In the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council unequivocally condemned the nuclear arms race. They warned political hegemons that an arms race would prove catastrophic for their own civilians. Sadly, their warning was prescient. In his war of aggression against Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently threatened the West with punishment “the likes of which one has never seen” should the United States and Europe impose harsher sanctions on his corrupt regime. Putin even ordered the nation’s nuclear weapons to engage “high alert” status, thus dangerously escalating the war in the East with fear mongering tactics.
President Biden exercised prudence when he refused to capitulate to Putin’s hubris. Portraying an ostensible “inaction” regarding this nuclear threat, Biden spoke forcefully, and with wisdom, when he refused to engage in such dangerous discussion. Engaging the possibility of nuclear force beggars belief in the 21st century. It’s also terribly ironic. Such weaponry would ultimately solidify Putin’s demise, at the cost of destroying millions of innocent lives in his own country.
The fathers at the Second Vatican Council understood that nuclear weapons do not enshrine peace, even amidst popular “deterrence” theories. They prophetically teach us about the dangers of this hypothesis, noting that “the arms race is an utterly treacherous trap for humanity, and one which ensnares the poor to an intolerable degree” (GS 81). The calculations of war require delicate negotiation, and sometimes require defensive force, no doubt. But the United States cannot engage Putin with his own arrogant rhetoric about the possibility of using nuclear force. The fate of the world depends on it.
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