Time to Pledge Nuclear Disarmament

Article excerpt

The good news earlier this month was that more than 170 nations agreed to extend in perpetuity a treaty intended to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. The Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was made permanent by acclamation.

The bad news was the nations could not agree on a final document. This was largely because the major nuclear weapons nations refused to commit themselves in any concrete way to ridding themselves of their dependence on nuclear weapons.

That maintains a basically unstable two-tier world: those with and those without nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, the United States, by holding onto its weapons while lobbying hard for other nations to keep from developing their own, is on thin moral grounds.

The nonproliferation treaty, which went into effect in 1970, by agreement was to be reviewed this year to decide whether it should be extended for a set period, ended or prolonged indefinitely. The treaty limits nuclear weapons to the five nations that had them at the time -- the United States, Britain, France, China and the Soviet Union, now Russia. All other signers had to promise not to acquire them.

This month's announcement followed four weeks of intensive U.S. lobbying and sometimes bitter debate between the five declared nuclear powers, all of whom favored indefinite extension, and those nations without nuclear arms, which were hesitant to see the treaty extended indefinitely in its present form. They argued -- understandably -- that the treaty had allowed a small number of countries to maintain an unfair monopoly over nuclear arms.

For its part, the United States insists on continuing its decades-old nuclear deterrence path. Even well into the post-Cold War era, it refuses to renounce the use of nuclear weapons or to seriously commit itself to total nuclear disarmament.

It was in 1983 that the U.S. bishops, in "The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response," offered their "strictly conditioned moral acceptance of nuclear deterrence." This conditioned moral acceptance, however, was based on "progress toward a world freed of dependence on nuclear deterrence." Such a world, the bishops added, "must not be delayed."

Progress has been made toward disarmament, and people of goodwill disagree on whether that progress has been too fast or too slow. …