September 17, 2010


Support new arms treaty

On April 8 of this year, President Barack Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). The U.S. Constitution requires treaties to be approved by the Senate. Therefore, it was submitted to the Senate for ratification on May 13, and is now in the hands of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) has sent an Action Alert to its Indiana Catholic Action Network asking people to contact Sen. Richard Lugar and Sen. Evan Bayh, and urge them to support the treaty “because it makes our nation and world safer by reducing nuclear weapons in a verifiable way.”

There is every reason to believe that both senators will support the treaty.

Lugar, in particular, has been a leader in reducing the threat of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. In 1991, he forged a bipartisan partnership with then-Senate Armed Services Chairman Sam Nunn to destroy those weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union. To date, the Nunn-Lugar program has deactivated more than 7,500 nuclear warheads that were once aimed at the United States. Lugar is the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Nevertheless, it would be good to show the senators that the treaty has the support of many of their constituents.

The Holy See and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops support the new treaty.

The original START was proposed by President Ronald Reagan, and was signed by the leaders of the United States and Russia in 1991. It limited the number of nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles—missiles and bombers—that each country could deploy. This happened as the former Soviet Union was dissolving and marked the end of the Cold War.

Still today, though, both Russia and the United States possess about 90 percent of the nuclear weapons in the world, large arsenals left over from the Cold War. Many of these weapons are on immediate alert status.

The treaty signed by Presidents Obama and Medvedev, and now up for ratification, would reduce deployed strategic warheads to 1,550. That is 30 percent below the existing ceiling. It would also limit both nations to no more than 700 delivery vehicles, and it includes new verification requirements.

In its Action Alert, the ICC wrote that ratification of the new START “is critical because verification ensures transparency and these reductions in the number of weapons can set the stage for future reductions. The new START is also important to international efforts to address nonproliferation. With fewer nuclear weapons in the world, the likelihood of one falling into terrorist hands is reduced, and countries are more likely to cooperate in enforcing nonproliferation demands and controlling the supply of nuclear materials.”

At this time in history, the threat of nuclear attack by Russia is greatly reduced from what it was for about 50 years during the 20th century. Most people believe that the greatest threat is from terrorists, who would love to get their hands on nuclear materials. That is one of the reasons the United States and other countries are trying so hard to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

The U.S. Catholic bishops have long supported securing nuclear materials from terrorists and reducing the number of nuclear armaments. For decades, they have promoted the policy goals of preventing proliferation of these horrific weapons and ultimately eliminating them.

Their most comprehensive document on the issue is “The Challenge to Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response,” issued in 1983. It recommended:

  • Support for immediate, bilateral, verifiable agreements to halt the testing, production and deployment of new nuclear weapons systems.
  • Support for negotiated bilateral deep cuts in the arsenals of both superpowers, particularly those weapons systems which have destabilizing characteristics.
  • Support for early and successful conclusion of negotiations of a comprehensive test ban treaty.

Those recommendations were accomplished in 1991, and the present treaty would continue what was accomplished then.

The bishops’ pastoral letter of 1983 discussed just war. Nuclear war cannot be just because the use of nuclear weapons cannot ensure the protection of noncombatants, and their destructive potential and lingering radiation cannot be meaningfully proportionate.

Pope Benedict XVI said in a January 2006 statement, “In a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims.”

—John F. Fink

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