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Activists discuss proliferation

Tori Roeck | Wednesday, October 26, 2011

While other hot button issues may receive more attention from activists, the rise and expansion of nuclear weaponry is the most consequential issue facing leaders today, a former Church leader said in a lecture Tuesday.

“[Nuclear proliferation] has been, for six decades … the most momentous issue of ethics, security and policy that we face,” Cardinal Roger Mahoney, Archbishop Emeritus of Los Angeles, said.

Mahoney and former Secretary of Defense William Perry argued for nuclear disarmament at “Ethical Dimensions of a World Without Nuclear Weapons,” a discussion held Tuesday in the Hesburgh Center Auditorium.

At the event, Mahoney outlined the Church’s moral stance in opposition of nuclear proliferation while Perry discussed the feasibility of disarmament.

“It is good that defense experts and moral leaders are working together on the nuclear question because it is particularly effective when moral clarity and strategic analysis align in service to the same goal,” Mahoney said.

Mahoney said the Church’s support for nuclear disarmament hinges on basic human rights.

“[The] point for Catholic reflection on nuclear weapons is the life, dignity and rights of the human person,” Mahoney said. “From the dignity and rights of the human person arise the obligations of the individual and states to promote peace and defend the common good.”

Mahoney said the only way to truly protect human rights is a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons.

“The Church is a long-term nuclear pacifist,” Mahoney said. “The Church abhors any use of nuclear weapons … and is convinced that the moral imperative is to move carefully but courageously toward a mutual, verifiable, global ban on nuclear weapons.”

Amassing a large number of nuclear weapons in the name of deterrence has long been the United States’ strategy for preventing nuclear war, but Mahoney said deterrence should not be a long-term plan.

“The Church does not reject the need to deter the use of nuclear weapons,” Mahoney said. “That is a moral imperative. But she does reject the view that nuclear deterrence is the only option in the long-term, a permanent component of security in a nuclear age. Rather, the Church insists that it is nuclear disarmament, not nuclear deterrence, that is a long-term basis of security.”

Perry said spending part of his career developing U.S. missiles for the purpose of deterrence made him realize that nuclear disarmament is the real answer to the nuclear question.

“My personal journey … took me from creating the most advanced nuclear weapons in the world to working to try to create a world without nuclear weapons,” Perry said.

Perry said his time on a technical team analyzing the Cuban Missile Crisis as it was ongoing greatly informed his beliefs regarding disarmament.

“Every day that I went into that analysis center, I believed it would be my last day on Earth,” Perry said.

As Secretary of Defense under President Clinton, Perry said he strove to rid the post-Cold War world of the nuclear threat.

“During the Cold War, I believed it was necessary to take the risks associated with these deadly nuclear weapons,” Perry said. “When the Cold War ended, I believed it was no longer necessary to take those risks and that we should begin to dismantle this deadly nuclear Cold War legacy.”

During his tenure, Perry said he helped dismantle over 8,000 nuclear weapons in the United States and the former Soviet Union.

Perry said the current threat of nuclear attack has a different source than that of the Cold War era.

“Nuclear proliferation and terrorism have put the world at a nuclear tipping point,” Perry said. “If we cannot stop North Korea and Iran from building nuclear arsenals, I fear that the world will cross that tipping point with consequences more dangerous than any of you can truly imagine.”

Perry said he is a member of the “Gang of Four” that ardently argues for nuclear disarmament today. This group includes former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State George Schultz and Senator Sam Nunn.

With guidance from the Gang of Four, Perry said President Obama signed the new START treaty in 2010 to decrease the United States’ nuclear arsenal.

Mahoney said the United States has an important role in promoting nuclear disarmament.

“The United States has enormous power and influence,” Mahoney said. “Our country has a special responsibility to take the lead in reducing and ultimately banning nuclear weapons and in developing the institutions and practices of cooperative security that will make that more likely and more sustainable.”