Why the Pope's opinion on deterrence does not matter

Pope Francis' latest encyclical, titled "Fratelli tutti", was published last week. It exhaustively discloses the political thought of the Bishop of Rome on the pandemic and containment, both of which we know have affected Italians. Without being devout Catholics, many people close to the left will read with great interest this critical analysis of liberal capitalism and its harmful consequences on human fraternity. The reader may be seduced by the denunciation of neoliberalism and populism, "at the same time".

He will see how much the Argentine pope, son of Italian immigrants, is constant in his approach to the phenomenon of migration and in his ecological concern. He can only adhere to the call for dialogue between cultures and a better understanding of Islam. For all this, the reader on the left will welcome this encyclical with interest. All this would not, however, justify a forum of the Mars group if the text did not mention war in general and nuclear deterrence in particular, in terms that should be deciphered.

The Pope must reread ... the Bible

To tell the truth, to qualify the war as "false answer" and "of injustice", everyone can agree. To repeat, like Paul VI in his time, "Never again war!", One cannot be against. The observation that "war is not a fantasy of the past but on the contrary it has become a constant threat" (§256) is more interesting in that it introduces a drop of realism into an anointing of good feelings. To recall, twice, that the Charter of the United Nations is "a true fundamental legal norm", "an obligatory point of reference of justice and a way of peace" (§257) constitutes an explicit criticism of the great powers, which claim s 'to free them in these "first twenty years of this millennium". We will also approve of the observation that "we did not take advantage, as it should be, of the opportunities offered by the end of the Cold War; on the contrary, we gave in to the search for special interests without worrying about the common good. universal "(§260). Follow my gaze! Such a reminder of the virtues of multilateralism is useful, it is a constant axis of the diplomacy of the Holy See. More original, and welcome, is the denunciation of the "manipulation of information" to justify war (§258).

Then the encyclical gives way to the subjectivity of Jorge Bergoglio, who does not hesitate to consider the theories of "just war" and self-defense as obsolete (note 242). To claim, at the turn of an encyclical, to abrogate more than fifteen centuries of Christian thought since St Augustine on this major anthropological phenomenon that is war, is a somewhat pathetic claim. As for going back to the principle of self-defense on which the Charter of the United Nations is based, it is just inconsistent with the previous paragraph. We can only advise the Pope to reread "the Bible, which clearly forbids all violence, but legitimizes it in the case of self-defense", "we find in this regard in the Talmud an emblematic sentence: if someone stands up to kill, get up and kill him before ", recalled in 2014 the Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia, then chief military chaplain of the Israelite cult, who added:" Thus, the possibility of self-defense makes it possible to avoid war, and employment theory of nuclear weapons is precisely the non-employment ". The question is not to oppose the Church and the Synagogue, but on the contrary to be surprised that Francis considers himself authorized to go back over the centuries of a religious tradition which finds its foundation in the most sacred books of great monotheisms. By comparison, self-reference to one's own speeches seems quite presumptuous.

For the Pope, deterrence is bad

To justify the personal ideological position that the Pope seeks to impose with constancy, not without a very worldly demagoguery, the most questionable paragraph (§262) takes up the most hackneyed (sovereigns) clichés of anti-nuclear activism, citing a previous message of the same Pope dating from 2017 in which he rightly condemns "the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences which result from any use of nuclear weapons having indiscriminate and uncontrollable devastating effects, in time and in space", while observing that nuclear deterrence does not offer an "effective response" to "the main threats to peace and security in their multiple dimensions in this multipolar world of the 21st century, such as for example terrorism, asymmetric conflicts, cybersecurity, environmental problems, poverty ", which everyone has long agreed on. Likewise, everyone will adhere to his touching call: "And with the financial resources devoted to arms as well as other military spending, let's create a Global Fund, to eradicate hunger once and for all and to the development of the poorest countries, so that their inhabitants do not resort to violent or deceptive solutions nor do they need to leave their countries in search of a more dignified life ". What didn't we think of earlier?

As for the "ultimate objective of the total elimination of nuclear weapons", qualified as a "challenge" and "moral and humanitarian imperative", it is above all a legal requirement enshrined in Article 6 of the Treaty of No -proliferation (NPT) to which the five states legally possessing nuclear weapons (EDAN) have adhered, a detail that the encyclical neglects to mention. Sin of omission? It is true that recognizing the legality of deterrence would destroy the logical construction of a text which does not bother with doctrinal nuances (on the use of atomic weapons, for example), or with legal subtleties (like the International Court). of justice, which estimated in an opinion of 1996 not being able to "conclude definitively" on the legality of a nuclear strike "in an extreme circumstance of legitimate defense in which the very survival of a State would be in question"). No, for the Pope, nuclear deterrence is wrong because it is wrong. Point.

Bad faith

Thus the "highlight" of the paragraph is a masterpiece of bad faith: "We must also ask ourselves to what extent a balance based on fear is sustainable, when it does tend to increase fear and undermine relations of trust between peoples.International peace and stability cannot be founded on a false sense of security, on the threat of mutual destruction or total annihilation, or on the sole maintenance of a balance of power ". “Eppur si muove!”, And yet it turns, one would be tempted to add in petto. The denial of certain obvious facts is a well-established tradition in the Vatican. It is true that 70 years of peace through "the balance of terror" can be considered insufficiently "sustainable" in view of the two thousand year history of an institution which has received promises from its eminent founder. of eternity. But this is not the case with the nations, the land cities of Augustine of Hippo, who must defend themselves in order to survive. There is a certain injustice in not recognizing this right for them.

And we must not claim either "to contemplate the many civilians massacred, considered as collateral damage" (§261), because, in reality, none of the millions of victims of armed conflicts for 75 years have been because of the atomic weapons. The lack of objectivity of this paragraph of the encyclical thus tends to vitiate its entire content, which is regrettable given all that it contains that is otherwise estimable.

The Pope's text also poses a problem quite specific to French deterrence. Among the nine countries equipped with nuclear weapons, legally or not, France is nevertheless the most exemplary in terms of disarmament, control of its arsenal and doctrine of employment. It is also the only culturally Catholic country. A certain number of American officers are of the Catholic faith, but they are undoubtedly a very small minority. On the other hand, it is more than likely that the vast majority of French officers responsible for implementing deterrence are Catholic, at least traditionally. This is even truer of the commanders of nuclear submarines, recruited for the most part from a sociological group in which practicing Catholics are numerous.

This creates a potential risk of a conflict of loyalty in the event that the pope's position is taken as "gospel word". However, to admit a freedom of conscience clause in this area would amount to discrediting all French deterrence. What is the point of investing billions each year if the adversary knows that the French officer, faithful Catholic, in charge of implementing deterrence will probably not complete his mission. Is it necessary for the French army to come back to the affair of General André's files, in order to ensure the loyalty of its officers?

Extremely dangerous unilateral nuclear disarmament

Aware of this risk, the bishop in the French armies insisted on clarifying the Catholic position on nuclear deterrence. "The important thing is not to be mistaken in the evolution of the strategic situation. At the present time the question is not so much the existence of nuclear weapons as the worrying evolution of its doctrines The current urgency is to ensure that nuclear weapons remain confined to a logic of deterrence in the strict sense, which would already be a considerable point ". For the chief military chaplain of the Catholic cult, "it is more or less clear to all that unilateral nuclear disarmament would be an extremely dangerous path, exposing to the most radical threats. Nor can we ignore a moral reflection on the democratic nature or not of States. Otherwise, and at the risk of repeating myself, the realization of the moral ambition of the Church would amount to leaving nuclear weapons only to dictatorships ".

This reflection, clarified a year later in a contribution by the bishop to the French armies in the review Commentary (n ° 168), occurs in the context of Vatican rumors reporting a draft encyclical condemning deterrence. Papa Francesco (name whose etymology ironically means "the little Frenchman") had just condemned without nuance the use of nuclear energy for military purposes and the possession of atomic weapons during his visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki on November 24, 2019: "I would like to repeat with conviction that the use of atomic energy for military purposes is today more than ever a crime, not only against man and his dignity, but also against any possibility of future in our common home. The use of atomic energy for military purposes is immoral as is the possession of atomic weapons, as I said two years ago ". In his article entitled The Catholic Church and the Nuclear Weapon in 2019, Bishop de Romanet wrote: "Military nuclear power is the expression of men's sin, of their desire for power and domination: with total political cynicism, no 'listening to their own interests, some states de facto impose their hegemony. However, this is not the case with France, whose nuclear doctrine is strictly defensive and foreign to any use on the battlefield.

Success of French diplomacy?

Without benefiting from papal infallibility for questions of a political nature unrelated to Catholic dogma, an encyclical takes on a certain solemnity. Matured for years in the offices of the Roman curia, the project was only published after much consultation. The point is that the project in question seems to have failed. France, first targeted by the text, has indeed mobilized all its networks of influence, official or not, to have the project buried. It may be that §262 of the encyclical "Fratelli tutti" is the residue. It would then be a success for French diplomacy that all Frenchmen attached to deterrence could only salute.

These French people are numerous, they are even in the majority. It has been forty years since all the government parties converted to the "bombinette of General de Gaulle". In his five-year speech at the military school on February 7, 2020, President Macron declared that "the choice is not between on the one hand a moral absolute unrelated to strategic realities, and on the other hand a cynical return the only balance of power without the right ... The possession of nuclear weapons confers on the political leaders of the countries concerned a responsibility of a moral magnitude unprecedented in history. Regarding France, I fully assume this responsibility ".

In addition, the strike force in France is the subject of a democratic consensus regularly validated by the adoption of military planning laws. In a few words full of common sense, Imam Abdelkader Arbi, chief military chaplain of the Muslim faith, summed up in 2014 the reasons for this consensus: "Acquiring nuclear deterrence gives France a form of autonomy, freedom and independence. Our country also has missions to fulfill when it concludes international protection treaties and must preserve its credibility in the concert of nations, as we saw when it took a firm position during the Second World War. of the Gulf in the face of the American intervention in Iraq. France's voice might not have been heard if France had not had a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, nor a nuclear weapon " .

An abandonment would be detrimental to the safety of the French

Today, we cannot claim to govern France and advocate the unilateral abandonment of nuclear weapons. This ideological position is not only contrary to the defense of the interests of the country (including industrialists), but also deeply infringing on the freedom and security of its inhabitants. Because, to use the conclusion of Haïm Korsia during his hearing on February 12, 2014 at the National Assembly: "if the prophet Isaiah affirms that a time will come when the wolf and the lamb will sleep together, a great rabbi of the twentieth century, Woody Allen, suggests that, the day the wolf and the lamb sleep together, the lamb will still only sleep with one eye. Having an angelic view of the world does not mean avoiding risks ".

More seriously, Haïm Korsia described in these terms the dilemma of the officer grappling with the atomic weapon: "We see here what difficulty are confronted by the engineers and the soldiers who, in the traditional combat as in the installation of nuclear weapons, engage a part of their humanity and their responsibility so that we are safe. In order for us to be able, in some way, to build this temple, it is necessary that others face a difficult situation. the sacrifice of those who engage a part of their human responsibility in this tool which allows us to live serenely ".

Without controversy, let's refuse a reducing dialogue, let's have confidence in a collaborative and concerted dialogue. French nuclear deterrence, because it is strictly defensive and non-employable, is no more immoral or criminal than an impregnable fortress, and those hired to implement it are not in the process of damnation; they all contribute, in confidence, to universal peace!


* The Mars group, made up of around thirty French personalities from different backgrounds, the public and private sectors and academia, is mobilized to produce analyzes relating to the issues concerning strategic interests relating to the defense industry and security and the technological and industrial choices which are the basis of France's sovereignty.

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