by Nicholas Mele
November 23 – 26, Pope Francis will visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki nine months before the 75th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of those two cities. Two years ago, at an international symposium on nuclear weapons and disarmament, the pope made clear his view of nuclear weapons: “…the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned.” Pax Christi International has just released a statement urging the Pope to “call for concrete steps toward nuclear disarmament” and requesting that he call on “the government of Japan and all states of Northeast Asia to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.” Every U.S. Catholic should urge their bishops to call for the U.S. government to take concrete steps toward disarmament and to join the treaty.
The Vatican was one of the first states to ratify the treaty after it was approved by the U.N. General Assembly in July 2017. Throughout the drafting and ratification processes, the nuclear-weapon states and most nations protected by their nuclear “umbrella” have opposed the treaty or absented themselves from discussing or acting to ratify it. At the same time, many citizens of these states are expressing their support for the treaty. In the United States, four states and nearly forty cities have passed resolutions endorsing the Back from the Brink campaign, which advocates eliminating all nuclear weapons. Pax Christi USA, which endorses this campaign, has long opposed the possession and use of nuclear weapons.
The Pope’s visit to Hiroshima has particular meaning for Pax Christi, which is holding its World Gathering in Hiroshima in May 2020 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of its founding at the end of the war in Europe. Since 1945, Pax Christi members around the world have worked for disarmament and reconciliation while developing the spirituality of nonviolence. Pope Francis has several opportunities while in Japan this month to proclaim again the immorality of developing and deploying nuclear weapons of any type. It is time for people of faith to demand our leaders return to recently cancelled arms control treaties and begin negotiating sharp reductions in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.
Since 2017 the U.S. has withdrawn from long-standing arms control treaties, notably the multilateral Iran nuclear deal, the bilateral Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and perhaps soon the multilateral Open Skies Treaty. These actions allow for the propagation of nuclear weapons worldwide and contradict our government’s ongoing support for the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which many non-nuclear states now believe has been used by the nuclear states to shift attention from their failure to reduce their arsenals. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stated in a 2018 paper: “The United States and other nuclear powers must move away from reliance on nuclear weapons for security. USCCB urges the administration and Congress to view arms control treaties not as ends in themselves but as steps along the way to achieving a mutual, verifiable global ban on nuclear weapons. A global ban is more than a moral ideal; it should be a policy goal.” Unfortunately, the background paper containing that declaration is one few Catholics have read or seen. It is time for our bishops to follow Pope Francis and take a bold stand for total nuclear disarmament.
Nick Mele, a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer (or US Diplomat) has been an active member of Pax Christi USA for decades and served on Pax Christi USA’s National Council. He was a founding staff member of the Nonviolent Peaceforce, an international organization that protects the lives of peacemakers and noncombatants around the world. He writes frequently for faith-based periodicals on foreign affairs and national security issues.