From The Monitor, San Francisco, August 5, 1982.



On June 11, Cardinal Casaroli delivered a formal message of John Paul II to the UN Disarmament Session. In view of the considerable confusion on this topic, the Holy Father's wise remarks are of particular significance. They again remind us of the careful way he thinks on this topic (cf. "National Defense," The Monitor, April 15, 1981). What is striking about this recent address is its practical realism, its quiet note of encouragement, its awareness of what factors actual politicians responsible for nuclear defense and a nation's good must face.


Here, there are no dramatic gestures for "surrender," no "better red than dead," no calls for unilateral pacifism. We find no one-sided analyses of the dangers which exist, no lack of awareness of military, political, or spiritual issues. The Pope does not think that wars are caused by "arms." "These (inalienable) rights are demanded in countries where the space (of freedom) is denied them to live in tranquility according to their own convictions. I invite all those struggling for peace to commit themselves to the effort to eliminate the true causes of the insecurity of man of which the terrible arms race is only one effect." In this, the Pope would seem more to agree with Margaret Thatcher, who told the same forum: "Let us face reality. The springs of war lie in the readiness to resort to force against other nations, and not in "arms' races," whether real or imaginary. Aggressors do not start wars because an adversary has built up his own strength. They start wars because they believe they can gain more by going to war than by remaining at peace" (New York Times, June 24, 1982).


John Paul II acknowledges a widespread desire for peace, but not just any sort of "peace." He does not think disarmament is a "utopia," but it must be "mutual and surrounded by such guarantees of effective controls that it gives everyone confidence and necessary security." In everything he has said on this subject, the Pope has insisted on effective, assured controls.


The Pope is the first to recognize the complexity of the issue, an area in which "there are divergent viewpoints that can be expressed." But the steps to disarmament must be clear, secure, thought out, guaranteed. "(The Church) has deplored the arms race, called none-the-less for mutual progressive and verifiable reduction of armaments as well as greater safeguards against possible misuses of these weapons. It has done so while urging that the independence, freedom, and legitimate security of each and every nation be respected." The Pope doe snot want to see disarmament talks used to gain covertly advantages of other kinds.


Contemporary peace movements are taken as good signs, but they too must be squarely analyzed. "The ideological bases of these movements are multiple. Their projects, proposals, and policies vary greatly and can often lend themselves to political exploitation." No one, presumably, is obliged either to deny "exploitation" of peace movements if they happen, nor to bind himself to unverifiable nuclear promises.


The Holy Father holds that deterrence remains a legitimate political means, as Vatican II held. "In current conditions, 'deterrence based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself, but as a step in the way towards a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable." The Pope makes a reasonable case about why deterrence can and ought to lead to real guaranteed negotiations: "Today once again before you all, I reaffirm my confidence in the power of true negotiation to arrive at justice and equitable solutions. Such negotiations demand patience and diligence and must notably lead to a reduction of armaments that is balanced, simultaneously, and internationally controlled."


The Holy Father does not talk either, about arms without talking about liberty. He is concerned about other world problems, but sees that conventional arms are as much problems as nuclear ones, perhaps more so, as no one is pronouncing on recent conventional wars. The Pope also wants to put the whole issue at a higher level. Arms reduction cannot happen by itself or be secured by itself. "Peace" ... is the result of respect for ethical principles," he continued. "True disarmament that will actually guarantee peace among peoples will come about only with the resolution of this ethical crisis. To the extent that the efforts at arms reduction and then of total disarmament are not matched by parallel ethical renewal, they are doomed to failure."


These latter are vital words in John Paul II. As I have suggested in my Church, State, and Society in the Thought of John Paul II, the Pope seeks true discussion and communication at a level wherein people are really free. But he knows that this freedom is a spiritual reality that can be rejected or impeded. He does not suggest that we claim it is present if it is not. John Paul II remains one of few realists in the world who can on this basis talk to us of ethics and higher law.