By Ramesh Jaura
VATICAN CITY (IDN) – The Vatican’s first international conference on the prospects for “a world free from nuclear weapons and for integral disarmament” on November 10-11 was not intentionally planned to overlap with U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Asia as the U.S. faces heightened tensions with North Korea. It has been in the works for several years, and the timing, as Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana quipped, is a coincidence that could be seen as an act of “divine providence”.
Eleven Nobel Peace laureates, UN and NATO officials and a handful of nuclear powers including Russia, the United States, South Korea and Iran, are together with the lay Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International (SGI) among participants in what is officially described as an international symposium that aims to galvanize support for a shift from the Cold War era policy of deterrence to one of complete nuclear disarmament.
The global gathering follows the adoption of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by 122 countries including the Holy See in New York on July 7, which determined that nuclear weapons are not only immoral, but also should be regarded as an illegal means of warfare. In recognition of its role in achieving the Treaty, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017.
Commenting on the recent Treaty calling for a ban on nuclear weapons, NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller warned that the ban treaty risks disregarding today’s security challenges, including the growing threat presented by North Korea’s illegal weapons programmes – a point that was stressed by France, Great Britain and the United States who did not take part in the negotiation of the Treaty.
In a joint statement they declared: “We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it. Therefore, there will be no change in the legal obligations on our countries with respect to nuclear weapons. For example, we would not accept any claim that this treaty reflects or in any way contributes to the development of customary international law. Importantly, other states possessing nuclear weapons and almost all other states relying on nuclear deterrence have also not taken part in the negotiations.”
However, she added that NATO and its Allies have a long history of working to reduce nuclear weapons in the world. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO Allies have reduced their collective nuclear arsenal in Europe by more than 90%. She stressed the strong commitment of all NATO Allies to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as the best mechanism for achieving a world without nuclear weapons, through pragmatic and verifiable reductions in nuclear arsenals.
In a statement on November 10, addressed to Pope Francis on the occasion of the conference, five of the 11 Nobel Prize Laureates participating in the conference said they hope the event will help launch “a new international legal regulation and further stigmatize those weapons and the states that so far refuse to give them up.”
They commended the joint role of civil society, religious communities and various international organizations and states in advancing the Nuclear Ban Treaty, which aims to put an end to weapons “that are capable of obliterating life as we know it in the blink of an eye”.
An “inclusive and equitable” international security system which leaves no country feeling that they must depend on nuclear arms is needed, they said, and stressed the necessity to ask oneself “what ethical and moral human beings can possibly believe that it is fine to give machines the ability to kill humans.”
In order to avoid an “impending third revolution in warfare,” the weapons must be eliminated before they ever make it to battle, they said.
This, they added, requires prioritizing the human person over the creation of wealth and realizing that “real security comes from placing the focus on meeting the needs of individuals and communities – human security and promoting the common good.”
Signatories included former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Professor Mohamed El Baradei; Mairead Maguire; Professor Adolfo Perez Esquivel; Professor Jody Williams, and Professor Muhammad Yunus.
Cardinal Turkson stressed in his opening remarks that the symposium was “about the global will to encourage nuclear weapons States to persevere in, if not hasten, their ongoing strategic reduction of nuclear arms, and to dare to hope, eventually, for a world free of nuclear weapons.”
The conference was taking place in “a moment of human history when fear about potential global catastrophe has intensified to a point rarely experienced, since the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis.” Nuclear weapons have become again a global problem, affecting nations and impacting our future and future generations, he added.
“Our conversations are as critical; and the decisions made by the global human family about peace and war in the coming months and years, particularly those with political responsibility, will have profound consequences for the very future of humanity and our planet.”
Such conversations were urgently needed, given the current tensions among nuclear weapon states as well as between nuclear weapon states and states seeking to become nuclear weapon states, said Cardinal Turkson who heads the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, which has sponsored the symposium.
Against this backdrop, Pope Francis told the symposium participants on November 10 that nuclear weapons, “exist in the service of a mentality of fear that affects not only the parties in conflict but the entire human race.” Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security, he added.
“International relations,” he continued, “cannot be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation, and the parading of stockpiles of arms. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity.”
Noting that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, in which Bl. Paul VI articulated the idea of integral human development and proposed it as “the new name of peace”, Pope Francis said, “We need, then, to reject the culture of waste and to care for individuals and peoples labouring under painful disparities through patient efforts to favour processes of solidarity over selfish and contingent interests.”
Izumi Nakamitsu, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), said: “Any gathering of world leaders and civil society actors and governments to discuss ways to pursue a nuclear weapons-free zone will be very helpful for the cause of UN disarmament activities.” She expressed eagerness to discuss what can practically be done to eradicate nuclear weapons.
Nakamitsu said the UN believes the only solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis is a political one, and that talks on disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation create much-needed “breathing space” for trying to find these political solutions.
“So we’re not giving up at all on disarmament, but quite the contrary, because the situation is very difficult, we think disarmament discussions are more important,” she added. [IDN-InDepthNews – 10 November 2017]
Photo: Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana welcoming Vatican conference participants on November 10. Credit: Katsuhiro Asagiri | IDN-INPS
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
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