The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted by a United Nations diplomatic conference on 7 July 2017. It is the first applicable multilateral agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons. The first meeting of States Parties to TPNW took place in Austria last week. The aim was to set the tone and pace of global nuclear disarmament work, as well as being another significant milestone in efforts to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons.
At the same time Pope Francis released a message in which he condemned the use of nuclear weapons and emphasized the need to promote a ‘culture of life and peace.’
Sadly, the invasion of Ukraine has focused our minds again on the horrors of war. Some experts are even predicting that the conflict there will trigger a worldwide arms race. Wars can be tricky things as the U.S. learned in Vietnam, Iran, and Afghanistan.
History has shown us that the end of every war sows the seeds of the next one because victories and peace settlements are rarely fair and balanced for both sides. Hitler railed against the injustices of the Treaty of Versailles after World War I in order to whip up support for his Nazis.
From ‘Manhattan’ to ‘Trinity’
It was Nazi Germany that first tried to weaponize the power of nuclear fission and word of its efforts leaked out of the country along with political dissidents and exiled scientists, many of them German Jews. In 1941, after émigré physicist Albert Einstein warned President Franklin Delano Roosevelt that Germany might be trying to develop a fission bomb, the U.S. joined the first nuclear arms race. It launched a secret atomic research project, code-named the Manhattan Project, bringing together the nation’s most eminent physicists with exiled scientists from Germany and other Nazi-occupied countries.
At 5.30 a. m. on 16 July 1945, a dazzling bright light filled the sky over a desert in New Mexico. The fireball annihilated everything in the vicinity, then produced a mushroom cloud that billowed more than seven miles high.
In the aftermath, the scientists who had produced the blast shook hands and raised a glass. They had just produced the world’s first nuclear explosion. Despite the sense of accomplishment, they were not unaware of the deadly potential of the weapon they had created.
Their test, code-named “Trinity”, was a major success; it proved that scientists could harness the power of plutonium fission. It thrust the world into the atomic age, changing warfare and geopolitical relations forever. Less than a month later, the U.S. dropped two nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan – further proving it was now possible to obliterate large swaths of land and kill masses of people in seconds.
In his recent statement, the pope paid homage to the survivors of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as to all victims of nuclear-arms testing.
Role of the Church for Peace
Pope Francis has expressed concern about nuclear weapons in the past. More recently, in the context of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, he said that the image of Noah’s flood is “gaining ground in our subconscious” as the world considers the possibility of a nuclear war “that will extinguish us.”
He emphasized the role of the Catholic Church, “For its part, the Catholic Church remains irrevocably committed to promoting peace between peoples and nations and fostering education for peace throughout its institutions,” the Pope’s statement says. “This is a duty to which the Church feels bound before God and every man and woman in our world.”
He called on people to be responsible for maintaining peace, both on a public level and a personal level. It is a legal as well as an ethical discussion, he said. Education for peace can play an important role in teaching current and future generations.
Science and technology have advanced more in the past hundred years, than in the prior millennium, in the improvement of life but when used in war, it’s used as irresponsibly and indifferently as it was in the prior millennium. Military spending also diverts resources, ingenuity, and energy away from urgent problems like education, health care, clean-energy research, and anti-poverty programmes.
Despite the dangers of nuclear proliferation, only two nuclear weapons – the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – have been deployed in a war. Still, writes the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, “The dangers from such weapons arises from their very existence.”
“The Holy See has no doubt that a world free from nuclear weapons is both necessary and possible,” Pope Francis added. “In a system of collective security, there is no place for nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.”
It is a significant fact that many scientists came to regret their role in creating a weapon that can obliterate anyone and anything in its vicinity in seconds.
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan