U.S. must quickly move beyond nuclear deterrence, Archbishop O'Brien urges

Archbishop Edwin O'Brien at Deterrence Symposium / Photo Credit: U.S. Strategic Command
Archbishop Edwin O'Brien at Deterrence Symposium / Photo Credit: U.S. Strategic Command


Experts from around the country gathered at the U.S. Strategic Command on Offutt Air Force Base to participate in the first nuclear weapons Deterrence Symposium. Archbishop Edwin O'Brien delivered the keynote address at the summit and said that terrorism shows the U.S. must "move beyond nuclear deterrence as rapidly as possible."

The symposium, which was held in Omaha, Nebraska, brought together academic, government, military and international experts to explore the full range of deterrence thinking.

Drawing on his experience as the former Archbishop for Military Services and his current position on the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Bishops' Conference, Archbishop O'Brien urged the world and its leaders to "stay focused on the destination of a nuclear-weapons-free world and on the concrete steps that lead there."

In his talk, Archbishop O’Brien drew on longstanding Catholic teaching that nuclear deterrence is only acceptable to prevent others from using nuclear weapons and as a step along a path to a world without nuclear weapons. Among his sources for this teaching were the Second Vatican Council, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and the U.S. bishops.

Nuclear deterrence is not "a long-term basis for peace," he argued, adding that "…the spread of nuclear weapons and technology to other nations, and the threat of nuclear terrorism, which cannot be deterred with nuclear weapons, point to the need to move beyond nuclear deterrence as rapidly as possible."

Archbishop O’Brien also proposed several concrete steps that the Church endorses for achieving total nuclear disarmament. His steps included the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty and the revision of military doctrines of nuclear weapon states to "renounce the first use of nuclear weapons" and "declare they will not be used against non-nuclear threats."

Arriving at total nuclear disarmament will be difficult, Archbishop O'Brien said, urging political and religious leaders to forge ahead.

"They know the path will be difficult and will require determined political leadership, strong public support, and the dedicated skills of many capable leaders and technical experts. But difficult is not impossible," he said.

The full text of Archbishop O’Brien’s talk, "Nuclear Weapons and Moral Questions: The Path to Zero," can be found online at: www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/nuclearzero.shtml