April 28, 2010 // Uncategorized

Bishops ramp up efforts to mobilize church to support new arms pact

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Senate ratification of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is a moral imperative and a necessary step toward the eventual goal of total nuclear disarmament, Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of Baltimore said.

Speaking during an April 26 panel discussion on the ethics of President Barack Obama’s nuclear weapons policy hosted by The Catholic University of America, Archbishop O’Brien urged senators to cast aside partisan differences and approve the START agreement, which calls for what he described as “modest reductions” in American and Russian nuclear arsenals.

Signed April 8 in Prague, Czech Republic, by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the START “follow-on” treaty calls for both countries to reduce their strategic arsenals — weapons deployed on long-range missiles, bombers and submarines — to 1,550 each. Under the previous START pact, which expired in December, both countries reduced their strategic arsenals to 2,200 weapons each.

The Russian Duma also must approve the treaty, and from that point, both countries will have seven years to reach the agreement’s targets.

The archbishop’s call is the most recent public step by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and church leaders to build support for the new round of nuclear disarmament among Catholics in church pews as well as across the wide gap separating Senate Democrats and Republicans.

START again will be on the agenda when members of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace meet May 13 in Washington. The committee has discussed ways to support the treaty for a year, the same length of time it took to negotiate the new pact.

Archbishop O’Brien, a committee member and former head of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, told Catholic News Service after his presentation that efforts are needed in as many circles as possible to build momentum for the treaty’s ratification. That means, he explained, mobilizing Catholics to contact their senators urging them to support the pact.

“We have to get at these senators … and build the tide,” Archbishop O’Brien said.

One vehicle to mobilize Catholics, the archbishop suggested, is the nationwide network of state Catholic conferences, which could distribute information on the issue already developed by the bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.

The effort would be one of the most visible on the nuclear disarmament front since the bishops adopted their 1983 pastoral letter on peace and nuclear disarmament, “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response.” The letter then addressed many of the church’s moral concerns over the possession and use of nuclear weapons.

Panelist Rose E. Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Verification, Compliance and Implementation and the lead U.S. negotiator of the treaty, told CNS that the agreement gives the country an “opportunity for moral leadership” in the drive for worldwide nuclear disarmament.

She said she expects the agreement will be ratified because it contains new verification steps that consider the best interests of both countries.

“We have to enter into implementation of the treaty with a very firm knowledge that it is in our national security interests and furthermore provides a very good measure of predictability about what the Russians will be up to in the coming years,” she said.

“I believe that we can make a very good case for it,” added Gottemoeller, a Catholic. “It is a transitional treaty. It’s a step in the right direction. It is not a radical reduction. We want to eventually move in that direction, but at this moment we need to put in place a solid foundation that will give us the verification regime that we no longer have.”

Verification and inspection protocols on both sides expired with the end of the previous START agreement in December.

In his presentation, retired Army Maj. Gen. William Burns, a professor at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., said that while the treaty is an important step toward the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons, other agreements are just as vital for a safe and secure world.

Burns urged the Senate to also ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would end testing of new nuclear weapons, and the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, which would ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Both would “go a long way to getting a handle on the remaining nuclear weapons” in the world, he said.

Other panelists included Catholic University faculty members Maryann Cusimano-Love and William Barbieri.

Both encouraged wide-ranging citizen involvement on behalf of the nuclear disarmament cause.

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