The Editors
Image

The International Atomic Energy Agency reports that Iran continues to advance its nuclear program. It has built hundreds of new centrifuges in a deep underground facility to increase its ability to produce low-enriched uranium. Iran claims the program is for peaceful purposes like producing medical isotopes. Others suspect that Iran intends to build a nuclear weapon. U.S. intelligence, at present, does not believe Iran has made this decision.

The Obama administration insists “there is time and space” for continued diplomatic efforts, which have included multilateral negotiations with the P5+1 coalition (the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members plus Germany) and economic sanctions. Meanwhile, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, has encouraged the United States and other major powers to “declare today that the talks have failed.” There is speculation that Israel will attack Iran’s nuclear sites before the U.S. election.

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said, “If you think war in Iraq was hard, an attack on Iran would be catastrophic,” and it would only set back Iran’s nuclear program by two or three years. Striking nuclear sites also risks ecological devastation and human exposure to nuclear radiation. Meir Dagan, a former Israeli intelligence chief, has warned, “A bombing would be considered an act of war, and there would be an unpredictable counterattack against us.” An aggressive Iranian response could result in the loss of thousands of lives and the spread of terrorism, especially against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Obama administration should not participate, directly or indirectly, in an Israeli military strike against Iran and should strongly caution the Israeli government against such an act. So far, diplomatic efforts have failed to persuade Tehran to become more cooperative. As more people “fear the worst”—a nuclear-armed Iran—and begin to accept war as inevitable, the present moment urgently demands re-evaluating the standoff from a fresh perspective.

What might create a new opportunity for successful diplomacy? During the cold war, national episcopal conferences took up the question of nuclear deterrence, and in 1982 Blessed John Paul II clarified that nuclear deterrence may be morally acceptable only “as a step on the way toward a progressive disarmament.” Thirty years later, nuclear weapons are a permanent fixture in national security strategies; deterrence has become institutionalized. In 2006 Pope Benedict XVI called this situation “baneful” and “completely fallacious.”

In a message addressed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference in 2010, the pope advocated “the creation of zones free of nuclear weapons, with a view to their complete elimination from the planet.” Archbishop Celestino Migliore, former permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, specifically called for such a zone in the Middle East.

In this spirit, the international community should press Israel to end its longstanding policy of “deliberate ambiguity” and to bring its nuclear weapon capacity—believed to consist of between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads—into public light. Israel should sign the treaty, open its nuclear facilit ies to I.A.E.A. inspections and safeguards and commit itself to “effective measures” toward a “general and complete [nuclear] disarmament under strict and effective international control,” as the treaty requires. This is consistent with the U.S. goal of “universal adherence” to the treaty, and it represents a critical step toward creating a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, an objective supported by 64 percent of Israeli Jews, according to a survey in November 2011 by the Dahaf Polling Institute in Israel.

It is likewise time for the nuclear-armed states that are signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to ask some critical questions about their own nuclear weapon policies and participation in international agreements. It is disingenuous for the Obama administration to demand transparency and cooperation from Iran while the United States continues to invest more than $30 billion annually into maintaining and modernizing its 1,737 deployed nuclear weapons. Like Iran, the United States has commitments under the N.P.T. Nuclear-weapon states are obliged to progress toward a “general and complete [nuclear] disarmament.” The aim of the treaty is to create a world free of nuclear weapons, a task unequivocally supported by Catholic social teaching.

Only when the United States and Israel take concrete and effective steps toward nuclear disarmament will they possess the requisite moral authority to challenge Iran (and other nations) to abide by their international agreements. This is absolutely necessary if there is ever to be a genuine and lasting peace.

Comments

JOHN FRANK | 9/26/2012 - 3:49pm
Just a Thank You.
Ana Blasucci | 9/23/2012 - 7:25pm
Oppose or support an attack on Iran; you would have good reasons in either case.  But to strike a moral equivalency between the US and Israel on the one hand and Iran and its ilk on the other demonstrates a withered analytical ability.
The moral authority of the West vis a vis Iran stems from them NOT being oppressive, disordered, outlaw states, but trying to rein in a regime that is (one that the West has been terrifically tolerant of, as history shows).
But beyond this, after thousands of years of conflict history, punctuated by "Munich," and raised to high art by the Soviet era, can we admit that there are nations that simply do not have a useful concept of moral authority.
Even in civil societies we do not deal with criminals as we deal with the law-abiding.  The world cannot afford to do so on a macro-scale either.
All nations are not equal, and all governments are certainly not equal (in Iran's case, its apocalyptic theology might even render "deterrence" useless).
One can legitimately oppose an attack on Iran.  But let's get on firm intellectual as well as spiritual ground, perhaps re-examine some ideas of peace and war, to the extent we can and are permitted to as Catholics.  Peace and justice must always remain our actual goals.  Let's use our God-given reason and appreciation for experience as well as prayer and discernment.
David Pasinski | 9/19/2012 - 2:22pm
Israel has nuclear weapons, it's presumed, right? Hardly able to preach about non-proliferation
Kevin Murphy | 9/18/2012 - 10:44pm
The editorial fails (I know not how) to mention that Iran has repeatedly threatened genocide on the Israelis not once, but many times. Yet somehow the US and Israelis are found morally lacking and must "come up to snuff" before taking steps to prevent Iran from perpetuating in one hour a greater holocaust than Hitler's final solution? Ridiculous.
ROBERT OCONNELL | 9/18/2012 - 9:54pm
If I was an Israeli,  this editorial, especially when coupled with John Anderson's review of Tears of Gaza, would trouble me immensely. The editors seem to regard Iran more respectfully than Israel.

No other nation lives with the overt hostility that Israel suffers. Perhaps the editors could relocate to Jerusalem:  that might give rise to respect for Israel and the "requisite moral authority" to pontificate about how Israel defends itself.
charles smith | 9/17/2012 - 4:23pm
Your argument is  morally and rationally correct . The problem is that the mullah leadership in Iran are immoral and irrational. When you are resposible for the lives of both the Iraeli citizens and U.S. population we may have to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities in order to provide a long enough delay to allow the moral and rational segments of the Iranian population to revolt against the demons in Terhran. Any attack must coordinate with those aiding the Iranian democratic movement.
ed gleason | 9/16/2012 - 3:12pm
For Israeli PM Netanyahu to demand a 'red line' and the Tea Party constitutional wavers do not remind him that neither Bibi or Obama can authorize a war. This is  the height of hypocracy. Why not have the GOP House put up a red line to  a vote before Nov. or shut the hell up.
Robert DuBrul | 9/15/2012 - 10:32am
Thank you for your clear-headed editorial on the Iran issue.  Unfortunately the hawks are out flying again, ready to commit the US to more war, more sacrifice and more division - for what?  We have no threat from Iran, other than they won't roll over when we say "roll over."  We cannot be a true world leader without respect for our sense of morality, justice and equality.  And then there is the issue of our own belief: how can a strike at Iran square with turning the other cheek, with putting away our sword, with loving our neighbor. We at times overwhelm ourselves with our exceptionalism - we don't have to follow the rules, just make them. Has the last 10 years of useless war not taught us anything?  Let's hope an pray we can someday become a nation that really seeks peace, not power.
LARRY | 9/14/2012 - 11:40pm

Pope John Paul II, you reminded us, advocated "the creation of zones free of nuclear weapons, with a view to their complete elimination from the planet.” 

Weapons of mass destruction are morally evil because they are built, as their name implies, to kill indiscriminate masses of people and innocent civilians by the tens of thousands. They should not be in in any nation’ arsenal of weapons, because no nation is morally permitted to use them.

Nuclear-anti-proliferation talks are unreasonable and a waste of time as long as even one of the participants is permitted to have, and is able to use, nuclear weapons.

Isn’t it the duty of every responsible nation to arm itself against the possibility of a nuclear threat by building for itself a suitable nuclear defense?

Why should Iran (and North Korea) not have the same bomb as the USA, Russia, Pakistan, India and especially Israel are currently permitted to have? Shouldn’t they also build an adequate nuclear defense against nations that have a nuclear capability?

In the USA we control thousands of WMDs. We are able to use them, and we did use them. Yes, we are the only country on earth that has immorally used an atom bomb, killing, maiming and disfiguring 200,000 innocent civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Who gave us the moral right to prevent Iran and North Korea from having, if they can develop them, the same weapons of mass destruction which we have and which we have used? Regrettable was the deafening silence of most official Catholic churchmen about the immorality of what must have been one of President Truman’s most difficult personal decisions. Because of the terrible pressure of that historical war moment, Truman could perhaps be personally forgiven his immoral decision, but that decision remains immoral.

Nuclear-anti-proliferation-talks will begin to make sense only if the United States and all the other nuclear-capable countries voluntarily destroy their own arsenals of WMDs, and unite firmly with every nation on earth against any nation who would dare to rebuild them.

No nation could survive the threat of a total boycott and embargo by a united world that preaches what it practices.

WILLIAM ATKINSON | 9/14/2012 - 2:27pm
The just war theory, medivial in its mores, is a thing of the past as the world assumes the right to pre-strike where it feels evil is oncoming, to stop mass destruction before it can take place. In past mores we waited to take action after a evil act took place, today the world can not afford to wait till mass destruction or social bad acts happen. People, social groups, local and national, world governments must pre-act to prevent such disasters and destruction to take place. This is the new mores.
LEONARD VILLA | 9/14/2012 - 2:01pm
This editorial borders on the absurd. No it is absurd. America and Israel have to disarm in order to credibly deal with a nuclear Iran? What world are you living in? This is the same fake and ridiculous moral equivalence argument that used to be made when it was the USA versus the Soviet Union. Such arguments ignore reality an intellectual malaise. We have rogue states who have fanatic mobs committing murder and mayhem in the name of Islam which these governments (ah the Democratic spring!)cannot control in some cases and who are actively complicit in others. China is an enemy of US interests and so is Russia under Putin and you want the US and Israel to nuclear-disarm???? This is the same kind of dillusional thinking and weakness that is coming out of the Obama administration and is a big contributor to the loss of American lives and Middle East chaos! This murder and mayhem is not being perpetrated by American and Israeli mobs. Your editorial is the same kind of moral weakness that was exemplified by the appeasers prior to World War II exemplified by Neville Chamberlain. It contributed to a World War. Iran and similar fanatic regimes simply have to be defeated. Si vis pacem para bellum an ancient form of Realpolitik! You need a reality-check big time.

Recently in Editorials