Just Peace and Nuclear Disarmament

Responding to: The Pope and the Bomb

By: Maryann Cusimano Love

February 13, 2020

Pope Francis visited Nagasaki and Hiroshima, where the United States dropped atomic bombs nearly 75 years ago and condemned both the use and the possession of nuclear weapons as immoral. He met with atomic bomb survivors to bring attention to the horrific humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons even today. And he issued a call to action to move toward nuclear disarmament.

How can religious actors affect international policy on nuclear disarmament? As I discuss in my recent book, Global Issues beyond Sovereignty, religious actors bring three “I’s” to global issues such as nuclear disarmament: institutions, ideas, and imagination. As the world’s largest religion, Catholics have faith-based institutions around the world such as universities, parishes, schools, religious orders, learned societies, charities, hospitals, and Catholic peace organizations such as Caritas Internationalis, Pax Christi, Catholic Relief Services, the Community of San Egidio, etc. The Catholic Peacebuilding Network has co-sponsored multiple events in order to raise awareness of nuclear disarmament issues. We collaborate with secular groups and former nuclear “hawks” who now call for deep nuclear disarmament, such as President Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz, Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, Ambassador Jim Goodby, and Senator Sam Nunn. Mobilizing these transnational advocacy networks is not easy or automatic. But the Church has a track record of success, working in global coalitions and advancing humanitarian arms control, from the bans on landmines and cluster munitions to landmark nuclear disarmament agreements such as the New START treaty. The U.S. Catholic bishops, Pope Francis, religious orders and associations all call on President Trump to extend the New START treaty, the last remaining treaty restraining the nuclear arms race. 

Yet often the most powerful contributions religious actors bring to nuclear disarmament are the other two I’s, ideas and imagination. Ideas are the religious norms and reasons for actions on global issues today. Pope Francis noted that the immorality of nuclear weapons possession and use is being added to the Catholic catechism as a pro-life issue. The final “I,” imagination, uses the power of religious inspiration to envision and create a more positive peace.

These three “I’s” contribute to a new nuclear ethics to move toward deeper nuclear disarmament. I propose an ethics of just peace to guide us toward a world free of nuclear weapons in my current book; an excerpt appears in a forthcoming volume edited by the Berkley Center’s Rev. Drew Christiansen, S.J. Just war tradition (JWT) tells us how to limit war, but it tells us nothing about how to build peace. Nuclear weapons violate JWT. They do not discriminate between combatants and noncombatants, and they are not proportionate. But while JWT tells us why nuclear weapons are impermissible, it offers no ethical or practical guidance for removing them in nuclear disarmament. In contrast, just peace principles and practices have worked in war zones around the world, helping to disarm and transform relationships of conflict into more sustainable, equitable relationships. I argue that we must now apply just peace principles and practices to nuclear disarmament.

In my research, I offer the following just peace criteria, drawn from interviews and studies of grass roots Christian institutions and peacebuilders: just cause (protecting and defending human life and dignity and the common good); right intention (aiming to create a positive peace); participation (respecting human dignity means including societal stakeholders—state and non-state actors, women, as well as previous parties to the conflict); restoration (repair of the human as well as the physical infrastructure); right relationship (creating or restoring just social relationships both vertically and horizontally); reconciliation (healing the communal and individual wounds of war); and sustainability (developing structures that can help peace endure over time). Like strands in a rope, just peace principles build upon one another and are most successfully put into practice when applied together. 

Religious actors help to expand participation in nuclear disarmament. Participation can take many practical forms, such as dialogue, deep respectful listening, common action on projects of mutual concern, formal structures for ensuring regular, multi stakeholder input. Cold War disarmament processes were undertaken by elite government arms negotiators (primarily white men) in the United States and the USSR, excluding others impacted by nuclear weapons. The Nunn-Lugar, Cooperative Threat Reduction program expanded participation to include people in Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine. Women are marginalized in these security processes, and women of faith have been even more excluded, as documented in our Berkley Center book Women, Religion, and Peacebuilding: Illuminating the Unseen

In contrast, the Catholic Church is working with civil society to expand participation to include the voices of women and children harmed by the possession of nuclear weapons, by nuclear use and testing, by the long-lasting environmental contamination which nuclear weapons bring to the communities that live near nuclear weapons sites and mines. By supporting the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons Conferences and the Ban Treaty, and by meeting with women, children, and indigenous survivors of atomic weapons, Pope Francis works to expand participation and build a more just peace. Extending the New START treaty now will also extend the participation and regular dialogue between U.S. and Russian arms inspectors and will continue the forum for resolving disagreements and addressing concerns, particularly over new technologies. 

Building a just peace is possible and practical. Religious actors remind us it is also our moral obligation. New dangers from nuclear weapons require new responses. Deeper disarmament requires deeper relationships. Just peace principles and practices provide important new ethical approaches to nuclear disarmament.

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Just Peace and Nuclear Disarmament