Recognizing Moral Bankruptcy

By Senator Douglas Roche, O.C.
Chairman, Middle Powers Initiative

An Address to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales
Seminar on Nuclear Weapons
London, April 4, 2000

I congratulate the International Affairs Department of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales and the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace on convening this timely seminar, on the eve of the 2000 Review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

I come here as a parliamentarian, deeply immersed in nuclear weapons issues for the whole of the 30-year life of the NPT. I led the Canadian government's delegation to the 1985 Review, and have observed all the preparatory meetings leading to the 2000 Review. Thus I am able personally to affirm that the non-proliferation regime is in crisis.

The NPT, whose 187 members make it the largest disarmament treaty in the world, was supposed to rid the world of nuclear weapons. When it came into existence, there were 38,526 nuclear weapons. Today, there are about 35,000. So much for nuclear disarmament.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the Americans and Russians started reducing their nuclear arms, most people thought the nuclear weapons problem had evaporated with the Cold War. But the problem did not go away. In fact, today, despite lesser numbers than at the height of the Cold War, the threat to humanity posed by nuclear weapons is rated by many experts worse than during the Cold War.

The U.S. Senate has rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; the U.S. is preparing to deploy a missile defence system over the objections of Russia and China who protest that this will start a new arms race; India is preparing to deploy nuclear weapons in air, land and sea; Pakistan, which has successfully tested nuclear weapons, is now ruled by the military; meaningful discussions at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva are deadlocked; the preparatory conferences for the 2000 Review of the NPT have failed; the Russian Duma has not ratified START II; and Russia has published a revised national security doctrine that broadens the possible scenarios in which Russia would use nuclear weapons.

The gains made in the past decade on reducing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons are being wiped out. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that the non-proliferation agenda is in "deplorable stagnation." "It is even more disheartening," he said, "to hear Nuclear Weapon States reiterate their nuclear doctrines, postures and plans which envisage reliance on nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future." The publication Disarmament Diplomacy asks: "Are we sleepwalking toward nuclear war?"

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The nuclear abolition movements which have developed in the 1990s have offered logic, law and morality to government leaders as reasons to move to the elimination of nuclear weapons. We might be tempted to despair that we will ever be heard, but that would be the wrong reaction. We are being heard as never before, and the proponents of the status quo are being forced to invent the most preposterous reasons to justify their slavish adherence to weapons that threaten humanity.

Those in governments and in civil society who have worked hard for the elimination of nuclear weapons must be humble enough to recognize that there is still not a vibrant public opinion in our society against nuclear weapons. The public generally does not know enough about the present situation even to be in denial.

The time has come to inject renewed energy into the nuclear weapons debate. The sheer force of this energy must penetrate the consciences of decision-makers in the powerful states and thus transfer the nuclear abolition debate into a whole new field of action. We must rise up above the political, economic, social and cultural blockages to abolition and infuse the societal and political processes with a dynamic of action. The approach I am calling for must be based on our overpowering love for God's planet and all humanity on it. In this call to witness, we will find new confidence in our ability to overcome the temporary denial by politicians and officials who do not understand the power of this transformation moment in history.

Nuclear weapons are the ultimate evil. The nuclear powers would not be able to so blithely carry on with the nuclear weapons programs if world consciousness, raised to a new recognition of this evil, demanded abolition. But world consciousness has been dulled. We have lived with the bomb so long that it has insinuated itself into our thinking. Hiroshima and Nagasaki seem so long ago, they are but a blur in memory. Anyway, "They can't happen again." The sheer horror of nuclear devastation has been veiled from people's minds.

Media and political processes ignore the centrality of the nuclear issue: evil. When they do deal with nuclear weapons, it is usually in terms of deterring an "enemy." The Cold War language continues into the new era: the old euphemisms of "nuclear preparedness" and "collateral damage" continue to hide the real issues of extermination by the million, incineration of whole populations of cities, genetic deformities, inducement of cancers, destruction of the food chain, and the imperiling of civilization. And so the calamity awaiting humanity is concealed.

The abolition movement seeks to open the eyes of society to this evil. Society is not impervious to evil: the Holocaust, AIDS, and genocide have all been recognized as the evils they are. But the ultimate - last, final, most remote in time or space - evil appears to be too far removed from daily life to engage our attention. It is almost as if the issue is too big to handle. Nuclear weapons assault life on the planet, they assault the planet itself, and in so doing they assault the process of the continuing development of the planet. This is an affront to God, the Creator of the universe, an affront to the mysterious process of creation that makes a connection to an unfathomably distant past that the present generation has no right to interrupt. Nuclear weapons rival the power of God. They challenge God. They lure us into thinking we can control the destiny of the world. They turn upside down the natural morality that ensues from the relationship between God and humanity. Nuclear weapons are evil, because they destroy the process of life itself. They invert order into disorder.

Nuclear weapons are supposed to be governed by the covenants of humanitarian law. In fact, a nuclear war would destroy the very basis of humanitarian law. The structure of our civilization would disappear. Nuclear weapons, with no limitation or proportionality in their effect, make a mockery of old "just war" theories. How can self-defence be cited as justification for the use of nuclear weapons when their full effect destroys the "self" that is supposed to be defended?

Nuclear weapons will only be abolished when the moral consciousness of humanity is raised, just as it was raised by the moral re-assessment and rejection of slavery, colonialism, and apartheid.

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The moral case against nuclear weapons begins with recognition of our willingness to commit violence. The world is filled with violence.

We do not want violence done to ourselves, yet we do it to others. This shocking dichotomy ought to awaken us to reciprocity, a universally valid moral value. As Confucius taught: "What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others." The rule of reciprocity is defined by the followers of Christ as The Golden Rule. Now, in the enlightened twenty-first century, governments should take as a starting point in the formulation of their policies the impact of those policies on other states. As the doctrine of nuclear deterrence so pointedly illustrates, one nation's security can mean another's insecurity. Mountains of U.N. documents on global security can be summed up by the simple dictum: states should treat others as they wish to be treated in return.

Reciprocity may not lay claim to a high level of altruism, but it is a valid and effective base on which to find and express human values for community security. Reciprocity has certainly moved from the realm of idealism to the most basic realism: survival. Here we find common ground between spirituality and technology: what spirituality tells us we ought to do (love one another), technology tells us we must do so that we do not destroy one another. If love is deemed by some to be too strong (given the ideological, cultural, and racial divides that still exist) at least acceptance and tolerance are demanded as the price of life, liberty, and happiness in a world that has become one. If we need reminding of the oneness of the world and the integrity of all life, look again at that first photo of the planet sent back by the Apollo astronauts: beautiful, fragile, one. In previous centuries, we did not even know one another, let alone care about each other. Now, technology has united us, at least in our knowledge of one another.

Through the United Nations and its systems, we possess, for the first time in the history of the world, a catalogue of information about how our planet works, and we have developed treaties to protect the rights of individuals and the environment itself. Both people and governments are learning that they must cooperate for many purposes - to maintain peace and order, to expand economic activity, to tackle pollution, to halt or minimize climate change, to combat disease, to curb the proliferation of weapons, to prevent desertification, to preserve genetic and species diversity, to deter terrorists, to ward off famines.

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All this has prepared us for the formulation of a new global ethic. By "global ethic," I do not mean a global ideology or a single unified religion, and I certainly don't mean the domination of one religion at the expense of others. Rather, I mean a fundamental consensus on binding values, irrevocable standards, and personal attitudes. This ethic is the expression of a vision of peoples living peacefully together, of national and ethnic groupings of people sharing responsibility for the care of the planet. The abolition of nuclear weapons must become a central part of this new global ethic of enlightened realism.

Throughout the Cold War, moral teaching on nuclear weapons was uncertain. While some ethicists condemned outright the concept of nuclear deterrence as a crime against God and humanity, others gave limited acceptance to the possession of nuclear weapons in the genuine belief that they were an aid to peace. Recognition of the ultimate evil took a back seat to the immediate gain of preventing nuclear conflict. Religious leaders tried to reconcile the opposing demands of natural law and political realism. Moral constraints had to compete with "reasons of state." The tensions between them got caught up in the old religious arguments about passivism and "just war." The barrage of propaganda about Soviet forces about to charge the Western gates skewed, or at least intimidated, a moral consensus on the evil of nuclear weapons.

Political acceptance of nuclear weapons to deter "the enemy" became the over-riding consideration. When the Soviets disappeared as the enemy, the nuclear establishment had to find a new one. This time the enemy is some political leader, now or in the future, who will threaten the West with a nuclear weapon. The circle of fear, perpetuated by those with a vested interest in maintaining nuclear weapons, is unending. Unchallenged, this is a trap humanity will never escape from.

The moral challenge to nuclear weapons must be strengthened. The world ethos is clearly weak in legislating and enforcing the protection of the common good. This is all the more reason for ethicists to speak out, to reach down into the depth of their humanity to decry the very instruments that attack humanity. In addressing nuclear weapons, human conscience must vigorously assert itself in any understanding of right and wrong. To fail to do so is to consign humanity to denigration of intellect and loss of will, to deny it the very essence of humanity.

The nuclear powers must be challenged, for, in clinging to spurious, self-serving rationales, they are deliberately deceiving the world. The gravest of futures lies ahead for humanity if the world is to be ruled by militarism rather than law. The doctrine of nuclear deterrence can no longer claim the slightest shred of moral acceptance: it is morally bankrupt. The dangers of proliferation make it essential that religious leaders teach, with one voice, that nuclear weapons are immoral. Nuclear planners would then be deprived of any further claim to moral legitimacy. As an operating parliamentarian, I need to be able to base my political arguments on the clear-cut universal moral denunciation of nuclear weapons. The nuclear powers may not immediately heed a clear moral condemnation of nuclear weapons, just as they have tried to brush off the World Court's unanimous call for the conclusion of negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons. But the force of morality and law cannot long be ignored if the peoples of the world build their case for abolition on these twin bases.

Nuclear weapons are no longer about the enemy. Nuclear weapons are the enemy. They do not prevent evil: they are evil, in its most devastating form.