In a world at war, and with wars rarely being a real solution, the nuclear arms stalemate has been a realistic compromise between Catholicism’s pacificism and its just war theory.
In 2020 I chose the following lines from the Book of Isaiah for the Notre Dame International Security Center’s Christmas card:
In days to come,
The mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest mountain
and raised above the hills.
All nations shall stream toward it.
One nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.
This might seem like an odd scriptural selection. I am, after all, the director of a research center devoted to studying the role of military force in international relations and preparing undergraduate and graduate students — civilian and military — for careers in national security. These future soldiers and policymakers may soon be raising the sword against another nation or supporting those who do. Of course, the current Ukraine crisis, pitting the United States and its NATO allies against Russia, is only the most recent illustration that people like Vladimir Putin may believe that war is still the answer in great power politics. Am I admitting that war is never the answer and that my students are wasting their careers and imperiling their very souls?
By no means. While all Christians should keep their eyes focused upon the “days to come” when we can beat swords into plowshares, we are not there yet. Moreover, to the extent that we are slowly getting to a world in which major war among great powers is becoming less relevant, it is not due to Gospel pacifism but rather is a result of the nuclear revolution.