post Vatican II Catholic moral position. The blog Vox Nova is running a series of articles on this subject now. Progressives seem to infer that the Faith before Vatican II was somehow corrupt, even evil. After Vatican II the Faith became purified and in effect a new, superior religion.

    On the other hand Catholic Conservatives seem to argue that the possession and use of nuclear weapons by the USA shortened and won WWII (thus saving lives); and also won the Cold War. They (or at least some) appear to view Vatican II as an un-holy aberration from the Ture Faith which is best ignored.

    And then there is the middle ground, perhaps best exemplified by the current Pontiff. Vatican II is seen by these "middlemen" as a true Council guided by the Holy Spirit; but without a rupture or change in the Faith after the Council.

    If we take the middle ground then I think (and I am an uneducated dummy) we can be guided by the following three points:

    1. The Just War theory stands as the definitive moral guide.

    2. Individuals and nations have, under certain conditions, the right even the duty, to use force to defend themselves and other innocents in the face of unjust aggression.

    3. Radical pacifism wherein there is a complete renunciation of force to defend innocents from unjust aggression (as in a Father defending his children from would be murderers) is not only outside the Catholic Tradition; but is in itself immoral.

    From the above we can deduce that it is right and just for the USA to disarm itself in so far of weapons designed and aimed at civilians; but that our Country can maintain arms for self defense and the defense of others from unjust aggression.

    Also we can deduce it is right and just for a citizen to own and bear arms to defend himself, his family and neighbors from unjust aggression.

    My deductions will no doubt annoy both Catholic conservatives and progressives.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  6. Read the book Right and Reason by Fagothey for a proper understanding of moral theology.

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  7. Thank you, Matthew; I appreciate book recommendations.

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