by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
On Friday, July 7, the United States and the world learned that President Biden had bypassed Congress and decided unilaterally to give Ukraine cluster bombs, shells, packed with 72 armor-piercing, killing bomblets which can strike from 20 miles away and scatter these bomblets over vast areas, and remain functional for years.
Immediate reactions came from all sides. Former Senator Patrick Leahy and Senator Jeff Merkley co-wrote their opinions in a Washington Post opinion piece two days later: “Sending cluster munitions to Ukraine would not only reverse decades of U.S. policy and practice. It would kill more civilians and exacerbate the very problem we are seeking to address when we provide millions of dollars for ordnance clearance.”
The New York Times weighed in with a lead editorial on July 11 entitled “The flawed moral logic of sending cluster munitions to Ukraine.” It said: “In the face of widespread global condemnation … [the 2008 UN Convention on Cluster Munitions, signed by 123 nations – not including the U.S.] these are not weapons that a nation with the power and influence of the United States should be spreading.”
Predictably, others applauded Biden’s decision, or at least found sufficient justification to agree with it. Curiously, at the NATO summit meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania this week, instead of this being a major and divisive topic, very little mention seems to have been made of it. And of course President Biden himself defended his decision saying that it was necessary for the survival of Ukraine. The incredible irony here is that early in the war the United States condemned Russia’s use of cluster bombs as “war crimes” and the International Criminal Court then launched an investigation.
Some questions and comments are not being mentioned but are of concern for all people who strive for peace, particularly Pax Christi.
- First and above, no one seems to have mentioned the universally accepted moral judgment that the end does not justify the means. Or in our Christian language, “the end and the means must always reflect the values of the Nonviolent Christ.”
- Secondly, why are our U.S. bishops not now questioning Biden’s pro-life credentials as many did with regard to his stance on abortion?
- Next, on a practical level, how is it that a country with a military budget of $842 billion seems to be running out of conventional weapons? Or NATO countries with their own large military budgets?
- Surely, Biden’s decision takes us still further from any possibility of a negotiated peace process.
- Finally, is there not a real and present danger for this drastic escalation in battlefield armaments to slide into the “necessity for tactical nuclear weapons” to save Ukraine?
The world shrank back when Vladimir Putin warned of his nuclear capability as just such a possibility early in this failing and enormously costly “three-day military operation” more than 18 months ago. Many offered outraged condemnations of this threat and promises of international reprisals were Putin to act on it. Clearly a nuclear option would go beyond what everyone has feared since August 6 and 9, 1945 in Japan. Tragically, the “logic” of it remains a distinct possibility now that the United States has crossed this threshold, doing what more than 100 nations, including our allies, have rejected in the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
Those who have lived through the decades of this nuclear age remember how only gradually humanity, including U.S. Americans, have come to abhor the very thought of ever again using such weapons. Despite this universal repudiation, our country has a stockpile of approximately 3,700 nuclear warheads. (Russia has 5,800. ) There are more countries in the “nuclear club” than 30 or 40 years ago.
Today the question has to be asked yet again: in the face of this impending danger of a nuclear exchange, have we not learned anything from this history?
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.