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We Do Not Build Peace By Nuclear Deterrence

We Do Not Build Peace By Nuclear Deterrence August 4, 2022 Henry Karlson

International Campaign To Abolish Nuclear Weapons: 1953 Nevada Nuclear Test / flickr

August 6, 1945 should always be remembered because, the United States on that day used the atomic bomb, unleashing a great evil upon the world. The mass, indiscriminate destruction of a civilian populace which ensued should never be celebrated, even if some (wrongly) think it was necessary. By availing itself of the atomic bomb, the United States changed the world for the worse. It showed that it was willing to engage and embrace mass murder for the sake of its objectives. The world took note, and many countries followed suit, developing atomic weapons themselves. This led to the arms race, a race which added evil upon evil, as more and more countries developed their own atomic and nuclear arsenals so that they could join in with the United States, using their power as a way to bully and blackmail those who did not have such weapons themselves. Obviously, it is because Russia developed such weapons, and still possess them to this day, Putin was able to invade Ukraine, knowing that the response given to the invasion would be limited as the rest of the world did not want to risk nuclear war.

The United States has helped create the contemporary world order, and with it, suffers much of  the blame for the evils which that order produces. It owes the world for the evil it has unleashed.  Instead of using its might to take a position of authority and privilege in the world, the United States should serve the rest of the world, working to repair the harm it has caused thanks to its embrace of nuclear weapons.

Sadly, the evil behind the use – and possession of – atomic (and nuclear) weapons often gets obscured as those who possess them like the privilege they have, leading them to justify the possession of such arms (and even their use) through consequentialistic reasoning. Of course the justification they gave rightfully scares those who do not possess such weapons themselves, as the justification always shows that those who have such weapons are more than willing to justify their use if and when they think their use is necessary (and of course, what is necessary is always dependent upon the interests of those who have such weapons). This has made for a rather dangerous situation, as more and more countries, like Russia, North Korea, and China, indicate their willingness to use those weapons if they find their dominance in the world is questioned. And so, what should be unthinkable is becoming thinkable, that is, where nuclear annihilation is a real possibility, as UN Secretary General António Guterres has recently indicated.

After the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Pope after Pope have condemned the use, and possession of, nuclear arms. They have indicated that the use of the atomic bomb was a major crime against humanity, and the cries of the innocent who died from its use goes all the way up to heaven. Likewise, Pope after Pope have also indicated that nuclear deterrence, relying upon the use of evil for some good end, will not work, and in the end, the fact that any country possesses such arms will cause needless troubles in the world. Pope Benedict XVI made this clear, when, in 2010, he said:

This year marks the 65th anniversary of the tragic atomic bombing of the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The memory of this sombre episode in the history of humanity becomes more poignant every year, while those who witnessed this horror are disappearing. This tragedy insistently reminds us of how necessary it is to persevere in the effort for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and for disarmament. The nuclear weapon remains a major source of concern. Possession of it and the risk of its possible use give rise to tensions and distrust in many of the world’s regions. Your nation, Mr Ambassador, must be cited as an example for its constant support in the search for political solutions that not only make it possible to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, but also to prevent war from being seen as a means to resolve conflicts between nations and between peoples.[1]

While it is true, to some extent, that there is a kind of deterrence to be had when multiple nations possess nuclear arms, in reality, all it takes is one bad actor to have the deterrence lead to nuclear annihilation. Such deterrence assumes that all actors will act rationally, that they will want to preserve their own life, but the reality of the world shows not everyone will act in that manner. This is why Pope St. Paul VI said that the so-called “balance of terror” is not truly conductive for making peace:

As you know, the Holy See has never shown itself enthusiastic for the formula of the «balance of terror» as a means of safeguarding peace. Without ignoring the practical, even if in cause negative: advantages that such a formula can temporarily present, it has always seemed to this Apostolic See to be too detached from the moral basis upon which alone peace can prosper. It has likewise seemed too extravagant. through continual competition in equalling and surpassing one another in terms of power and arms, too extravagant, we say, of means and energies that ought on the contrary to be devoted to quite other ends – to the well-being and progress of all peoples. It has seemed destructive of thoughts of harmony and mutual understanding; it has seemed, finally, too fragile a shield against the onslaught of temptations to predominance and oppression which are at the root of so many situations of tension and conflict, also because of the justified reasons of defence that they evoke or sometimes, because of the clanger of an erroneous calculation in preventing the feared manifestations resulting to one’s own disadvantage.[2]

All we have to do is look at history, and we will find, time and time again, standoffs eventually leading to conflict, with the so-called Wild West and all the gunfights which took place in it as a representation of this phenomena. Eventually one person or another will give in to their worst impulses and fire. The more nuclear weapons exist in the world, the more likely one bad actor will use them and fire upon others, and then it will become a free for all as the nations of the world end up firing upon each other out of retaliation. Without working to end the standoff by having everyone put away their arms (and in regards nuclear arms, doing away with them), without working for peace and building upon that peace, the threat of nuclear annihilation will always be with us. Pope Benedict XVI indicated the solution lies with the countries and peoples of the world working together, helping each other, building each other up, for when we work for mutual improvement, we begin to look to each other with respect and not as enemies to be feared or hated. To do this properly, we must focus on promoting basic human dignity, and the rights which come from that dignity, for if people are built up and affirmed in this fashion, they will feel less animosity and hostility towards each other:

Multilateralism, for its part, should not be restricted to purely economic and political questions; rather, it should find expression in a resolve to address the whole spectrum of issues linked to the future of humanity and the promotion of human dignity, including secure access to food and water, basic health care, just policies governing commerce and immigration, particularly where families are concerned, climate control and care for the environment, and the elimination of the scourge of nuclear weapons.[3]

When we ignore the common good which we should share with each other, and instead, try to take it apart, and use those parts for private pleasure, ignoring the needs of others, it is easy to see how hostilities develop. When we ignore the harm we are doing to the world, such as through climate change, we likewise make the world a worse place to live, with many suffering as a result of those changes; when this goes on for some time, some will feel they have been pushed too far, and so they will react, often with violent means, as a way of trying to regain what they feel has unjustly been taken away from them. For it is clear, as living becomes much and much more difficult, and the pleasures of life less and less apparent, people will become desperate; they will feel as if they have nothing to lose, even if they should die. We must, therefore, take care of the earth, and the good of the earth, making sure it is shared by all and not seen as the exclusive property of a few. But, when the world becomes more divided upon itself, nuclear deterrence will not work, as more and more people will feel such desperation, they will use whatever means they can to get what they want, even if it means using nuclear weapons upon their enemies. In order to make sure that such does not happen, it is important to engage nuclear disarmament, for, as Pope Francis said, the world is presently at a time of crossroads, and what we do now will determine what future, if any, humanity has left in the world:

At this particular moment in history where the world seems to be at a crossroads, the courageous vision of this legal instrument, strongly inspired by ethical and moral arguments, appears ever more timely. Indeed, this meeting takes place at a moment that inevitably calls for a deeper reflection on security and peace. In the current context, speaking of or advocating disarmament may seem paradoxical to many. However, we need to remain aware of the dangers of short-sighted approaches to national and international security and the risks of proliferation. As we know all too well, the price for not doing so is inevitably paid by the number of innocent lives taken and measured in terms of carnage and destruction. As a result, I emphatically renew my appeal to silence all weapons and eliminate the causes of conflicts through tireless recourse to negotiations: “Those who wage war […] forget humanity!” [4]

Every nuclear weapon multiplies the risk which we face:

Nuclear weapons are a costly and dangerous liability. They represent a “risk multiplier” that provides only an illusion of a “peace of sorts”. Here, I wish to reaffirm that the use of nuclear weapons, as well as their mere possession, is immoral. Trying to defend and ensure stability and peace through a false sense of security and a “balance of terror”, sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust inevitably ends up poisoning relationships between peoples and obstructing any possible form of real dialogue. Possession leads easily to threats of their use, becoming a sort of “blackmail” that should be repugnant to the consciences of humanity. [5]

Eventually someone will resist a nuclear power’s threats, and then, either the threat will be shown to have been a bluff, or else, nuclear weapons will be employed, and the world as we know it will likely be over. We cannot stand by and support the argument which promotes the development of nuclear arsenals; we must resist the lure of power, and work, instead, for peace in the world. Again, that means we must work to promote the common good, not just in our own particular country, but for the whole world, so that we make sure such conflicts become rare, and no one feels so desperate that they are willing to risk nuclear annihilation. The United States, sadly, is giving a mixed message. On the one hand, it says:

The United States is committed to reducing the role of nuclear weapons and re-establishing our leadership on arms control, and we’ve undertaken a deliberate policy review toward that goal.  We’ll continue to emphasize strategic stability, seek to avoid costly arms races, facilitate risk reduction and arms control agreements wherever they are possible. [6]

But, on the other hand, the United States still thinks along the lines that the possession of nuclear arms, at least by some countries, will help promote nuclear deterrence, providing other nations the justification they need to arm themselves:

And as long as nuclear weapons exist, the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attacks on the United States, on our allies, and partners.  The United States would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies, and partners. [7]

With Russia’s war against Ukraine, with North Korea and its belligerence to the West, with China and its aggressive attitude to the world, those who possess nuclear weapons show they know such weapons do not serve only for deterrence, but also can be used to blackmail the world. Nuclear deterrence will only last so long. If we do not change our ways, if we not work for the elimination of nuclear arms in the world, eventually, as with the gunfights in the Wild West, one side will budge and then the world will see the consequences of the arms race, and the evil which lay behind it.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, “Address To H.E. Mr. Hidekazu Yamaguchi New Ambassador To The Holy See.” Vatican translation (11-27-2010).

[2] Pope St. Paul VI, “To The Members Of The Diplomatic Corps Accredited To The Holy See.” Vatican translation (1-11-1975).

[3] Pope Benedict XVI, “Address To His Excellency Mr. Miguel Humberto Días New Ambassador of  the United States to the Holy See.” Vatican translation (10-2-2009).

[4] Pope Francis, “Message to Ambassador Alexander Kmentt President Of The First Meeting of State Parties To The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.” Vatican translation (6-21-2022).

[5] Pope Francis, “Message to Ambassador Alexander Kmentt President Of The First Meeting of State Parties To The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.”

[6] Antony J. Blinken, “Secretary Antony J. Blinken’s Remarks to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference” (8-1-2022).

[7] Antony J. Blinken, “Secretary Antony J. Blinken’s Remarks to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.”

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