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from issue no. 03 - 2003

An Intervention by monsignor Jean-Louis Tauran

A war of aggression would be a crime against peace

The Secretary for Relations between the Holy See with States explains the position of the Catholic church in the current international crisis. And the principles of its action in favor of peace

by monsignor Jean-Louis Tauran

US soldiers receive instructions during an exercise on the border with Iraq

US soldiers receive instructions during an exercise on the border with Iraq

1. “Nothing is lost with peace, everything may be with war”. Without doubt these words of Pius XII, spoken on August 24 1939, still hold a frightening immediacy today. To these prophetic words I would add those of the present Pope in his speech to the diplomatic corps, on January 13 last: “As the Charter of the United Nations Organization and international law remind us, recourse to war may not be sought even if it has to do with assuring the common good, except as an extreme possibility and in respect of very rigorous conditions, nor should the consequences which it entails for the civil population during and after the military operations be ignored”. This, it seems to me, is a synthesis of the position of the Holy See on this matter. In reality, the action of the Holy See in favor of peace can be framed within two principles of reference: the first is “Christ is our peace” (Eph. 2,14) and the second is a passage from Gaudium et spes: “Men in so far as they are sinners are, and will always be, under the threat of war until the coming of Christ; but in so far as they succeed, united in love, in defeating sin, they will also defeat violence” (78,6). The Popes and their collaborators, illuminated by these convictions, have endeavored, and do so still today, to indicate to humanity the path, identifying the conditions and responsibilities that the creation of a just international order imposes, by basing it on natural law, on international law and on the Gospel. The Church, for its part, intervenes in the shared commitment by favoring and promoting a culture of peace, and also by elaborating general criteria for an education in peace.

2. For the Holy See, and for the Catholic Church, peace rests conceptually on four columns: truth, justice, love and liberty (cf. Pacem in terris). The concern for peace is as old, one may say, as the Church itself. I will limit myself to enumerating some of the most recent initiatives of the Popes in favor of peace, especially in the last century. I think of Benedict XV who tried to mediate between the belligerents of the First World War and wrote the famous encyclical Pacem Dei munus; of Pius XI who opposed Nazism and bequeathed to history the famous encyclical Mit brennender Sorge; of the radio messages of Pius XII in the darkest hours of the Second World War; of John XXIII and of his encyclical Pacem in terris; of the documents of the Vatican II Ecumenical Council; of Paul VI who instituted the Papal Council of Iustitia et Pax within the Curia and took the initiative in establishing the World Peace Day at the beginning of every year, which began in 1968.
And then, obviously, I think of John Paul II. His addresses to the diplomatic corps, at the beginning of each year, contribute to a true systematic education for peace. Nor should his personal, concrete initiatives in cases of grave crisis be forgotten, such as his mediation between Argentina and Chile about the Beagle Canal, the World Day of Prayer for Peace at Assisi last year, and his intense activity during recent weeks when he has received the major international political figures.
Obviously one is talking here, in a certain sense, of dramatic examples, along side which the daily activities of the papal representatives of the Holy See should also be set, less visible, certainly, but not less incisive, inspired by the will of the Pope. These are the apostolic nuncios accredited in 174 countries with which the Holy See maintains diplomatic relations. This action of the nuncios is also supplemented by the action of the permanent missions to the United Nations Organization, in New York and in Geneva, to UNESCO in Paris, the Nunciature to the European community in Brussels, the special envoy to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, as well as the representative of the Holy See to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in which the Holy See participates as a member with full rights. Thanks to this presence and to these daily institutional contacts the Holy See has been able to implement a real strategy for peace.

3. I would now like to enumerate some principles of this strategy. First of all, that of loudly and clearly proclaiming its rejection of war. The Holy See certainly recognizes that every State has the duty to protect its own existence and its own freedom by adequate means, but experience has often shown how illusory the efficacy of arms can be when it comes to resolving a conflict between States.
The Pope in his address to the diplomatic corps cried out: “No to war, war is never an inevitability, it is always a defeat for humanity”, and he added: “International law, sincere dialogue, solidarity among States, the noble exercise of diplomacy, are means worthy of man and of nations for resolving their disputes”. The Holy See encourages, in the second place, effective disarmament. Dissuasion based on the balance of force has never been considered by the Holy See to be an end in itself, but only a stage towards progressive disarmament: this explains the moral support given by the Holy See, to the nuclear non-proliferation Treaty, for example, to the banning of nuclear experimentsTreaty, to the banning of anti-personnel minesTreaty.
Since peace is not just the absence of war, the Holy See has also become the promoter of an international order founded on law and justice, indicating in the rights of men and of peoples the basis of peace. Nourishment, health, culture, solidarity are the conditions necessary for citizens to feel themselves involved, responsibly, in a project for society which offers possibilities to every individual.
All of this presupposes a vision of man which takes all of his aspects into necessary account: respect for human life from the moment of its conception to its natural end, its dignity, its freedom, without forgetting the right to religious freedom. In this regard, John Paul II likes to point out that when religious freedom is denied or limited or when the practice of one’s own faith is not allowed, in reality it is all the other freedoms that are being threatened.
Peace is also the outcome of respect for the technical instruments proper to international collaboration. The Holy See has confidence in international law to guarantee the freedom of persons and peoples. The respect for pledges made, in line with the old saying “pacta sunt servanda”, fidelity to agreed texts, often at the cost of great sacrifices, the priority accorded to dialogue, are equally means which, according to us, should permit, to the degree possible, both at the unilateral and multilateral levels, the avoidance of situations in which the weakest become victims of malevolence, force or manipulations of the strongest.
Finally, I would like to underline an often unknown contribution of the Holy See to peace, its contribution to the drafting of international conventions or declarations. I am thinking, for example, of the juridical notion of “humanitarian aid” promoted by the Holy See on the occasion of the conflict in Yugoslavia. States have the right, the duty rather, to act in order to disarm those who wish to kill, not indeed to encourage war, but to prevent it. I also recall the position of the Holy See on the negative effects of the practice of embargo against a country which does not respect the code of international conduct, a practice not controlled at international level. An embargo, limited in time, should be proportionate to what it is intended to change and not to plunge the population into misery.
Monsignor Jean-Louis Tauran (on the right in the photo) with father Giuseppe Pusceddu, provincial of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception, during the conference held at the Center of the Dermatological Institute of the Immaculate Conception, in Rome,  February 2003; the meeting was introduced by Professor Puddu

Monsignor Jean-Louis Tauran (on the right in the photo) with father Giuseppe Pusceddu, provincial of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception, during the conference held at the Center of the Dermatological Institute of the Immaculate Conception, in Rome, February 2003; the meeting was introduced by Professor Puddu

Everyone knows what the Pope has done to alleviate the sufferings of the people of Cuba and Iraq. I am thinking also of the proposal by John Paul II, on his last visit to the United Nations Center in New York, to draw up a Charter of the rights of nations. There was too the work of the delegations from the Holy See in the principal world conferences, organized by the United nations in the ‘Nineties.

The Holy See thus offers its own contribution so that in the drafting of documents of international law, often ideologically oriented, large moral principles and the contribution of classical international law will be safeguarded. What therefore characterizes the Holy See efforts for peace is the service of conscience. When receiving the greetings of the diplomatic corps on January 9 1995, John Paul II declared that the justification for the presence of the Holy See in the international field was that “of being the voice towards which the human conscience tends, which tirelessly recalls the needs of the common good, respect for the human person, the promotion of the highest spiritual values. What is at stake”, he added, “is the transcendent aspect of man, it cannot be subjected to the whims of statesmen or of ideologies”.
For a Christian, and even more so for the Pope, peace or war are born in the heart of man, and it is to this man, who must choose between good and evil, that the Church has the obligation to address itself. She accompanies him on the path of life pointing out the right direction. She consults his freedom and his responsibility. It is at this level of profundity that peace is constructed, and it is obviously here, for us believers, that prayer comes in. Only yesterday [February 23, ed.], at the recital of the Angelus, the Pope invited all Catholics to devote Ash Wednesday with particular intensity to prayer and fasting for the cause of peace, particularly in the Middle East. “Let us beg God”, he said, “for the conversion of hearts and the farsightedness of just decisions to resolve by peaceful means the disputes that hamper the pilgrimage of humanity in this our time”. “It is the duty of believers,” he reminded us, “whatever religion they belong to, to proclaim that we can never be happy while we are one against another”. All of this the Holy See applies, obviously, to the particular context of the current Iraqi crisis.
5. The Pope and his collaborators have had the opportunity to express themselves unequivocally about the Iraqi crisis in recent times. For us everything must be undertaken and decided in the context of the United Nations Organization. In the first place, all the resources of international law should be exploited, and the consequences which an armed intervention would have for civilians should be pondered, without forgetting the predictable reactions of the countries in the area who, out of solidarity with Iraq, might adopt extreme positions.
Having said that, it is obviously important that the people responsible in Iraq know how to regulate their political action according to the code of conduct imposed on them by their membership of the community of nations. International law does not recognize the concept of a “new world order”, as is said today, which would permit unilateral recourse to force by some countries in order to guarantee it be respected. International law, as we know, has made war illegal, thanks particularly to the United Nations Charter. I refer to article 2:4, which nobody cites these days, but which is very important precisely because it declares that countries should renounce war as a means of resolving their conflicts.
Everything must be undertaken in the framework defined by international law. As we know, the Security Council of the United Nations has prime responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. A war of aggression would be a crime against peace, while legitimate defense presupposes the existence of prior armed aggression. Therefore, in conformity with these principles, no rule of international law authorizes one or more countries to have unilateral recourse, and I insist on this point, unilateral, to the use of force in order to change a regime or the form of government of another country because, for example, it possesses weapons of mass destruction. Only the Security Council could, due to special circumstances, decide that certain facts constitute a threat to peace, but this does not mean that the recourse to force should be, for the Security Council itself, the only adequate response. This is the classic doctrine of international law.
This being said, the Holy See, like the rest of the international community, is profoundly worried by the presence of weapons of mass destruction not only in the Middle East, but also in other parts of the world.
Their dismantling is certainly a pressing necessity, given that they threaten international peace. This is why the Holy See, in the case of Iraq, thinks that the process of inspection now underway, even if slow, could lead to a consensus which, if subscribed to by a majority of nations, would make it almost impossible for any government to act differently, without the risk of international isolation.
Most likely, a generalized war against Iraq would cause harm to the civilian population disproportionate to the objectives to be reached, and would violate the fundamental rules of international humanitarian law. I refer, obviously, to the well-known Geneva Conventions.
Thus it would be a grave matter to trivialize war, and on the other hand indifference to the juridical dimension of international relations would be equally so.
As you see, we are far from political compromises or from interests to be safeguarded. We are, on the other hand, faced with a choice which all of us must make, men and women, ordinary citizens or those politically responsible. In one word, we are talking today about choosing between the law of force and the force of law.
Thank you for your attention!
(Text edited by Giovanni Cubeddu
and revised by the author for the Italian version,
from the talk given by Monsignor Jean-Louis Tauran, Secretary for the Relations of the Holy See
with States, on 24 February 2003,
at the Center of the Dermatological Institute
of the Immaculate Conception – IDI -, Rome).
(Our translation)

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