The Vatican's Foreign Policy after the Collapse of Soviet Communism

By Evans, Ernest | World Affairs, Summer 1992 | Go to article overview

The Vatican's Foreign Policy after the Collapse of Soviet Communism


Evans, Ernest, World Affairs


The collapse of the Soviet Union has caused a reassessment of foreign policy goals and strategies among all of the principal actors in world politics, whether these actors are nations, multinational corporations, public international organizations, or private international organizations. Given that the Soviet Union was an avowedly atheistic superpower, its collapse has made a particular impact on religious groups and organizations. The Vatican, as the head of the Roman Catholic church, the world's single largest religious body, is no exception to this process of reassessment; its foreign policy has been deeply affected by the collapse of Soviet communism. This article will assess the impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union on four key issues confronting the Vatican in world affairs:

* The disarmament question * Global democratization * Social democracy * The North/South conflict

Modern warfare, particularly the development of weapons of mass destruction in the years since 1945, has posed a terrible ethical dilemma for the Catholic church. Many Catholics have argued that the traditional Catholic teaching on the just war, which held that war was morally acceptable in some circumstances, has been made obsolete by nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons of mass destruction. Specifically, the argument has been made that, in two respects, weapons of mass destruction make the idea of a just war obsolete: First, nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons are so destructive that their use would inevitably kill enormous numbers of civilians, thereby violating the just war's condition that, in order to be just, a war had to avoid killing non-combatants. Second, weapons of mass destruction are so destructive that their use could, quite possibly, destroy the world, thereby violating the just war's condition that, in order to be just, the benefits of going to war had to outweigh the costs of not going to war.

The Catholic church recognized the very serious moral questions raised by the development of weapons of mass destruction. However, the church was also concerned by the fact that the Soviet Union had already absorbed into its empire a number of predominantly Catholic countries (such as Poland, Hungary, and Lithuania) and, with its large military forces in Eastern Europe, posed a major threat to the rest of Europe. The church feared that, were it to abandon the just war doctrine and embrace some form of pacifism, the result would be to encourage the Soviet Union's drive for world hegemony. Consequently, the church refused to totally repudiate the just war teaching; instead, as in the 1983 Peace Pastoral of the U.S. Bishops (the final version of which was cleared with the Vatican), the U.S. church held that nuclear deterrence was morally acceptable as a transitional arrangement to full and complete disarmament.(1)

The collapse of the Soviet Union has led to a reassessment by the Vatican of the issues of the just war, disarmament, and weapons of mass destruction. On the one hand, the nations of the former Soviet Union still have thousands of nuclear weapons. Also, a number of countries around the world are in the process of trying to acquire nuclear weapons; some of these nations (such as Iran) are quite hostile to Christianity. Given that a number of non-catholic countries have or will soon have nuclear weapons, the Vatican win undoubtedly be cautious about any sort of calls for unilateral disarmament by the Western nations. On the other hand, the collapse of the Soviet military threat to Western Europe will surely cause the Vatican to urge the United States and its NATO allies to push for reductions in military spending with the hope that such reductions will free resources for such church goals as systematic attacks on world hunger and world poverty.

The democratization and redemocratization of a number of countries in the past two decades has posed a major challenge to the church's diplomacy. …

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