A crowd of people protest against nuclear weapons in Japan


Cardinal Peter Turkson, Policy Experts Discuss Nuclear Abolition and Integral Disarmament at Vatican Panel

By: Henry D. Brill

December 16, 2020

Cardinal Peter Turkson joined faith leaders and policy experts to discuss prospects for a world free from nuclear weapons at a panel discussion hosted by the Vatican on December 16.

Panelists continued the discussion started in A World Free of Nuclear Weapons, proceedings from the 2017 Vatican symposium where Pope Francis first condemned the very possession of nuclear weapons. 

Achieving a world free from nuclear weapons is a critical priority for the international community, according to the panel. 

“The arms race wastes resources that could be better used to benefit the integral development of people and to protect the natural environment,” explained Cardinal Turkson, who heads the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

​Transformative Thinking

Ongoing events—especially the COVID-19 pandemic—emphasize the need for transformative thinking when it comes to security and solidarity, panelists said. 

“COVID-19 proves the urgent need for a globalization of solidarity and for greater investments in integral security and new models of global cooperation,” said Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Holy See secretary for relations with states. 

The panel also highlighted how challenges in the international order affect legal prospects for nuclear disarmament. 

“In international relations and within the new multipolar order, a climate of fear, mistrust, and opposition prevails,” explained Cardinal Turkson. “The legal framework for nonproliferation and disarmament within governments is weakening.”

For his part, Archbishop Gallagher stressed the need to move beyond nuclear deterrence, commenting,

The international community is called to adopt forward-looking strategies to promote the goal of international peace and security.

​Legal Framework

One new direction is the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), set to go into effect in January 2021. 

“The TPNW, because it is rooted in humanitarian principles and humanitarian law, demands that we protect civilians in warfare,” explained Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. 

Fihn—whose organization won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize—emphasized how the treaty is an important step toward nuclear abolition, commenting, 

Each country that joins this treaty will take us closer to a world without nuclear weapons.

The security of nuclear weapons remains a priority even as the international community moves toward disarmament, according to the panel. 

“While nuclear weapons continue to exist, we must ensure they remain safe and secure lest they fall into the wrong hands of nuclear terrorists or madmen,” said Rose Gottemoeller, former deputy secretary general of NATO.

​Hope for Abolition

The panel, while attuned to ongoing challenges in politics and policy, also expressed hope for the future of nuclear abolition. 

“Building a world free from nuclear weapons is central to Pope Francis’ vision of a post-pandemic world built in solidarity,” explained Rev. Drew Christensen, S.J., a senior fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. 

Christiansen, who co-edited A World Free from Nuclear Weapons, also emphasized the progress made by the TPNW and the Vatican symposium.

"The treaty's adoption and the symposium were moments of hope for our troubled world," explained Christiansen, who then shared selections from the volume, including the words of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jody Williams. 

Hope is a central theme in Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship, the papal encyclical released in October 2020. Christiansen concluded the panel by reading the words of Pope Francis: 

The ultimate goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons becomes both a challenge and a moral and humanitarian imperative.

This event was sponsored by the Vatican's Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development in partnership with the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University; Georgetown University Press; the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the Keough School of Global Affairs, University of Notre Dame; and the Catholic Peacebuilding Network.

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