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Supporters call for action to cut nuclear arsenals

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CLEVELAND (CNS) – The last time delegates from around the world gathered to review progress towards disarmament under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 2015, they left without consensus on how to proceed. go forward.

At the time, the US, Canada and UK – pressed by Israel – blocked passage of a carefully crafted text that had been negotiated throughout the month-long review conference. .

This time around, as the 10th Treaty Review Conference approaches, non-nuclear nations, the Holy See and proponents of nuclear disarmament are pushing for a strong statement on what to do to achieve cuts nuclear arsenals.

The conference was scheduled to open on January 4. However, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs announced a third postponement on December 28 due to a new outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. A UN official has tentatively set August 1 to 26 as the new time for the review conference.

The delay does not deter disarmament advocates, who will continue to organize for a more substantial result when the review conference is held.

“We sent letters to the missions. We have sent letters to bishops and other members of the Catholic Church urging people to keep pushing, ”Mary Yelenick, senior representative of Pax Christi International to the UN, told Catholic News Service in mid-December before the announcement of the postponement.

Yelenick and his fellow advocates seek to overcome the influence that a small number of nuclear-weapon countries have over the process in the hope that a definitive consensus document emerges. They said such a document must demand respect for the 51-year-old treaty requirement to “continue negotiations in good faith on effective measures to end the nuclear arms race at an early date and to end the nuclear arms race. nuclear disarmament”.

Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, professor of ethics and global development at Georgetown University, has expressed concern for the future of the treaty if no consensus is reached.

“It won’t spell the end of the treaty, but (it would be) a disaster for the treaty because non-nuclear states have clearly expressed their frustration with the lack of disarmament progress on the part of nuclear states,” he said. said.

Illustrating the importance of the upcoming conference, the chair of a committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called on U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to continue talks that would fulfill the intent of the treaty.

“We see the United States and Russia increasing spending from the defense budget to modernize and upgrade their massive nuclear stocks,” wrote Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, who chairs the Committee on international justice and peace, in a September 24 letter to Blink.

He expressed concern that the two countries, which hold the world’s largest nuclear arsenals, “are developing emerging technologies such as offensive cyber and hypersonic weapons” that “make it increasingly difficult to comply” with the treaty. .

“We hope that the Tenth NPT Review Conference scheduled for January 2022 will advance” the disarmament commitment of the treaty, the letter said.

Implicit in Bishop Malloy‘s plea is the nuclear threat facing humanity. It echoes calls to world leaders by Pope Francis and a senior Vatican official to end reliance on any weapon of mass destruction as a means of ensuring security.

In his 2020 encyclical “Fratelli Tutti, on fraternity and social friendship,” the Pope explained that “the rules alone will not be enough if we continue to believe that the solution to current problems is deterrence through fear. or the threat of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. weapons. “

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, echoed the Pope in a video message on November 17 addressed to the Italian Committee for a Civilization of Love and its “Nuclear for Peace” project.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic should teach people that security does not come from a country’s possession of nuclear weapons, but from working together to promote the common good with better access to health care, a poverty reduction and care for the environment.

“The ultimate goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons is both a challenge and a moral and humanitarian imperative,” he said, reiterating the Catholic Church‘s call for disarmament for decades.

Even with such a call, the effort to urge the nuclear powers that are part of the treaty to comply will be much more difficult under the rules governing participation in the conference.

Originally scheduled for 2020, the review conference has been delayed three times by the pandemic, forcing planners to limit attendance at UN headquarters to official country delegations. In the past, non-governmental organizations could attend in person.

Despite the limitations, disarmament advocates have said they will continue to use a variety of diplomatic channels to get their message across, especially because the issues facing delegates are more critical than ever as new nations scramble to ‘join the nuclear weapons club.

Susi Snyder, head of the nuclear disarmament program at PAX, the largest peace organization in the Netherlands and a regular partner of Pax Christi International, said she was in talks with non-nuclear countries who want all negotiations for the conference remain transparent.

The nuclear powers “need to put pressure on others in the room,” Snyder told CNS from his office in Utrecht, the Netherlands. “The question is who decides the policy (on such weapons). Is it the countries that decide the policy or do a few commercial interests decide the policy? “

“We unpack who has a vested interest and then hold governments to account,” Snyder said, stressing that if countries started cutting spending on nuclear weapons, they would be in a better position to respond to other pressing life challenges. and human dignity.

Snyder also questioned the lack of openness among officials planning the review conference. She said that due to the limited number of participants, Gustavo Zlauvinen, an Argentinian diplomat serving as conference chairperson-designate, has a duty to meet with civil society groups and share their concerns at the meetings of the UN.

The Office for Disarmament Affairs did not respond to requests for a response.

Ahead of the originally scheduled conference, Yelenick and Snyder noted that awareness has long been underway among disarmament advocates around the world, urging divestment from nuclear weapons manufacturers.

“We remain focused on what the guns are doing,” Snyder said, saying the effort will continue after the conference is over. “It is a reaffirmation that a nuclear war can never be won and never be fought.”

Although they cannot attend in person, defenders are planning side events online and outside of UN headquarters to inspire people to take action. They believe that any future movement towards disarmament must be led by ordinary people joining prayer vigils and protests and voicing their concerns to decision-makers.

In this sense, an American prelate took a step in the hope of motivating people to act.

Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, led a 20-minute prayer service on December 19 at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and unveiled a sign depicting Pope Francis and a quote from the Pope during from a visit to Hiroshima, Japan, in November 2019: “Possession of nuclear weapons is immoral.

The Archbishop told the 100 in attendance that the Archdiocese “must facilitate (and) encourage an ongoing conversation” on nuclear disarmament. He encouraged people to consider “our role in the current nuclear danger facing the world”.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of the country’s leading nuclear technology research centers, is located in the Archdiocese. The lab recently opened a small office in a building across from the shrine.

Archbishop Wester encouraged people to be instruments of peace and to “pray for God’s intervention” to keep the conversation going about the danger posed by nuclear weapons.

“Now is the time to commit to building peace,” he said, “and I ask you to add your voice to mine in this urgent conversation”.