WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) applaud Pope Francis after his speech in a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on September 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. Pope Francis is the first pope to address a joint meeting of Congress and will finish his tour of Washington later today before traveling to New York City. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — In a major address to the US Congress, Pope Francis Thursday today called for the end of the arms trade market, calling the profits gained in the defense market "drenched in blood."
The popePope, the first pope to address the US Congress, also called for greater dialogue between nations with historic tensions, in what could be interpreted as support for the recent Iran nuclear deal.
"Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world," the pPope said about three-quarters of the way through his speech.
"Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.
"In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade," he concluded.
The term "arms trade," of course, can have multiple meanings. For many, the term specifically references the illegal trade in small arms that occurs around the world. But it I t can also be taken to refer to the broader defense industrial market.
The comments were met with a surprisingly strong response from the members — starting with clapping, then followed by then led to a standing ovation — given the large ties between the Hill and the defense industry.
According to the website OpenSecrets.org, which tracks money in politics, defense contractors donated $25,316,750 to parties and candidates in the 2013-2014 election cycle. So far in the 2016 cycle, the companies and individuals who make up the defense sector have donated $5.9 billion to candidates and political parties.
The defense sector also provides significant numbers of jobs around the country. All told, the 100 largest defense companies in the world brought in $ StartFragment385,6 billion in defense-related profits in 2014, according to the annual Defense News Top 100 ranking. EndFragment
Earlier in the speech, Pope Francis stopped to "recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past," in what many on Twitter quickly interpreted as an acknowledgement of the nuclear agreement reached between Iran and a US-led coalition of allies.
"When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all," the pope Pope said. "This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism."
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.