Policy & Advocacy

Backgrounder on Nuclear Arms and Landmines, April 2006

Year Published
  • 2013
  • English

The alarming increase of arms, together with the halting progress of commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, runs the risk of feeding and expanding a culture of competition and conflict, a culture involving not only States but also non-institutional entities, such as paramilitary groups and terrorist organizations. -- Pope John Paul II, January 1, 2001

Nuclear Weapons

Reductions. More than a decade after the end of the Cold War, the threat of global nuclear war is more remote, but we live in a still dangerous time of nuclear proliferation and a continuing risk of nuclear use. Since the end of the Cold War, deployed strategic nuclear weapons have been cut by 40% and intermediate-range nuclear weapons have been eliminated. Decrying the slow pace of negotiations, in November 2001 the Bush administration announced unilateral cuts in deployed strategic nuclear weapons. In May 2002, the U. S. and Russia agreed to a treaty that codifies these unilateral cuts by reducing deployed strategic warheads to 1,700-2,200 on each side by 2012. This is a significant reduction from the 6,000 warheads permitted under START I and the 3,000-3,500 permitted under START II. As with previous reductions, an undetermined number of the 4,000 weapons “cut” from the U. S. arsenal would be stored, not dismantled. Unlike other treaties, this is a “good faith” treaty that does not contain verification measures. The treaty expires on the same date that its reductions become mandatory. There are no current plans to further reduce these weapons. The treaty does not cover thousands of tactical (short-range) nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Use. Three U.S. documents issued in 2002 – Nuclear Posture Review, National Security Strategy and National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction – make clear that the United States continues to threaten the use of nuclear weapons in response to the use of chemical or biological weapons by non-nuclear states.

New Nuclear Weapons. In FY 2004, Congress repealed a ban on research and development of new nuclear weapons and appropriated $7.5 million for research on the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (“bunker buster”) and $6 million for research on low-yield nuclear weapons (“mini-nukes”). Development of these weapons would require separate Congressional approval. In FY05 and FY06, the Administration requested funds for on-going research on the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNWP). In a major victory for advocates, Congress deleted these funds in both FY 05 and FY06. The Administration’s FY07 budget does not appropriate funds for research on the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, but there are concerns that funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead program may used to develop new nuclear weapons and that the program is unnecessary in light of the efficacy of Stockpile Stewardship Program in maintaining the reliability of existing weapons.

Testing. In October 1999, the U.S. Senate failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that bans nuclear testing. The Bush administration opposes ratification of this treaty but has committed to maintaining the current U. S. moratorium on testing. At the same time, the Administration requested $30 million in FY05 to ready the Nevada test site for possible testing.

USCCB Position: The end of the Cold War has led to some progress in reducing nuclear weapons, but these efforts have not been commensurate with the dramatic changes in world politics. The U.S. and other nuclear powers must move away from reliance on nuclear weapons for their security. A global ban is more than a moral ideal; it should be a policy goal. The positive example of the U.S. will be important to international efforts to address nonproliferation and the successful control of nuclear materials in this age of terrorism.

Arms Reductions. The 2002 Moscow Treaty is a welcome indication of how progress in political relationships and progress in arms control can be mutually reinforcing. The USCCB has urged the Administration and Congress to view the treaty not as an end but as one of many steps that must be taken to achieve the goal of a mutual, verifiable global ban on nuclear weapons. Much deeper, more irreversible cuts, in both strategic and tactical weapons, are both possible and necessary. In June 2000, the USCCB joined 18 retired military leaders and 20 other religious leaders in calling for deeper cuts and ultimately a global ban.

Development of New, Usable Weapons. The readiness of the United States to use nuclear weapons, especially against non-nuclear threats, and the potential development of new weapons should be opposed. A minimal nuclear deterrent may be justified only to deter the use of nuclear weapons. It is past time for the U.S. to commit never to use nuclear weapons first and to reject use of nuclear weapons to deter non-nuclear threats. The bishops abhor any use of nuclear weapons.

Testing. The U.S. should ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The CTBT will thwart the development of new nuclear weapons, and will impede efforts of other nations to obtain them.

Anti-personnel landmines kill and maim countless innocent victims and are a serious obstacle to the economy of the developing countries, since they deprive them of extensive areas of agricultural land that are not yet mine free …. --Pope John Paul II, November 22, 2004


Some 150 nations have signed the 1997 Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty, which bans the production, stockpiling, transfer and use of anti-personnel (AP) landmines. President Clinton refused to sign the treaty, citing the need for AP landmines in Korea. The Bush administration has indicated that it does not plan to sign the Treaty. The U. S. continues to be a leader in funding global humanitarian de-mining and landmine survivor assistance, but the U.S. was not even represented at the First Review Conference of the Anti-Personnel Landmine Convention in Nairobi in November 2004. In the fall of 2005, the Conference and others successfully supported appropriations language to ensure that “landmines alternatives” being developed by the Department of Defense are evaluated for “potential indiscriminate effects” before “any full rate productions decision for these systems.”

USCCB Position: With the Holy See, the USCCB supports securing a U.S. commitment to sign the Mine Ban Treaty to eliminate the scourge of these morally unacceptable weapons that do not distinguish between soldiers and civilians or between times of war and times of peace.

Action Requested

  • More immediately, ask members of Congress to scrutinize the Reliable Replacement Warhead program to ensure that it is not used to develop new nuclear weapons.
  • Longer term, continue to urge Senators to support eventual U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty.

Resources: Recent documents include: Letter by Bishop William Skylstad on Nuclear Weapons (8/2/2005), Letter to Congress on Landmines Alternatives by Bishop John Ricard (10/31/2005), Letters to Congress on New Nuclear Weapons by Bishop Ricard (5/10/2005, 7/18/2005).

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