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Arms control experts are among those taking part in the Vatican conference Arms control experts are among those taking part in the Vatican conference  (Gerasimov)

Vatican holds webinar to imagine world without nuclear weapons

As the Vatican hosts a virtual seminar on integral disarmament, Professor Gerard Powers explores the reasons why the Pope and the Church stand firmly behind the elimination of nuclear weapons.

By Devin Watkins

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development on Wednesday hosts a webinar to push for global nuclear disarmament.

It comes on the heels of Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Fratelli tutti, in which he calls for international peace and stability to be based on mutual trust rather than the threat of mutual destruction.

According to Prof. Gerard Powers, a member of the Vatican Covid-19 Commission’s task force for security, the event was organized for a three-fold purpose.

Papers published

The Coordinator of the Catholic Peacebuilding Network told Vatican Radio that the first goal of the webinar is to present the recent publication of a book entitled “A World Free from Nuclear Weapons”. The volume contains the papers from a major symposium held by the Vatican in 2017 to relaunch efforts toward creating a world free of nuclear weapons.

It was at that event, noted Prof. Powers, that Pope Francis issued “a groundbreaking statement on nuclear weapons: that nuclear weapons were not only immoral to use but also immoral to possess.”

Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty

Prof. Powers said the webinar comes at an appropriate time because the “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” is set to come into force on 22 January 2021. It was adopted in mid-2017 but was only recently ratified by the required minimum of 50 nations.

The agreement represents the first legally-binding attempt to prohibit signatory nations from possessing nuclear weapons.

“The Holy See has been one of the most active states in supporting the treaty,” said Prof. Powers.

Teaching in papal encyclical

The third motivation behind the online event was the recent publication of Fratelli tutti.

Prof. Powers said the Pope’s latest encyclical reiterates the immorality of nuclear weapons and the moral imperative of working to eliminate them.

He added that Pope Francis recasts the issue “in the paradigm of human security instead of national security as the overriding way to shape international affairs.”

Nuclear status no

Wednesday’s webinar sees the participation of several high-level actors in the field of security and arms control, as well as a host of top Vatican officials and Catholic intellectuals.

“They all do not agree on many issues,” said Prof. Powers, “but what they will all agree on is that the nuclear status quo is morally unacceptable.”

He cited recent efforts by several nations to modernize their nuclear arsenals and the demise of the existing nuclear arms control regime.

“The world needs to reverse direction and start moving toward nuclear disarmament,” said Prof. Powers.

Only one chance

When asked why the Catholic Church pushes for nuclear disarmament, Prof. Powers affirms that Pope Francis, as well as his predecessors, has sought to delegitimize nuclear weapons and promote arms control agreements.

“The problem with nuclear weapons,” he said, “is that, unlike other weapons, they are indiscriminate and disproportionate. It’s very difficult to imagine a use of nuclear weapons that would meet the just-war norms of discrimination and proportionality.”

Prof. Powers concluded that nuclear arms can only guarantee a “negative peace”.

“The risk of accident and misperception is very high,” he noted. “Unlike other weapons systems, if there is an accident or use of nuclear weapons because of misperception, we don’t get a second chance.”

Listen to the full interview
14 December 2020, 20:08