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U.S. ignores true threats to peace

Years ago, Pope Paul VI wrote: “Extreme disparity between nations in economic, social and educational levels provokes jealousy and discord, often putting peace in jeopardy. … For peace is not simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power; it is fashioned by efforts directed day after day toward the establishment of the ordered universe willed by God, with a more perfect form of justice among all humankind.”

The poverty and injustices Pope Paul saw worldwide in the mid-1960s, which led him to write Populorum Progessio, (“On the Development of Peoples”) in 1967, have become more abysmal in the years since.

The point here is that the Catholic church has for many years had a different notion about how peace is -- and is not -- achieved. Consider these ideas from Catholic social teaching when looking at the course the United States is currently setting out on to achieve its idea of security and peace in a missile defense shield. Earlier this month, the Bush administration formally announced that in order to pursue the missile strategy, the United States would withdraw in six months from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, that foundational treaty that set the stage for three decades of nuclear disarmament negotiations.

The withdrawal from the ABM treaty and the decision to go forward with building a missile defense shield is the biggest U.S. foreign policy blunder since the Vietnam War. It constitutes a gross misdirection of scarce resources and energy. Let’s be clear. Time is running out to confront the real social ills that will increasingly cause world conflict. Global warming as a result of the burning of fossil fuels, the increased scarcity of fresh water sources, depleted fishing stocks, illiteracy, hunger and unemployment all pose far greater risks to the United States than the possibility of an errant rogue state hurling a missile at us through space.

The Sept. 11 attacks and the horrific poverty of Afghanistan and most of the Islamic world should give us pause and move wise leaders to see where the real threats rest. But wisdom and courage are in short supply in a Washington convinced that might makes right and that the United States can live in splendid isolation from an increasingly despairing world.

Why is it that the only time we seek consensus around the globe is when we need international support for the next military adventure? The only time we tout international cooperation is when we’ve got plans to drop bombs somewhere. It is no surprise, then, that hatred of the United States mounts. Meanwhile, the ABM decision, by committing the nation to a unilateralist and new military course, moves the nation’s misguided policy to the level of public immorality.

Aside from its highly dubious effectiveness (there is no shortage of scientists who think it a silly venture) the defense shield represents, with all the anticipated hundreds of billions of dollars it will cost, the crowning moment of U.S. unilateralism.

Do you need evidence of Washington’s contempt for the hopes and desires of 95 percent of humanity? Consider that the Bush administration has: announced withdrawal from the ABM Treaty; single-handedly brought the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Review Conference to a halt; renounced international efforts to negotiate a verification protocol to the BWC; abandoned the Kyoto Global Warming Accord; refused to reconsider the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; rejected the International Criminal Court; discarded the Convention on the Prohibition of Land Mines; gutted the U.N. conference on Small Arms; dismissed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child; boycotted the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Review Conference in New York; supported a unilateral embargo on Cuba; and plans to place weapons in space.

It is not only the disparity in economic, social and educational opportunities that threatens peace but also a certain arrogance that broadcasts an intent to go it alone when the rest of the world becomes an inconvenience.

Do we really need to wonder why so many beyond our borders view us as a less-than-benign giant?

National Catholic Reporter, December 28, 2001