Do Christian teaching and humanity demand the abolition of nuclear weapons?
Yes, according to a Religion News Service column by Jacob Lupfer (a thoughtful writer and personal friend). He echoes what some church bodies have long or at least more recently urged.
Virtually pacifist agencies of declining Mainline Protestantism have demanded full nuclear disarmament for decades, especially by the United States. During the Cold War’s decisive final years, they ardently aligned with the nuclear freeze movement, whose chief purpose was to intimidate Western Europe and the United States from responding to the growing Soviet nuclear arsenal.
Fortunately, neither the Reagan Administration nor its chief allies, such as Britain’s Thatcher and West Germany’s Kohl, lost their nerve. The placement of U.S. intermediate range missiles in Europe were central to defeating the Soviet Union and facilitating unprecedented nuclear arms reductions by the U.S. and Russians.
As Lupfer cites, since 1986 operational nuclear warheads in the world have dropped from a high of 64,000 to today’s 10,000. These reductions occurred only because of the Reagan military buildup and subsequent Soviet implosion, prior to which nuclear arms control chiefly only limited increases.
Also during the 1980s, the U.S. Catholic bishops spoke against nuclear weapons. Not as utopian as the far-left Mainliners, they grudgingly accepted nuclear deterrence only as an interim step toward full nuclear disarmament, even if abolishing nukes required increased spending for conventional arms.
The National Association of Evangelicals in the 1980s urged “meaningful arms control” but essentially agreed with the Reagan approach of peace through strength. In 2011, influenced by the now disbanded leftist-funded Two Futures Project, the NAE essentially rejected nuclear weapons and repeated a common peacenik talking point that any possession of nukes morally undermines international exertions against nonproliferation.
These religious pronouncements against nuclear weapons presume that nuclear disarmament is largely a matter of reasonable people agreeing on what’s best for humanity. But they seem to neglect that their own faith teaches that humanity is deeply fallen and often very unreasonable.
With similar idealism, Lupfer’s RNS piece declares: “Thankfully, most states have forsworn these armaments. Nuclear weapons are not vital to any state’s legitimate security interest. No state or NGO has the capacity to respond to the unfathomable humanitarian crisis that would follow an accidental or intentional use of a nuclear weapon.”
But if nukes are in fact so self-evidently useless to any national interest, why do so many nations retain and pursue them, often at considerable political and financial costs? Nearly every possessor of nuclear arsenals has achieved specific political objectives by doing so.
And as to Lupfer’s celebration that most nations have “forsworn” nukes, he ignores why many have done so. Either they find refuge under the U.S. nuclear umbrella or they have been intimidated by the U.S. from pursuing nukes. The latter has applied to some Latin American countries, among others. And the former applies to countless European and Asian countries threatened by nuclear-armed Russia or China.
“Now is the time for every person of conscience to join and affirm the global ecumenical consensus against nuclear weapons,” Lupfer implores, citing Pope Francis. But for better or for worse, the world is not governed by the lofty desires and rhetoric of church prelates. Iran’s mullahs fall outside this “ecumenical consensus,” and so too will theocratic Saudi Arabia, which may protect itself from a nuclearized Iran by seeking its own nukes, rather than relying on the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
Much of the security of the world relies on the U.S. nuclear umbrella, which continues to deter, protect, and intimidate. Doubtless China would vastly expand its own relatively minimal nuclear arsenal and seek parity at least with Russia absent overwhelming U.S. power. Russia’s nuclear arsenal is engorged far beyond its strategic needs, and that arsenal has in fact been blessed by the Russian Orthodox Church, which evidently also falls outside the “ecumenical consensus.”
Some religious idealists imagine that disarming the West, mainly the U.S., will inspire and motivate the world to follow suit. Such expectation is based on a fundamentally and dangerously false view of global statecraft and human nature. The power vacuum that American disarmament would create would inexorably lead to a far more dangerous and unstable world where nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction would exponentially proliferate.
American military and nuclear hegemony for the last 70 years has sustained an historically unprecedented approximate global peace and facilitated an even more unprecedented global prosperity.
There is indeed a moral and strategic imperative for America today, which is to deploy its power against further nuclear proliferation and to deter aggression by current nuclear actors, while also developing technologies and defensive weapons that neutralize nuclear armaments.
If Iran’s genocidally ambitious regime is in the end prevented from nuclearizing, it will only be thanks to American power. And if it does nuclearize, only American and Israeli nukes, perhaps joined by Saudi nukes, will deter its murderous designs. Christian teaching and humanity should demand no less.