Pope backs nuclear weapons ban treaty

Pope Francis arrives for a meeting with European Union leaders at the Vatican on March 24, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Andrew Medichini/Pool

VATICAN CITY  (RNS) Pope Francis says nuclear weapons offer a “false sense of security” and are an ineffective deterrent to 21st-century threats like terrorism, conflict and cybersecurity.

The pontiff spoke as talks on a proposed global nuclear arms ban at the United Nations seem doomed to fail with the U.S., France, Britain and South Korea among nearly 40 countries boycotting the talks.

In a message addressed to the conference in New York, the pope called for “total elimination” of nuclear weapons. He said there were many doubts about the effectiveness of deterrence and warned of “catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences” if nuclear weapons were ever used again.

Pope Francis visits the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Nov. 25, 2014. Photo courtesy of European Union 2014 – European Parliament/Fred Marvaux

“How sustainable is a stability based on fear, when it actually increases fear and undermines relationships of trust?” Francis asked.

“International peace and stability cannot be based on a false sense of security, on the threat of mutual destruction or total annihilation, or on simply maintaining a balance of power.” 

The pope said the elimination of nuclear weapons was a “moral and humanitarian imperative” and stressed it was possible to achieve.

 “Although this is a significantly complex and long-term goal, it is not beyond our reach,” he said.

Francis said money currently spent on nuclear weapons could be used for “the promotion of peace and integral human development, as well as the fight against poverty.”

“An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction — and possibly the destruction of all mankind — are contradictory to the very spirit of the United Nations,” he said.

“We must therefore commit ourselves to a world without nuclear weapons, by fully implementing the Non-Proliferation Treaty, both in letter and spirit.” 

In New York, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, told reporters the countries skipping the negotiations believe the current Non-Proliferation Treaty is a better accord. It entered into force in 1970 and is aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology.

She singled out North Korea, which has recently conducted missile tests in violation of UN resolutions.

“We have to be realistic,” she told reporters. “Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?”

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.

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