Francis encourages UN talks to ban nukes: time to 'go beyond' deterrence

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis has written to the United Nations to encourage this week’s talks at the global organization on crafting a new worldwide treaty to ban nuclear weapons, saying in a letter it is time for the international community to “go beyond” nuclear deterrence.

Writing to the president of the conference -- which has been boycotted by many nuclear powers, including the United States -- the pontiff says he wants to encourage the some 120 countries taking part in the talks to “work with determination” to eliminate the need for atomic weapons.

“We need … to ask ourselves how sustainable is a stability based on fear, when it actually increases fear and undermines relationships of trust between peoples,” Francis writes in the letter, released by the Vatican Tuesday.

“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,” says the pope.

“We need to go beyond nuclear deterrence,” Francis continues. “The ultimate goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons [is] both a challenge and a moral and humanitarian imperative.”

The nuclear ban treaty talks are being held at the UN in New York March 27-31. They were first announced in October and are being led by Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa and Sweden.

The United States and most other nuclear powers, including Russia, oppose the negotiations. The Obama administration voted against convening them, and President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, announced Monday that she was joining a boycott of the talks, along with representatives from several dozen other nations.

Francis sent his letter to Elayne Whyte Gómez, who is heading the talks and is Costa Rica’s representative at the UN. The pope had the document read aloud at the negotiations by Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, an undersecretary at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

In the text the pope references his speech to the UN General Assembly during his trip the U.S. in September 2015, quoting his exhortation then that “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.”

Francis has put a special emphasis on Jesus’ teachings of nonviolence during his papacy. In his message for this year’s World Day of Peace he called on Christians to emulate Jesus way of acting nonviolently.

“Jesus marked out the path of nonviolence,” the pope said in that message. “To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence.”

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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