The 60th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis has Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe looking back to his youth, remembering the “duck and cover” exercises he practiced in school, and lamenting that today’s children still grow up with nuclear threats.
The anniversary comes at a time of particular unease over the potential of a nuclear conflict.
Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that he would use nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory. President Joe Biden then responded to Russia’s threat that the Russia-Ukraine war could devolve into a “nuclear Armageddon” for the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
More broadly, world leaders participating in the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Review Conference (NPT) last month again failed to reach a consensus on a final document working towards nuclear disarmament.
Wester’s concerned about all of the above, saying the essential lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis has not been learned, “which is that the only way to eliminate the nuclear danger is through careful, universal, verifiable steps to eliminate nuclear weapons.”
“It is the very nature of these weapons that the possession of any nuclear weapons is an existential danger to all. And Pope Francis has been explicitly clear that ‘the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral,’” Wester, who penned a pastoral letter on nuclear disarmament in January, said in a statement.
The Cuban Missile Crisis began on the morning of Oct. 16, 1962, ending 13 days later on Oct. 29. It was a confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles on Cuba, just 90 miles from U.S. shores.
The U.S. and Russia today are far and away the two countries with the most nuclear weapons. There are an estimated 12,700 warheads worldwide. Wester expressed disappointment that instead of the world’s nuclear powers negotiating a path towards nuclear disarmament – the obligation under NPT – that they instead spend “trillions of dollars on ‘modernization’ programs that will keep nuclear weapons forever.”
“This does more than just help fuel a new nuclear arms race,” Wester said. “It also robs society of resources that could help humanity achieve its full potential through better educational and health systems, wildfire protection, repair of critical infrastructure, and addressing new climate change threats.”
On the Russia-Ukraine war, Wester said that Catholics need to pray for peace in Ukraine and doubled down on the need for the world to work towards a future free of nuclear weapons.
Part of Wester’s initiative to take a lead on calling for nuclear disarmament around the world has to do with the archdiocese he leads. The Archdiocese of Santa Fe, located in New Mexico, is the home of two weapons’ laboratories and the nation’s largest nuclear weapons’ depository.
Much of Wester’s Oct. 17 statement focused on his own archdiocese. He stated that because more money is spent on nuclear weapons research and production in the archdiocese than any other diocese, that it has a “special responsibility” to help work toward nuclear weapons abolition.
Wester took aim at the New Mexican congressional delegation for frequently touting expanding nuclear weapons production programs as job programs. He cited that New Mexico simultaneously remains at the bottom of numerous socioeconomic indicators when compared to the other 49 states, including high child poverty numbers and a declining per capita income.
The archbishop also highlighted that the Department of Energy plans to spend $9.4 billion in New Mexico this fiscal year, yet the economic benefits appear to stay in “privileged enclaves such as Los Alamos County, while some of the poorest communities in the nation are contiguous to the lab.”
For these reasons Wester is calling on the New Mexico congressional delegation to reverse course on its support on expanding nuclear weapons production, and on all of Congress to “have the courage” to lead the country towards a future free of nuclear weapons.
“In particular, I call upon the New Mexican congressional delegation to end their support for unneeded, exorbitantly expensive plutonium pit production for nuclear weapons,” Wester said. “This future pit production is not to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear weapons stockpiles but is instead for speculative new-design nuclear weapons that could push the U.S. back into testing.”
“All this can help fuel the new nuclear arms race, which is tragic folly after the Cuban Missile Crisis,” he continued in the statement. “I again renew my call for dialogue on the existential issue of eliminating nuclear weapons, in which the New Mexico congressional delegation should help lead.”