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Signs of U.S. addiction to military force abound


Has an addiction to military force become a permanent part of America's public policy? Several recent events seem to confirm that lamentable development.

The U.S. Senate was poised to ratify an international ban on poison gas weapons until Bob Dole, reversing his previous position, urged the Senate not to support the treaty signed by President Bush and already ratified by 63 nations and favored by the chemical industry in the United States.

Mr. Dole's action was widely construed as motivated by a desire to prevent President Clinton from having a major victory on a foreign policy issue.

America's aptitude to use violence may again be witnessed with the decision to be made in late October as to whether the nation should relax its 18-year-old rule and sell F-16 fighter jets to Latin America. U.S. arms merchants now control 22 percent of the market but are greedy for a larger share.

Restraint was abandoned by the U.S. Senate on another issue. On July 25, the Senate by a vote of 35-65 defeated a measure aimed at requiring greater scrutiny of the nations to which the United States would permit the sale of arms. Fifty Republicans and 15 Democrats refused to legislate that American corporations could not sell arms to nations that violate human rights and do not have a democratically elected government. The House killed the ban 262 to 157.

The United States government is even stumbling in its resolve to cut back on the sale and use of land mines. There are more than 100 million land mines deployed in 62 nations. Some 56 nations produce land mines including the United States. America has made some effort to cut back its production of the hideous weapons but is dragging its feet on helping to find the $20 to $30 billion required to deactivate existing ones. At the present time, at least 500 people a week are maimed or killed by land mines as in Vietnam, where one in every 1,250 persons is already an amputee.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the nation's leader on phasing out land mines, has faulted the policy of the Clinton administration as being inadequate. This policy is contrary to the 41 nations that have stated their support for an immediate and comprehensive ban on antipersonnel weapons.

On the global scene, there is also some discouraging news. The United Nations, after years of negotiation, failed to achieve a nuclear test ban treaty -- for the fourth near miss in 40 years.

The only really good news is the judgment of the International Court of Justice in a decision delivered July 8 that use of nuclear weapons is illegal. That decision raises the hope that a nuclear weapons-free world could sometime -- perhaps soon -- become more than a dream.

In 1997 the White House could initiate negotiations on the third Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty -- START III -- and finally end reliance on nuclear weapons as a part of U.S. foreign policy. The United States along with Russia should reduce nuclear stockpiles to no more than 1,000 nuclear weapons per side.

The new administration should cut back or eliminate the program to build "Star Wars" -- an effort that has already consumed over $100 billion. In addition, the line item veto available to the president in 1997 should allow him to cut funds from the Pentagon, such as the $18 billion added by the present Congress -- money not sought by the president or the Pentagon.

Beginning in 1946 the United States engaged in the most massive buildup in arms in the history of the world. That threat of mass destruction may or may not have helped to end the Soviet threat. The military budget was more than doubled in the Reagan years and has remained at almost that level. The time to reassess the entire question is long overdue.

Catholic teaching on the morality and use of threat of massive violence is clear, consistent and compelling. The voices of America's Catholics should be directed at a new world where economic cooperation and friendly alliances will eventually phase out the need for armed violence.

Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

National Catholic Reporter, October 25, 1996