The contents of this document are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CCADD.


CCADD International Conference, 19-23 September 2008

Cathedral College at the Washington National Cathedral





Brian Wicker



May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed, to bring you to full knowledge of him.  May he enlighten the eyes of your mind, so that you can see what hope his call holds for you, what rich glories he has promised the saints will inherit and how infinitely great is the power that he has exercised for us believers.  This you can tell from the strength of his power at work in Christ, when he used it to raise him from the dead and to make him sit at his right hand, in heaven, far above every Sovereignty, Authority, Power or Domination, or any other name that can be named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.   (St. Paul to the Ephesians, 1. 17-22)





            Show me, dear Christ, thy spouse, so bright and clear,

            What is it She, which on the other shore

            Goes richly painted?   Or which rob’d and tore

            Laments and mourns in Germany and here?

            Sleeps she a thousand, then peeps up one year?

            Is she self-truth, and errs?  Now new, now outwore?

            Doth she, and did she, and shall she evermore

            On one, on seven, or on no hill appear?

            Dwells she with us, or like adventuring knights

            First travaille we to seek and then make love?

            Betray, kind husband, thy spouse to our sights,

            And let mine amorous soul court thy mild dove,

            Who is most true, and pleasing to thee, then

            When she’s embraced and open to most men.


                                                          John Donne, 1572-1631








The Morality of Nuclear Deterrence


This paper begins with some reflections on Michael Quinlan’s lecture, given on February 14th 2008 in London, on The Morality of Nuclear Deterrence.  The lecture claims that, in a world divided into sovereign states, there can be only three choices, and we have no option but to choose one of them.  In a nutshell (for full text see the lecture[1]) these choices are:

                    1) it is morally imperative always and unconditionally to renounce the possession of nuclear weapons, regardless of circumstances and consequences;

                    2) the use of nuclear weapons must be always renounced but possession for deterrence can be morally tolerable;

                    3) some use of nuclear weapons just might in extreme circumstances be morally tolerable.


In this paper I maintain that confining the dilemma to these three choices is a mistake, for there is a fourth possibility: namely that every one of the three is insupportable, and yet there is no other choice.  In other words nuclear deterrence confronts us with a truly tragic predicament.


For purposes of this paper I shall grant that, by reducing the possibility of nuclear war between states to absurdity, nuclear deterrence has helped to preserve peace between the major powers, though this can never be proved.  Nevertheless, two overriding obligations remain, both of which all nuclear states must meet.  The first is to sustain all that is necessary for the maintenance of the reductio ad absurdum of nuclear war.  The second is to repudiate any willingness to intentionally kill the innocent (i.e. those who are doing us no harm) in furtherance of this requirement.  (Let us admit that option 2 can be left to one side as being strategically incoherent - you cannot sustain a nuclear deterrent unless at some point you are willing to use it).  It remains that these obligations cannot both be met under either of the remaining options 1 and 3.  For any nuclear power to relinquish its deterrent unconditionally will enable it to meet the second obligation, but not the first.  For it to maintain its deterrent means that it can meet the first, but not the second.[2]


Nuclear Deterrence as Tragedy 


What all this amounts to is that nuclear deterrence presents us with an insoluble ethical conundrum; in other words a genuine tragedy, comparable to that of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon.  By this I mean a situation in which, given the ethical assumptions of the sovereign nation-state world, there is simply no solution to the dilemma.  Thus Agamemnon was obliged by the ethic of war of his own day to seek to rescue the kidnapped Helen from the clutches of the Trojans, by force of arms.  But in order to get the gods to provide a favourable wind for this enterprise, he was required by ‘divine’ oracle to kill his innocent daughter.  Within the constraints of the story there was no alternative.  So he was forced to do what was ethically insupportable.  Hence the tragedy.  Today a parallel, and equally insoluble, conundrum confronts us.  For our own ‘just war’ ethic obliges us today to avoid major (i.e. nuclear) war, as Michael Quinlan rightly insists.  Hence, given the ethical assumptions of the nuclear-deterrent age, making nuclear war a reduction ad absurdam by nuclear deterrence is an obligation.  This is why Quinlan’s position 1 as it stands is unacceptable.  Yet we can only do this by a strategy which alas! involves being willing intentionally to kill the innocent.  This too is a tragic dilemma; for as Quinlan admits on page 1 of his book on Just War[3], doing this is something which ‘absolutely ought not to be done’. 


What does this tragedy imply? Well let’s consider Agamemnon’s dilemma a little more deeply.  How come that he had no alternative?  The ultimate answer is simply his unquestioned belief – shared by all the characters in the drama – in the commands of the gods.  In other words, it was belief in a polytheistic superstition which led to the tragedy.


Now one purpose of Aeschylus’s Oresteia was to show his fellow Athenians that they need not be ineluctably tied to this superstition, with its unavoidably tragic consequences of internecine vengeance and counter-vengeance.  In the third play of the trilogy, The Eumenides, Aeschylus adumbrates the possibility of a different kind of society: one of justice for all in a framework of reconciliation, peace and the rule of law.  Of course, this new world could only be vaguely conceived as a faint possibility, not described in any detail.  Nevertheless, centuries later the polytheistic superstition was challenged and even superseded, with the emergence into the light of the European day, of monotheistic Judaism, Christianity and Islam.


We must apply this lesson of the Oresteia to our own conundrum.  How come we too are in an insoluble dilemma, in which the only way of doing what is overwhelmingly necessary, i.e. to prevent major war, includes being willing to do something insupportable, namely commit mass-murder of the innocent?  The answer is parallel to that of Aeschylus.  We have to get rid of our own underlying belief in false gods. 


Sovereign States as False Gods


But what does this mean?  Well, as far as anyone can see, the current (and historically rather recent) division of humankind into competing ‘sovereign’ powers, or nation-states, seems fixed and unchallengeable (although, as I indicate below, Philip Bobbitt in his books the Shield of Achilles and Terror and Consent persuasively argues that for the twenty-first century this is no longer the case).  For practical purposes these powers are our ‘gods’.  This was recognised early in the rise of the sovereign-state system by Thomas Hobbes when he wrote: ‘the Multitude so united in one Person, is called a Commonwealth...or rather (to speak more reverently) of that Mortall God to which we owe under the Immortall God, our peace and defence’.[4]   But it is even more obvious today, when states act like personalities writ large, whose will is law and cannot be gainsaid, even though (like the gods of ancient Athens) their voices are mutually contradictory.  ‘Sovereign’ national powers thus trump the common good of all.[5]    For example, every time a political leader of a state affirms his determination to ensure, above all else, the safety and security of his own citizens, if necessary at the expense of the citizens of other powers, or even at the price of undermining the rule of law, he reveals himself a willing victim of the false god of state ‘sovereignty’.  This is what has happened in the recent case of British buckling under a Saudi threat to break off intelligence co-operation about suspected terrorists because of an unwelcome Serious Fraud Office investigation into the alleged bribery of a key Saudi official by the arms manufacturer BAE.  The enquiry was halted on the ground that the Saudi threat could undermine ‘the UK’s global counter-terrorist strategy’ and endanger ‘British lives on British streets’.   The challenge to the rule of law and of the independence of the judiciary, which were implicit in halting the enquiry (a decision taken without reference to the likely global repercussions of undermining the rule of law) was issued because of perceived risks to the ‘UK’s national and international security’.   In other words state security trumped the rule of law in this case.[6] 


Equally, every time a state tries, contrary to international law, to justify invading another state, say for purposes of extirpating terrorists (as with Turkey’s recent invasion of Kurdistan) it is exemplifying its commitment to the same false god.  The same goes for attempts by any one of the powers to claim a ‘right’ to torture its alleged enemies, as with American ‘water boarding’.  Even the United Nations, with its ‘international laws’, is built upon the same false gods, despite valiant efforts to tame their worst effects.   And it is worth noting one of the few times when there was some hint – we cannot here escape dreaming the dream of the Eumenides – of a post-nuclear world, when the victorious powers discussed the ‘Baruch’ plan of 1946 for internationalising and thence eliminating nuclear weapons, the hope was crushed by the two main characters, the USA and the USSR.  They could not overcome their belief in their own false ‘divinity’ which had created the insoluble conundrum in the first place.  Much the same has to be said about the failed attempt by Reagan and Gorbachev at Reykjavik in 1986 to do something similar.  And the same is likely to happen with the current initiative by Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Sam Nunn, William Perry and others, for the nuclear powers to get rid of their nuclear weapons now, before things get much worse.[7]   Of course, if per impossibile their initiative were to be successful, this would mark the beginning of a new phase of history.  For in so far as nuclear weapons have produced a gigantic impasse, or reductio ad absurdam of the sovereign nation-state order, with its Clausewitzian assumptions about the feasibility of war to gain political objectives, their elimination would ipso facto be a first step in the process of abandoning the superstitions of statehood.[8]      


How long it will still take to dislodge the false gods is anybody’s guess, because ultimately it is a matter of divine providence rather than of self-sufficient human actions.  But practical politics suggests that it will be a long and complicated business, although you can never be sure that providence won’t interrupt it in an unexpected way, as happened when monotheism superseded the old polytheisms.


The supposedly sovereign power of states is an axiom of our modern existence.  We can’t seem to get away from it.  Yet these ‘sovereign’ states are in fact only characters in a myth, written and revised over the centuries, the current version of which we in the twenty-first century constantly re-tell to ourselves as if it were the only possible story.  (The prototype version of the modern story was told by the authors of the Treaties of Augsburg in 1555 and of Westphalia in 1648).  To call belief in the sovereignty of these characters in the narrative a superstition is therefore correct.  


But what have modern international relations got to do with ancient religions? we may ask.  Well, Aeschylus’s characters all believed in a multiplicity of ‘gods’ who quarrel among themselves, and have temporal purposes to pursue, just like our states.  Belief that these powers could not be gainsaid is what it means to call them ‘gods’.  But, it will be objected, the ancient Greek ‘gods’ did not exist.  Whereas the various states, or ‘powers’ that govern the world today are all too real.[9]   But this is too simple, for the Greeks too thought their gods were real at least in the sense that people thought they were stuck forever with the problem to which ‘gods’ seemed to be the answer.  Their myths were not merely fictions: rather they were ways of understanding the truths of their times.  So too with the myth of state sovereignty today.  But in any case, the Greek myths were superseded by a quite different narrative; that of monotheism.  The false gods did not need to be placated for all time.  Similarly the nation states of today are not eternal, and do not have to be placated for ever.  Indeed, the myth of state sovereignty, that is the narrative of a world divided into ‘sovereign’ states, is under radical challenge at this very moment.  The attempt to get the EU Lisbon Treaty accepted by the ‘characters’ in the story of modern Europe, despite the negative Irish referendum result, is sufficient evidence of this.  How long the present regime will last is anybody’s guess: but one thing is certain, our state ‘gods’ are not immortal, for they are just characters in an obsolescent modern myth.


Today there are very powerful forces which are pushing in the opposite direction.  Climate change is only the most powerful and most urgent.  Its likely consequences, including mass-migration without regard for national frontiers of people from inundated lands, simply exemplify the fragility of the ‘sovereign’ state system.  The whole trend towards globalisation, not just of the world economy but of the media, the electronic communications industry, even the crime of terrorism, is pushing us into admitting that the modern myth is impossible in the long run to sustain.[10]   The existence of a supra-national institution like the EU is a sign of the times.  Yet, just as it was difficult for Aeschylus to describe what a world of peace and rule of law, free from the slavery to false gods, would look like, it is hard today to describe a world not organised into sovereign states, and thus not in thrall to state gods. 




The Church as the Sacrament of Hope


But I maintain we do have some kind of clue to the answer, or at least a hint of what is necessary.  I am thinking of the role of the Church.  For offering us the outline of what mankind’s future should look like is a fundamental purpose of the Church.  It is the sign of how we could live as a community of human beings organised, not to fulfil the aspirations of nation-states, but to practice the gospel of common good for everybody. The Church is the sacrament of a world not in thrall to false gods.   


This may sound like a preposterous claim.  Yet it is but the sober truth.  For what Christianity teaches is that human communities can (and sometimes even do) exist according to the gospel.  The Church, as an organisation in the world, was created precisely to show how this is possible.  For in so far as we human beings can only flourish within a diversity of landscapes, cultures, languages, habits of thinking and of feeling, yet need to share in the privilege of living in charity with everyone else, we have to comprehend the possibility of reconciling the diversity of human cultures with the common good of the whole of humankind.  This is exactly what the ‘catholicity’ of the universal Church is all about.  And the institution of episcopacy, together with the diversity of cultures and landscapes within the Church which is what the institution of distinct dioceses is for, together constitute the sacrament of global unity within diversity.[11]    


Of course groupings of bishops into ‘national conferences’, with each conference belonging to one particular state, are a welcome and necessary counterbalance to the ever-centralising tendency of the modern papacy.  Dictation from the centre was never part of the sacrament of global human unity.[12]  Yet national conferences of bishops are also theological anomalies.   They have no proper place in the structure of the Church, but are simply a practical result of the way the world is currently run.  Furthermore the products of their anomalous situation can at times be unfortunate, being divisive where what is needed is dedication to the common good of all.  Thus, the teaching of the Church on nuclear weapons was badly compromised in the 1980s by the pressure exerted on bishops’ conferences to say, or not to say, things determined by governments.[13]   In the early 1980s numerous conferences of bishops were issuing statements on nuclear deterrence, because of the ethical difficulties associated with the introduction of medium-range nuclear weapons into Europe.  All of the bishops’ conferences belonging to the nuclear weapons states concluded, with varying degrees of hesitation and innuendo, that the possession of nuclear weapons for deterrence by their own state was allowable.  They did so with the help of a papal statement to the United Nations which also tolerated such possession, albeit only for the conditions current at that moment (June 1982) and subject to the (possibly self-contradictory) condition that deterrence was ‘a step on the way toward a progressive disarmament’.  And even this minimum was not enough because of ‘the danger of explosion’.  Yet, despite the pope’s statement, many of the conferences belonging to non-nuclear states still said things that were incompatible with those of their nuclear colleagues.[14]    These divergent conclusions reflected the policies of the various states rather than the thinking of the Church.  This was surely a theological scandal.  As a result, it was impossible for the Church as a whole to say anything coherent about this key ethical and political issue of our time.  The scandal encapsulated the anomaly of the organisation of bishops into groups belonging to different sovereign state-powers.[15]     


A Future World of Hope


Despite the signs offered to us by the Church as sacrament of the world to come, it is exceedingly difficult to see what shape it will take in the years ahead.  But there are some hints and guesses about what is needed.  What I have already said about the Church helps to point the way.


The only serious attempt I know to envisage a world without the false gods of sovereign nation-states is that of Philip Bobbitt, in his gigantic books The Shield of Achilles and Terror and Consent.[16]   Bobbitt proposes a world of what he calls ‘market states’, which will have a quite different constitutional order from the current (but obsolescent) world of sovereign nation-states.  But he also points out that Al Qaeda is already a ‘virtual market-state’, despite its not being located in any particular place.  Furthermore the logic of his argument (like the parallel argument of Camilleri and Falk) also suggests that the biggest multi-national corporations are likewise ‘virtual’ states.  What then of national ‘sovereignty’?  Well, Bobbitt distinguishes three kinds of sovereignty: opaque, translucent and transparent.  Transparent sovereignty is the most promising option for the future, because it


           ‘holds that because a regime’s sovereignty arises from its compact with its people...sovereignty can be

            penetrated when a state commits widespread acts of violence against its own people, or acquires

            weapons of mass-destruction in violation of its international agreements, or supports global terrorists

            who threaten the civilians of other states’.[17]


This kind of transparent sovereignty is characteristic of the American state.  But it is clear from the recent referendum that the republic of Ireland also has transparent sovereignty.  This is the real meaning of the referendum on the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty – with its negative result.  It came from a ‘compact with the people’.  The Irish electorate has decided that they do not want the EU to move any further towards the integration, but seem to want it to remain no more than a collection of sovereign nation states.  In the light of this result, on Bobbitt’s own principles, transparent sovereignty can have worse as well as better results than the alternatives.


With transparent sovereignty the immunity of a state from attack from outside ought (Bobbitt argues) to be forfeit if and when its government does any of these things against the best interests of its people.  In such a case, armed intervention is legitimate pace the UN Charter Article 2(4).  This means a revision of the law much more drastic that the mere ‘Responsibility to Protect’ suggests.  If Bobbitt is right, it means that the law should make room for the anticipatory preclusive use of force which will be needed if the world is to defeat the critical threat of global terrorism – of which Al Qaeda is only an early example.  The ad bellum criterion of legitimate authority has to be completely re-thought.  Opaque and translucent sovereignty both fail to allow for this.  Hence the failure of a system based on these forms of sovereignty, such as that of the UN Charter, to cope with the twenty-first century challenge.  But the Irish referendum is a warning of the difficulties involved.


Bobbitt’s argument is undoubtedly persuasive and his work is full of penetrating legal and strategic insights.  But he fails to provide the necessary foundation for his key arguments that (a) law and strategy on the part of the ‘states of consent’ (the key opponents of the ‘states of terror’) must be brought together, and (b) that the rule of law must be brought up to date, and indeed revised, to make this possible.  (He does not envisage the possibility of having to revise strategy as well, to avoid the willingness to kill the innocent intentionally).  The issue of nuclear weapons dramatises his failure.


In Bobbitt’s market-state world, nuclear weapons remain pretty well as they are, in the hands of the current nuclear powers, as deterrents to other states which might think of harbouring terrorists.  In other words, nuclear deterrence is both strategically and legally OK, even necessary, in the War on Terror, for its purpose is to protect civilians from harm - the essential aim of any such war.  The trouble is that, as we have seen, nuclear deterrence cannot avoid harbouring an ultimate willingness to commit mass-murder of the innocent.  This is a dilemma that cannot be resolved by devising merely strategic or legal rules.  As we have seen the ‘obliteration of our foes’ – innocent and guilty alike – is the ultimate foundation of the very idea of nuclear deterrence.  Without this willingness the whole structure of last resort nuclear strategy unravels.  Bobbitt’s reluctance to confront this obstacle is evidenced by his continual insistence that it is the protection of civilians that is at issue.  For of course, ‘civilian’ is a legal category.  Whereas it is the ‘innocent’, i.e. those who have done us no harm, that Bobbitt should have been concerned with, and innocence is an ethical (philosophical) concept.  Protection of the innocent, rather than protection of civilians (some of whom may well be doing us harm), is the necessary ethical basis for the argument that Bobbitt wants to put forward, since the innocent always and without exception deserve to be protected from harm.  Intentionally killing the innocent is always murder, or at least manslaughter.  But a state which wishes to maintain a nuclear arsenal has to be willing to use it against innocent and guilty alike, even if only in the last resort.  It is this colossal corruption of the national will, whether by nation-states or by market-states, that undermines their claim to legitimacy (or indeed credibility) in the conduct of a just war on terror.


The reason for insisting upon the ethical category of ‘the innocent’ is that without it there is no fundamental limit to what may be done by either law or strategy.  For such limits are necessary to making sense of the virtues, i.e. those dispositions which are required for human flourishing.  But in speaking of the need to revise international law Bobbitt fails to indicate where these boundaries are to be found.  He needs some criteria by which to distinguish genuine future developments in international law from aberrations which simply undermine the virtue of justice, which is what the law exists to maintain.  Elsewhere I have argued for a set of criteria parallel to those which Newman put forward to justify what he called ‘developments’ in Christian doctrine, and to distinguish genuine developments from aberrations.[18]  Bobbitt’s case requires something of the same kind if it is to stand up to scrutiny.[19] 


Bobbitt also suggests that future market-states may be more like multinational corporations than territorial nation-states.  Global terrorist organisations like Al Qaeda are simply the sinister underbelly of such a non-territorial system.  But is this plausible?  Surely the history of humanity, not to mention the geological pre-history of the planet, has bequeathed to us a patchwork of territories on which people have to live, thrive and build cultural identities.  This bewildering variety of inherited (and created) landscapes has bequeathed to humanity diverse ways of living and prospering (or not), as well as cultural, religious and sociological habits and customs.  While these legacies have made immense human diversity inevitable, their products are also constantly shifting.  And today humanly-determined climate changes are reshaping the planet even as we try to tame and enjoy it.  If there is to be a future at all, it can only be through some kind of territorial patchwork corresponding roughly to the physical conditions we have been given by the planet, or are creating on its surface.


Looking at this patchwork historically rather than geographically, Thomas Friedman divides modern history into three main phases of ‘globalisation’: from 1492-c.1800 the phase of countries globalizing, c1800-2000 the phase of multinational companies globalizing, and from c.2000 the phase of a new power (mainly through the end of the Cold War and the rise of electronic communications and the internet) for individuals to collaborate and compete globally.  But the key message (beginning from the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989) is the same as Bobbitt’s: we now have the ability ‘to think about the world as a single market, a single ecosystem, and a single community’.[20]    


On the other hand, it is also widely accepted now that simply drawing lines on the ground cannot create the right sort of boundaries for the political communities of the future.  While there are sometimes major physical features which largely determine the limits of a politico-cultural community, as in Tibet or Iceland, so that such communities can survive unscathed for a long time, under modern conditions even mountains or oceans cannot provide adequate boundaries for communities.  In other places, as in India/Pakistan, Israel/Palestine or Ireland boundaries drawn on the map create more problems than they solve.  But more importantly, for the future what will these boundaries be for?  Not, I have argued (following Bobbitt) for the defence of the territory of sovereign states.  Furthermore, even between settled states on the current pattern, boundaries are becoming ever more permeable, for a host of climatic, economic, cultural and technological (not to mention tourist) reasons.  In a world of market-states such boundaries will almost disappear, or be constantly redrawn according to the influences of climate, culture, technology and patterns of communication.  Hence Philip Bobbitt’s difficulty in saying where such states appear on the map.  What then would a world of market-states look like?


There are various ways in which the patchwork of political communities may be able to sustain itself.  One is the model of the European Union, in which a multiplicity of states pool some of their sovereignty and resources for the good of a larger whole, while trying to retain their national identities.  How far this promising model will develop is anybody’s guess.  Will the EU end up as a federation like the United States? – for federation provides another useful model?  Or will it manage to co-exist under some other kind of political compromise?  Or will the EU simply disintegrate for lack of the moral and theological virtues necessary to sustain it?  Is this the result of the Irish referendum refusal to endorse the Lisbon Treaty on June 13th 2008?


Another model may be suggested by Tibet, which wishes to retain its culture, and to value its history and religion, but as a semi-autonomous part of China.  If more community leaders had the virtues of the Dalai Lhama, and were less like Musharraf or Mugabe (or indeed Bush and Blair) this model might provide a useful one for other parts of the world.  For it has to be admitted that, for the cultivation of human prosperity, some patches of the planet have been more blessed by history and geology than others.  Those more blessed will continue to be the most powerful and energetic, whatever international law may say about the legal equality of all sovereign states.  These more powerful communities will always tend to dominate their neighbours.[21]   How exactly the semi-autonomy of a Tibet (or a Kosovo, or a Darfur, or the Tamil part of a Sri Lanka) could be sustained in practice is hard to see.  The example of the solution attained in Ireland may be well worth copying here.  But in any case, everything will depend upon the wisdom and forbearance of the leaderships of both sides, for without these, we may well be doomed to extinction anyway.


That there will be conflicts between the communities, within a patchwork of landholdings that lacks stable or clear boundaries, is I think, unavoidable.  The question is how such conflicts will be conducted.  On any large scale, dealing with them by weapons of mass-destruction seems likely to be suicidal.  But in any case, the whole tradition of so-called ‘just war’ is disintegrating under the strain of collapsing sovereignties.  This is because that tradition is built upon a metaphor (and it is no more than a metaphor) which today is becoming ever more threadbare: namely ‘self-defence’.  In its literal meaning ‘self-defence’ simply denoted one individual’s use of force against another.[22]   Any extension of this idea to a whole community under attack is necessarily only a metaphor.  Of course it begins as a quite appropriate way of thinking, as long as the community in question is clearly demarcated (such as e.g. a city under siege).  But in so far as all modern formulations of the tradition (including that of the UN Charter Article 51) presuppose self-defence of the entire state as the only basis for just war, the collapse of territorial boundaries, and their replacement by the intrinsically vague notion of the market state, with its unstable and constantly redefined territory and indifference to culture and justice (or any of the other virtues), renders the very  concept of the ‘self’ that is to be defended increasingly obscure.  Extending the concept of the ‘self’ further still, to encompass a state’s ‘vital interests’ far beyond its territory only makes the metaphor of ‘self-defence’ even more problematic.


This is a more fundamental problem for the theory of just war even than the development of weapons of mass-destruction which turn major war into mass-murder.  For the future, then, diplomacy, compromise, and the readiness to share resources for the good of all seems the only possible solution to any conflicts that will inevitably arise. This of course is precisely what the Church, as sacrament of the future, teaches: namely that (as the modern Popes have all continually insisted) communities, like individuals, must cope with their mutual differences by the practice of the virtues, especially justice and peace, for the good of all.  The relationships between the culturally diverse dioceses of the Church need to be models of such practice for other kinds of political community.  But how this practice is to be maintained by market-states it is impossible to say.  But we can I think rule some solutions out.  Sovereign-state communism seems to be on the way out as a solution.  It is difficult to see how the centralised Chinese state can last indefinitely in its present form.  Another unacceptable solution would be global Islamisation under a single universal Caliphate, as Al Qaeda proposes.  The trouble with this concept is that Islam lacks any kind of sacramental theology.  That is to say, instead of a ‘virtual’ political community, i.e. the Church, as sacrament of the future, Islam proposes a flat, universal, literal blueprint read out of a book.  And even this blueprint is compromised by the conflict between the Shia and Sunni readings of the Qu’ran (a conflict itself rooted in different human histories, not in any divine revelation).  But whichever version is preferred, a global Islam (just like a global Christianity rooted in a hegemonic, pre-Vatican II ‘Romanism’[23]) would tend to eliminate the diversity of cultures, traditions and ways of life that human history and human freedom inevitably throws up.  In this respect Islam is quite unlike Buddhism or the Indian religions, most of whose diverse ideas and practices could be incorporated into a world-community patterned on the lines of the Church as sacrament of human diversity, rooted in justice, peace and charity.



The Church and the State


If the Church is the sacrament of the world to come it is necessary to ask how it has allowed itself over the centuries to be so heavily dependent on the state in all kinds of practical ways.  For the truth is that the Church is an alternative to the state.  Every diocese is united to the others, not by loyalty to any state, but by the fellowship of belonging to the one ‘catholic’ (i.e. universal) body.  And every bishop, as the ‘pastor’ of his ‘flock’ (not the governor of his subjects) has as his key task the fostering of the gospel of love, justice and peace throughout his diocese.  He is the servant, not the master, of those for whom he has been ordained, as the Maundy Thursday washing of feet makes clear.  In other words, the Church is not just an organisation alongside (even if distinct from) that of a world divided into states.  And it is certainly not just the spiritual side of statehood.  It is an alternative to the world of states, founded on a quite different principle.  As such it is the promise of a different future for humanity, a future free of false gods.  Not surprisingly, people not committed to the god of their own state are those most likely to see the point of all this: I mean people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Franz Jagerstatter, Oscar Romero, Margaret Hassan and the host of others who have died for their refusal to believe in a false god.  Of course, the crucifixion of Jesus is the archetype of this disbelief and its consequences.


It may be argued that what I have said is only another version of Quinlan’s position 1.  But this is not so.  For his options all rest on the unstated premise that the current world, divided as it is into states with their false gods, has to be taken for granted.  Hence the moral imperative upon any nuclear-possessing state, under position one, unilaterally to renounce its nuclear weapons.  Yet, while such renunciation is necessary for the state to free itself from the guilt of being willing intentionally to kill the innocent for the sake of peace, unilateral renunciation is not the answer.  Of course, if Quinlan’s ‘always’ and ‘unconditionally’ were meant to be applied simultaneously to every nuclear-possessing state, as logically they should be, this would amount in practice to accepting the Nunn/Kissinger and co. proposal for eliminating nuclear weapons.  Without this, unilateral renunciation by one possessing state would not in itself bring about the reductio ad absurdam of major inter-state war which is required if humankind is to survive.  But in any case, if I am right we are already moving towards a different, globalised world. 


Of course, providential acts do not happen without effective human co-operation.  And this means that humankind must certainly do everything in its power to follow the anti-superstitious trends already discernible in the present world.  This includes removing as far as possible the threats of global warming and climate change, ‘liddism’,[24] the exhaustion of natural resources, food shortages, nuclear proliferation etc.  But there is one other step to be taken.  This is that the voices which decree that being willing to kill the innocent is ethically insupportable, must come out of a community which is uncontaminated by the false gods of state power.  This entails that the Church must be divested of its dependence upon the states which host it.[25]   This does not just mean the abandonment of anything like a Church ‘established’ by the state, as in the United Kingdom.  It also means removal of the trappings of state power which the Church in most states of the world has accumulated and currently enjoys.  The idea of a ‘Catholic’ faith which is tied up with nation-states is as obsolete as war between nuclear powers.  The truly sovereign God must never be infected, let alone controlled, by the false gods of national ‘sovereignty’.  Such disinfection is itself a mammoth task, comparable to that which under Constantine led to the practical accommodation of the Church to the Roman state.   But perhaps we can at last recognise the situation for what it is.  Is this not the beginning of wisdom?  If we do not act decisively about the threats the false gods represent, there seems to be every chance that one way or another human folly will put paid to humanity itself – unless a large asteroid does the job first.


Brian Wicker,

Feast of the Ascension, 2008



[1] Available at: under documents.


[2] In discussion of his lecture, Sir Michael Quinlan invoked the principle o f ’double effect’ to evade the accusation of being prepared to kill the innocent as the means to peace.  But the ‘double effect’ argument is fallacious for nuclear deterrence, valid though it is in some other contexts.  For as those leaders who take nuclear deterrence for granted make clear, the strategy entails at some point being willing to consider the indiscriminate killing of innocent and non-innocent alike.  Thus Michael Portillo, reflecting on his time as Secretary of State for Defence, took it for granted that deterrence is about the ‘obliteration of our foes’.  (Sunday Times, June 19 2005)    Hilary Clinton used the same word in speaking of what might have to be done to Iran.  (BBC Newsnight, 22 April 2008).   The fact is that for the strategy to work the deterrer has to choose to be willing to deliberately kill innocent and non-innocent alike, in the ‘last resort’.   It is this corruption of the national will that is at the root of the objection to nuclear deterrence as a strategy.


[3] Just War by Charles Guthrie and Michael Quinlan (London, Bloomsbury 2007)


[4] Leviathan, Part 1, Chapter 17


[5] The common good of  all is a constant theme of papal pronouncements in international affairs.  Cf. the recent statement of Benedict VI to the newly-appointed US ambassador to the Holy See, February 29th 2008, and his speech to the United Nations, 18th April 2008.


[6] See the judgement in the High Court, Queen’s Bench Division, Administrative Court, Case No. C0/1567/2007, 10th April 2008 before Lord Justice Moses and Me. Justice Sullivan passim.   However, HM Government has challenged the judgement in the House of Lords, and the latter have now ruled (in one case very reluctantly) that stopping the enquiry was not unlawful.   (Guardian, 23.04.2008 and 31.07.2008).


[7]  For the latest plea by this group see Disarmament Diplomacy 87 (Spring 2008) at: reproduced from the Wall Street Journal, January 15th 2008.


[8]  On this see Ken Booth, Trident Replacement or International Trust Building?; and also Ken Booth and Frank Barnaby, The Future of Britain’s Nuclear Weapons (Oxford, Oxford Research Group. March 2006); Ken Booth, Theory of World Security (Cambridge University Press 2007); and Ken Booth and Nicholas J. Wheeler, The Security Dilemma: Fear, Cooperation and Trust in World Politics (Houndmills, Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008).


[9] However, as I shall point out shortly, the mythical nature of modern sovereignty emerges when we reflect upon the metaphorical character of the ‘self’ in current just war justifications of war on the grounds of ‘self’ defence.


[10] The Pope made the essential point in his recent speech to the UN on 18th April 2008.  Gordon Brown of the UK has said much the same: ‘For the first time in history we have the opportunity to come together around a global covenant, to reframe the international architecture and build a truly global society’.   It is worth noting here that during recent local elections in the UK on May 1st the Labour Party was heavily defeated partly because of complaints from voters about rising global food and fuel prices: issues which the electorate has yet to understand are practically beyond the power of any sovereign state government to control.


[11] Although it will seem ungracious to say so, at this point I must regretfully conclude that the concept of a bishop who is a servant of a state-established institution is a theological contradiction in terms.   This is one reason why I had to abandon membership of the ‘Church of England’ many years ago.


[12] Ian Linden, Dialogue and Inculturation After the Council, Chapter 9 of The Lingering Death of Liberal Catholicism (provisional title), Hurst, 2009.


[13]  Some of this pressure was doubtless subjective, simply coming from the fact that the bishops were also loyal citizens of their state.  But in other cases, as with the US bishops’ pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace it also came from spokesmen for the government who were invited to give their views to the drafting committee of bishops.


[14]  On this see my pamphlet Nuclear Weapons: What DoesThe ChurchTeach? (London, Catholic Truth Society, 1985) and my unpublished dissertation for Kings College, London which updated it to 1989.


[15] Of course, since the 1980s papal teaching about nuclear weapons has changed drastically, so that Benedict IV’s new year statement for 2008 called nuclear policies ‘baneful and fallacious’.


[16] Philip Bobbitt, the Shield of Achilles (London, Allen Lane, 2002) and Terror and Consent (Allen Lane, 2008).  Other books on a similar theme are The End of Sovereignty? The Politics of a Shrinking and Fragmenting World by Joseph A. Camilleri and Jim Falk, (Aldershot, Edward Elgar, 1992), and The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman (New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2005).


[17] Terror and Consent p.470


[18] Law and Justice No. 154 (Hilary/Easter 2005) pp. 35-55.  This paper is also on the CCADD website,, under ‘documents’ with the title The Development of International Law


[19] It is noteworthy in this connection that Bobbitt follows Machiavelli in arguing that government officials are entitled to follow a different moral path from that of ordinary citizens: namely that of consequentialism.  In defining this he quotes Elizabeth Anscombe’s famous essay on Modern Moral Philosophy.  But it is crucial to note that in that work she quite clearly repudiated consequentialism as a basis for ethics, and in doing so began the return of much modern ethical thinking to the Aristotelean concept of the virtues.   If Anscombe is right, the primary difficulty for any good person is to resist the temptation to do evil acts.  Whereas the Machiavellian ethic actually encourages people in certain situations to fall for such temptations, with the supposed justification that a government official is exempted from them in virtue of his responsibility.  In other words, the good government official is not expected to be first of all a good person.  I am inclined to think that even suggesting that the Machiavellian outlook could be legitimate is a case of falling for an illicit temptation.


[20]  Friedman, The World is Flat p. 51.  Friedman thinks that the economic global supply chains which sustain the internet, and other world-wide activities, tend to make war between states unlikely or even impossible, because it would undermine key elements of the economies of the states concerned.   On the other hand, just the same supply chains are used by criminal gangs like Al Qaeda to further their violence.  If international war is made unlikely, world-wide terrorism is enhanced by the emergence of globalisation.  Friedman, op. cit. pp. 414ff.


[21] That the claim to legal equality of all states is based upon fiction rather than fact is one of the reasons why the sovereign state system cannot be properly combined with the virtue of justice and the rule of law.  But then neither can a world of market-states, as Bobbitt admits: ‘the market state is largely indifferent to the norms of justice, or for that matter to any particular set of moral values’.  It is also essentially indifferent to culture. (The Shield of Achilles, p. 230).


[22] See Aquinas, ST IIii Q. 64 Art.6.  It is worth noting here that Aquinas employs the double effect argument only in the case of the individual’s defence of himself – and even then quite unconvincingly, in so far as he tries to justify lethal self-defence only as long as it is motivated solely by the intention to defend one’s own life, and not deliberately to kill the attacker.  For surely in most cases of lethal self-defence the individual intends to kill the attacker precisely as the means of saving himself.   On this see Stanley Windass, Christianity Versus Violence (London, Sheed and Ward, 1964) pp. 85-89.


[23] As evidence for this assertion one might cite the failure of the Roman church to understand the point of the seventeenth century Jesuit attempts to incorporate elements of Chinese culture into Christianity, and of Nobili’s failed attempt to become a Brahmin in India. These failures have been called ‘great blunders of history’.  See J.M.Cameron, On the Idea of a University (Toronto University Press, 1978) p. 22.


[24] This is a phrase coined by Professor Paul Rogers of Bradford University to name the strategy by the most powerful states of keeping the ‘lid’ on conflicts by the threat or use of force.


[25] In so far as the revelation of the Qur’an, committed as it is to monotheism, also rejects intentionally killing the innocent (v. Qur’an 2:190-95 and the comments of M.A.S. Abdel Haleem in the Introduction of his translation, Oxford University Press 2004, pp. xxii-xxiv), Islam too must divest itself of association with the polytheism of state powers.