National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  January 23, 2004

Vatican shifts on preventive war

New foreign minister open to Bush doctrine, but under U.N. auspices


The pope’s new foreign minister, in an apparent shift from an earlier Vatican position, recently signaled surprising openness to the Bush doctrine of preventive force against terrorism -- but under United Nations auspices, not the United States or a “coalition of the willing.”

In his first extended interview with an American newspaper since his appointment in October, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, also issued a blunt, if indirect, call to the United States to work more collegially within the United Nations system.

“It is clear that the military and economic superiority of one country, while giving rise to a particular moral responsibility vis-à-vis other nations [the principle of solidarity], does not automatically translate into an institutional preeminence with the subordination of other members [the principle of equality],” he said in the Jan. 14 interview.

“Simultaneous attention to these two principles would surely render the U.N. structures more acceptable and efficient,” he said.

The full text of the interview can be found on the NCR Web site in the Special Documents section.

Lajolo, 69, an Italian, was named to the Vatican’s top foreign policy job to replace French Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, who was subsequently made a cardinal. Tauran had been the architect of the Vatican’s opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and some observers claim to have sensed a slightly more nuanced stance under Lajolo.

His NCR interview may lend some support to that impression, moving the Vatican from near-absolute condemnation of the preventive use of force against terrorism to a kind of tacit acceptance, albeit under the U.N. mantle.

“Certainly there is the need for prompt intervention, indeed prevention of acts of terrorism,” Lajolo said.

“Here also we see how justified is the pope’s call for an internationally recognized authority, on the world level, supported and controlled by the member states of the U.N., and endowed with juridical competence and adequate means to act in a timely manner.”

This strikes a somewhat different tone than earlier Vatican comments.

“The concept of preventive war does not appear in the catechism,” Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican’s top doctrinal official, said Sept. 21, 2002. “There may be values and populations to defend in certain circumstances, but [the catechism] proposes a very precise doctrine on the limits of these possibilities.”

On Oct. 1, 2002, the director of Vatican Radio, Jesuit Fr. Pasquale Borgomeo, bluntly said preventive war would be a “harsh blow to international law.”

Yet if the Bush administration can take cheer from Lajolo’s attitude on preventive force, there remains a clear difference on the role of the United Nations.

Lajolo said exaggerated notions of national sovereignty can be dangerous.

“An absolute sovereignty of states is a dangerous myth, the consequences of which are wars,” he said.

Lajolo defended the United Nations from charges of being too cumbersome and inefficient to respond to terrorist threats.

“After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Security Council Resolutions Nos. 1373 and 1377 set in motion a system of international cooperation to eliminate the financing of terrorism, to control the movement of suspected terrorists, to avoid the creation of ‘safe havens’ and to eradicate places of refuge,” Lajolo said. “This system of cooperation is working.

“Also, the way in which the U.N. confronted the difficulties in Afghanistan, with Resolutions 1378 and 1383 legitimizing military intervention, cannot be characterized as ‘cumbersome.’ ”

In any event, Lajolo said, resisting the rush to arms is not always a bad idea.

“The complexity of the problems and the collateral effects which certain decisions can have on the world level call for prudence and account for certain delays.

“Even the technical advances in police work, border and finance controls, etc., which are capable of responding to new challenges, are inevitably complicated and slow to implement.”

In terms of defeating terrorism, Lajolo said the effort must be multidimensional.

“It is necessary not only to single out and eliminate the centers that arm terrorists, but also to identify and correct their cultural and spiritual centers,” he said.

“I must mention the necessity, among other things, to ensure that certain schoolbooks used in some countries by which the young are taught to feel contempt or even hatred for people of other religions or diverse nationalities be duly corrected.”

Lajolo said the antiterrorism push also requires policy choices in favor of justice.

“Here, too, the pope has indicated some specific approaches,” Lajolo said. “He has called for the establishment of a just international business and finance environment, effective international economic aid and also -- with requisite guarantees -- the cancellation or substantial reduction of the foreign debt of the poorest countries together with the transfer of scientific and technological knowledge.”

Finally, Lajolo said it is not just Iraq that demonstrates the need for a more effective and resourceful United Nations.

“One can think of the international community’s lack of response to the massacres in some regions of Africa,” Lajolo said. “The search to find adequate means to avoid such limitations and delays can no longer be put off.”

National Catholic Reporter, January 23, 2004

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