H.E. Cardinal Silvano M. Tomasi reflects on moving towards a nuclear-free world

H.E. Cardinal Silvano M. Tomasi Photo: Pierre Albouy/Sovereign Order of Malta

(WCC)- In an exclusive interview with the World Council of Churches, H.E. Cardinal Silvano M. Tomasi reflects on the the global conversation about a world free from nuclear weapons, and how churches can get involved. He also shares his insights on strategies to decrease the funds allocated to the arms race and dedicate them to economic recovery.

In what ways do you believe this milestone Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to be a significant step into a new era of conflict prevention versus military intervention?

Cardinal Tomasi: After the vast destruction of World War II and the first use of the atomic bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world has been moving toward a consensus that such weapons of mass destruction are immoral and ought to be declared illegal because of the devastating and uncontrollable damages they cause to civilians and the environment. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons heralds in a new era in international law and increasingly in public opinion: it is not right for states to own and use nuclear weapons. Then adherence to the treaty by the majority of states can increase the divide between states party and states not party, eventually isolating them and encouraging them to accept the treaty. In addition, non-nuclear weapons-holding states can now use legal leverage, as well as financial pressure with resources derived through divestment, to promote this goal, while before they were powerless in this regard. There is no illusion that moral declarations alone will lead to disarmament, but the newly enacted norms can support and even drive complex negotiations, hopefully toward achieving the goal of a world free from nuclear weapons.

The global conversation will eventually be forced to reckon with the moral and legal implications of any method of warfare. By beginning with the fundamental understanding of the immorality of nuclear and other mass destruction weapons, alternatives will have to prevail in international relations so that slowly conflict prevention and dialogue may become the global standard and military intervention the deviation.

What would you like to say to leaders of the nuclear armed and nuclear umbrella states who refuse to support the treaty?

Cardinal Tomasi: That this is a crucial opportunity for states everywhere to adopt dialogue to solve disputes. Non-nuclear weapons states can use the legal leverage that the treaty provides. To avoid the continued hegemony of the few nuclear weapons states in the world system, now is the time for non-nuclear weapons states to join together and to show that progress is possible even in the area of disarmament. The upcoming review conference on the non-proliferation treaty provides a great opportunity for states to make their voices heard and to strive for greater cooperation. Civil society actors are working to promote understanding of the treaty through dialogue, informational “toolkits,” and public advocacy campaigns. These steps can have a real impact in democratic societies. In fact, states of all sizes and political organizations can play an integral role in achieving nuclear disarmament. For nuclear states, it is time to start heeding the cries of their own people for disarmament as this is now enshrined in international law. The pressure will continue to mount, so these states would be well served to act now when the opportunity presents itself.

How can we as churches help engage those nations?

Cardinal Tomasi: Pope Francis has given priority to this issue, and his speed in signing the treaty indicates the Holy See’s belief that total disarmament ought to be a global priority since the achievement of this goal will lead to a more secure world for all. This moral stand was clearly understood by many countries that were quick to sign and ratify the treaty. The Holy See has also facilitated several conferences and negotiations to concretely advance the entry-into-force of the treaty. In this area, religions and all denominations can converge and amplify together the same moral message for believers and non-believers alike.

How can people who are part of the ecumenical family at local levels help advance and support steps toward a world free from nuclear weapons?

Cardinal Tomasi: Local initiatives are very important for moving towards total disarmament. Education is a first step particularly for those who are unfamiliar with the need for and advantages of disarmament. This is a crucial service that local ecumenical communities could witness together. Campaigns such as Don’t Bank on the Bomb provide appropriate educational materials, which local actors can broadcast throughout their communities. Accompaniment in the education process is also crucial to win the hearts and minds of those with whom we engage in dialogue. Additionally, local actors can make their voices heard at higher levels, by contacting their representatives and networking online.

What are “boiling points” currently in the world that most concern you?

Cardinal Tomasi: The mere existence of nuclear weapons is a constant risk. Then, the pandemic has brought to light and intensified the extreme inequalities present in our societies. Famine has doubled in its scope and severity, and without immediate concerted action, many more people will die. In the meantime, economic inequalities will increase. The potential threats posed by emerging technologies are also becoming more relevant in this time, when we are increasingly reliant on technology. For example, the technological changes in warfare must be monitored and considered from an ethical perspective.

What key issues and insights from the recent encyclical letter Fratelli tutti do you think are of special significance in relation to these challenges?

Cardinal Tomasi: Pope Francis has recognized that the pandemic brings to light our true priorities and needs as a human family, and has encouraged deep reflection and active changes towards a world more committed to building just systems at the service of the people. For this reason, the establishment of a World Fund to address human development with the money previously invested in the military and weapons – is primary in relation to the socio-economic issues we face today. It is not only a worthy goal, but a moral good. Increased investments in arms arise from a feeling of insecurity, but a society can never be secure if the essential needs of its people are not met. The institution of a World Fund would reduce the risk of conflict, as it moves towards eliminating nuclear arsenals, reallocating funds to the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals, and concretizing states’ commitments to integral security. Indeed, the intensive negotiations required for an initiative of this size demands trust and multilateral cooperation.

The present pandemic could act as a catalyst toward this ambitious goal. In economically difficult times for all states – including the great powers – being able to release funds to revive the economy is essential. Decreasing the funds allocated to the arms race and dedicating them to economic recovery is actually a strategic choice for those states that wish to maintain their preeminence within the international system. Their influence and power will soon be judged based on their ability to recover from the crisis.

 What is your best memory from your service as permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva?

Cardinal Tomasi: The experience of seeing states with different interests forming coalitions  to achieve a shared goal showed me the possibility of placing the common good ahead of national or regional concerns. Such a possibility, with special attention to the poorer countries and to the more vulnerable groups within society is a lesson that I see applicable, with everyone’s good will, to even the most difficult situations emerging in the international arena.

How can churches play a significant role in the UN?

Cardinal Tomasi: Civil society is taking up a new significant role in the international bodies.

Churches already play a strong role at the UN through non-governmental organizational coalitions they inspire and through diplomatic action in the case of the Holy See. By finding common ground with others who pursue the goals which our Christian social doctrine advocates, we can have a real impact. By staying true to the Gospel and in a spirit of brotherly and interreligious dialogue, we can contribute in an effective way to the common good of the whole human family.

H.E. Cardinal Silvano M. Tomasi has served as the special delegate to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta since 1 November 2020. He was the permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva from 2003 to 2016.

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