NUCLEAR deterrence has been a key factor in heading off a third world war, the Vatican's chief UN representative has revealed. Archbishop Giovanni Cheli also said the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl power plant in the Soviet Union showed nothing new about the dangers of nuclear power. Nuclear power cannot be "disinvented", he said, describing calls for its abolition as "unreal". Archbishop Cheli is head of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, where he has served since 1973.
His comments were part of an interview published on August 4 in the Turin newspaper La Stampa.
While expressing concern about the arms race, Archbishop Cheli said everyone is convinced that no one wins a nuclear war. "The reciprocal deterrent exercised until now by the two greatest nuclear arsenals has served, good or bad, to avoid a third world war: an affirmation that one may not like, but absolutely realistic", he said. If the world was armed only with conventional weapons, he added, "probably the strongest would have already taken the initiative" of attacking its rival.
The debate over the morality of deterrence has engaged Catholic leaders in the Vatican and in the United States for several years. In a 1982 message to the UN special session on disarmament, Pope John Paul II said, "in current conditions `deterrence' based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself, but as a step on the way toward a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable".
The US bishops' 1983 pastoral letter on war and peace, while adopting this papal statement on deterrence, added that it is a `transitional strategy justifiable only in conjunction with resolute determination to pursue arms control and disarmament".
A new commission of United States bishops headed by Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin is re-examining the concept of deterrence in the light of recent arms control efforts.