Nuclear weapons must go now, says Vatican's UN rep

Archbishop Francis Chullikatt

Archbishop Francis Chullikatt

July 18, 2011

KANSAS CITY, MO. — Nuclear weapons have "threatened humanity" for far too long and it is urgent to now move to a "world without nuclear weapons," said the Vatican's ambassador to the United Nations.

"Now is the time for a profound rethinking and change in our perception of nuclear weapons. Nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation are essential from a humanitarian point of view," Archbishop Francis Chullikatt said July 1.

The time is right to "begin addressing in a systematic way the legal, political and technical requisites for a nuclear weapons-free world," he said.

However, the world's leaders lack the political will to remove "this scourge," he told an audience in Kansas City.

Chullikatt outlined the Church's "growing abhorrence" of nuclear weapons and stressed that its condemnation of them has always been grounded in respect for life and the dignity of the human person.

Catholic teaching has always emphasized the need to make the world safe from nuclear weapons, "not to make the world safer through the threat of nuclear weapons," he said.

As development needs across the globe are outpacing the resources being devoted to them, the expense of building nuclear arsenals is also "nothing short of sinful" and the "grossest misplacement of priorities," the archbishop said.

Chullikatt was invited by Bishop Robert Finn to speak July 1 about the Catholic Church's teaching on nuclear deterrence, the use of nuclear weapons and the goal of a nuclear weapon free world.

The conference was organized by the diocesan Human Rights Office to explain Church teaching in light of growing concerns over local construction of a $1 billion plant for the manufacture and assembly of non-nuclear parts for nuclear weapons.

Chullikatt said there are currently 20,000 nuclear weapons in 111 sites in 14 countries. Each year, countries spend $100 billion on maintaining and modernizing their nuclear arsenals.

The Church's moral acceptance of nuclear deterrence, he said, was always conditioned on progress toward elimination of nuclear weapons.

He acknowledged that some steps toward disarmament have been made, but said these efforts were not enough.

The START treaty between the United States and Russia "only makes small reductions and leaves intact a vast nuclear arsenal on both sides, with many nuclear weapons held on constant alert status," he said.

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was signed last December in Prague by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

It calls for both countries to reduce their strategic arsenals — weapons deployed on long-range missiles, bombers and submarines — to 1,550 each. Under the previous START pact, both countries reduced their strategic arsenals to 2,200 weapons each.

A critical first step to eliminating nuclear weapons would be an immediate ban on the testing of new weapons, Chullikatt said. To achieve that, all countries should ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Nuclear weapons have been "aptly described as the 'ultimate evil'" and yet the most powerful countries "refuse to let them go."

"If biological weapons, chemical weapons, and now landmines can be done away with, so too can nuclear weapons," he stressed. In a nuclear war "there would be no victors, only victims."