Statement on New Nuclear Treaty and U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy

Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

May 24, 2002

We welcome the new treaty on strategic nuclear weapons signed today by President Bush and President Putin. We pray that this new treaty will not be seen as an end but as one of many steps that must be taken if we are to achieve the goal of a mutual, verifiable global ban on nuclear weapons.

The treaty should contribute to non-proliferation efforts and a safer world, particularly in the context of significantly improved relations between Russia and the United States and a commitment by the Bush administration to help Russia dismantle and make more secure its nuclear weapons complex. This treaty shows how progress in political relationships and progress in arms control can be mutually reinforcing. It is also an example of the useful role that independent initiatives can play in moving forward the long-stalled nuclear arms reduction process.

The threat of global nuclear war now seems remote, but the use of nuclear weapons -- by accident, by terrorists or in a regional conflict -- remains a significant threat. Mutual restraint, international cooperation, and leadership by example, are particularly important if the United States is to address effectively the very real threat that nuclear weapons still represent. While we welcome the new treaty and the President's stated commitment to seek ways to escape Mutual Assured Destruction, we are concerned that U.S. planning and policies keep pace with the dramatic changes in world politics since the end of the Cold War, and move away from reliance on nuclear weapons as a central part of our nation's military doctrine. The following issues are of particular importance:

Further cuts in nuclear weapons: We disagree with those who claim that this agreement represents the lowest level our nation can or should go in reducing its nuclear stockpiles. Nuclear deterrence should be used as a step on the way toward progressive disarmament. Even when this agreement is fully implemented ten years from now, Russia and the United States will still have thousands of deployed nuclear weapons and thousands more held in reserve for possible future use. Much deeper, more irreversible cuts, in both strategic and tactical weapons, are both possible and necessary. As we said in our 1993 statement, The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace, "The eventual elimination of nuclear weapons is more than a moral ideal; it should be a policy goal." More dramatic progress in arms control and disarmament is the only basis for the continued moral legitimacy of deterrence.

The use of nuclear weapons: We oppose the continued readiness of the United States to use nuclear weapons, especially against non-nuclear threats, and the potential development of new weapons for this purpose. We have long held that a minimal nuclear deterrent may be justified only to deter the use of nuclear weapons. It is long past time for the United States to commit itself never to use nuclear weapons first, to reject unequivocally proposals to use nuclear weapons to deter non-nuclear threats, and to reinforce the fragile barrier against the use of these weapons. We abhor any use of nuclear weapons.

Ratification of the test ban treaty: We urge the President to support the ratification of the comprehensive test ban treaty. An end to nuclear testing is one essential step in escaping the moral predicament posed by nuclear deterrence. Moreover, the United States cannot credibly urge other nations to forego these weapons if it is not even willing to ratify a treaty to stop testing its own nuclear weapons.

Threat reduction: More must be done to assist nuclear nations, particularly Russia, in dismantling and safeguarding their weapons and nuclear materials. The thousands of tactical nuclear weapons that are not covered by existing agreements are of particular concern. The United States, with other nuclear powers, has a special responsibility to use its influence and resources to lead in the construction of a more just and stable international order. An essential part of this international order must be a cooperative security framework that reverses the proliferation of nuclear weapons, guarantees the security of non-nuclear states, and seeks to find alternatives to war. The United States and other nations should take the necessary measures to help ensure the development of stable, democratic governments in nations which have nuclear weapons or might seek to obtain them. Our nation should lead in the challenging task of envisioning a future rooted in peace, with new global structures of mediation and conflict-resolution, and with a world order that has moved beyond nuclear weapons.