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What we can learn from the North Korea nuclear story

By Gunnar Westberg | International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War | June 23, 2018

The North Korea – USA nuclear crisis should teach us several lessons regarding nuclear weapons:

  • Nuclear weapons do not prevent nuclear proliferation.

The nuclear weapon states accepted in 1970 in the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty, NPT. In this treaty these states agree to negotiate the complete disarmament of their nuclear weapons. They have completely disregarded this pledge and insist that they must retain nuclear weapons in order to prevent other countries from acquiring them. The North Korea example shows us that this does not work.

  • Nuclear weapons are contagious.

The nuclear weapons states also insist, contrary to their pledge in the NPT, that they must keep their nukes “for their own security”. This provides an excuse for other states to acquire them. A small country such as North Korea, DPRK, has stronger reasons to build nuclear weapons than a superpower such as USA, which in a world without nuclear weapons would have an unchallenged military dominance.

  • Nuclear weapons can cause war.

Without the “fake news” of the risk of a nuclear attack on Manhattan from Iraq, the US public would probably not have accepted the war against Iraq. If DPRK had not obtained nuclear weapons the country would not have been threatened with an attack, nuclear or non-nuclear. It is often repeated that nuclear weapons kept peace in Europe during the cold war; If there had been no nuclear weapons the Soviet Union would have invaded Western Europe. This is an unproven conjecture. A deeper discussion on this subject is outside my competence and outside the mandate of IPPNW. However, most historians today agree, based on sources released after 1990, that the Soviet Union accepted the status in Europe after 1950.

  • Nuclear weapons can bring high status to the leader of a country.

This has been important for the North Korean leaders. Already the grandfather of the present leader of North Korea desired the honour of meeting personally the President of the USA. President Trump is the first to accept the invitation and, in the mind of the North Korean leader­, treat him as an equal. Nuclear weapons can also bestow superpower status to a country. This is obvious in the arguments coming from e.g. France and India.

  • Nuclear weapons, once acquired, are hard to give up.

This we will learn in the years to come.

June 23, 2018 Posted by | Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Will the NPT face the facts?

By John Loretz | International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War | April 22, 2015

When the 2015 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) opens in New York next week, the 190 member states will have to come to terms with some hard facts.

The NPT is 45 years old, and while most observers agree that it has worked reasonably well over that time to curtail the spread of nuclear weapons to countries that did not have them in 1970, it has not achieved its most important goal—a world in which no countries have nuclear weapons.

There are still more than 16,000 nuclear weapons in the arsenals of nine states, three of which have never joined the NPT. Despite reductions from Cold War levels, the US and Russia have more than 90% of that total between them, and the prospects for negotiating deeper bilateral reductions while NATO and Russia glare at each other from opposite sides of Ukraine look dim.

While giving lip service to the goal of nuclear disarmament, all nine nuclear-armed states—the US, Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea—are modernizing their warheads, delivery systems, and infrastructure. India and Pakistan, which are not NPT members, are engaged in a nuclear arms race reminiscent of the Cold War. In the always tense Middle East, a nuclear-armed Israel is making a precarious agreement with a not-yet-nuclear-armed Iran even more precarious.

With the risks increasing that nuclear weapons could be used in warfare for the first time since the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 years ago, nuclear disarmament takes on added urgency. The NPT is supposed to be the most effective tool the world has for producing a world without nuclear weapons. So how is it doing on the eve of another five-year review? Not so well.

At the last NPT Review Conference in 2010, the Member States adopted a 64-point action plan. The first 22 actions, pertaining to nuclear disarmament and Article VI of the treaty, were largely recycled priorities that have been on the table for a decade or two.

According to a report prepared by Reaching Critical Will, progress has been made on only five of the 22 disarmament actions. Four of the five relate to maintaining the existing nuclear testing moratorium and strengthening support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and its technical infrastructure, and were happening anyway. The US and Russia ratified New START, but have engaged in no further disarmament negotiations since then. Worse, they have undermined a modest set of reductions through provocative and expensive modernization of the weapon systems they have retained. If 60% is an “F,” then the grade for this part of the action plan is much further down the alphabet.

The NPT is stuck in quicksand. Elsewhere, however, there has been a seismic shift in the political and diplomatic landscape regarding nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament. Scientific evidence about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons (HINW), presented at a series of three groundbreaking international conferences, has put the dangers into chilling context. The evidence was summed up this way at the third conference, held in Vienna in December 2014 and attended by 158 states, along with many international organizations and civil society groups:

“The impact of a nuclear weapon detonation, irrespective of the cause, would not be constrained by national borders and could have regional and even global consequences, causing destruction, death and displacement as well as profound and long-term damage to the environment, climate, human health and well-being, socioeconomic development, social order and could even threaten the survival of humankind.”

Put another way, a single nuclear weapon can destroy a city; as few as 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs, used in a limited, regional nuclear war, would disrupt the global climate so severely that at least two billion people—more than a quarter of the world’s population—would face starvation from a “nuclear famine”; a nuclear war between the US and Russia, each with thousands of warheads, would shut down the Earth’s life-sustaining ecosystems, bringing an end to humanity itself.

From this perspective, to use American slang, the NPT needs a real kick in the pants. That kick is about to be delivered at the 2015 Review Conference in the form of the Austrian Pledge. At the conclusion of the Vienna HINW conference, Austria pledged that it would “cooperate with all relevant stakeholders, States, international organisations, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movements, parliamentarians and civil society, in efforts to stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and associated risks.”

The first step identified in the Pledge was to bring the evidence from the three HINW conferences into the NPT Review and to challenge the member states “to renew their commitment to the urgent and full implementation of existing obligations under Article VI, and to this end, to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.”

The Pledge has been adopted by 69 states during the run-up to the NPT Review, and more endorsements are expected during and after the month-long conference.

The Austrian Pledge is a gift to the NPT member states—a way out of the malaise that has prevented the treaty from delivering on its promise of a nuclear-weapons-free world for 45 years. Should the NPT fail to make the most of this gift at the upcoming Review, the time will have arrived to look for a more effective means to close the legal gap and to prohibit and eliminate weapons that threaten each and every one of us with extinction.

April 22, 2015 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why ban nuclear weapons? Ask the French president

By John Loretz | International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War | March 13, 2015

francois-hollandePresident François Hollande of France has explained to the world why nuclear weapons must be banned and eliminated. Not intentionally, of course. Not because he made the fallacious argument that nuclear weapons make France more secure in a dangerous world (although he did); not because he lumped every conceivable and inconceivable threat to France into a confusing hash and came up with nuclear weapons as the final answer to every one (although he did that, too); and not because be shamelessly contradicted himself on the fundamental point that France is a champion of nuclear disarmament but finds its own “nuclear deterrent” indispensible (all the nuclear-armed States suffer from that particular mental health problem, as Sue Wareham has diagnosed it elsewhere on this blog).

In fact, his speech on February 19 to the French military and political elite at Istres Air Force Base was more frightening than that. I don’t want to twist his words, so here’s exactly what President Hollande said, taken from the English translation of the speech released by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

“Our nuclear forces must be capable of inflicting absolutely unacceptable damages for the adversary, upon its centres of power, its political, economic and military nerve centres.” And since “the Head of State is the first citizen in France to speak and decide,” it’s up to President Hollande (or one of his successors) to decide if and when nuclear weapons will be used to “preserve the life of our nation.”

Never mind that this is delusional Cold-War thinking at its worst, since any use of nuclear weapons by France would almost certainly result in the use of nuclear weapons against France, rendering the “integrity of [it’s] territory” somewhat tentative. Never mind that the entire concept of nuclear deterrence—“to prevent any threat of blackmail by another state”—is itself the most extreme threat of blackmail. Never mind that every word of this speech ignores the evidence about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons presented at three international conferences over the past two years and is an arrogant attempt to rescue nuclear weapons from stigmatization.

No, what makes the French president’s tribute to “the credibility of our deterrence force” truly terrifying is that he has claimed the right to use nuclear weapons, more or less on his own say so, in order to make sure no one messes with France’s (or, I kid you not, Sony’s) “vital interests.” Apparently no price, not even the end the world (which would be a bit inconvenient for French citizens in a permanent season of nuclear winter), is too high to pay for “independence, freedom, and the ability to ensure our values prevail.” Which begs the question, what values are those, exactly, that prepare one to inflict “absolutely unacceptable damages” on millions upon millions of people?

Perhaps the rest of us lack President Hollande’s poetic vision. “France has, with its partners,” he said, “built a community of destiny,” with nuclear weapons as the ultimate expression of “heartfelt solidarity.” In a way, he’s right. But how many of you care to join him in that destiny?

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The use of nuclear weapons

By Bjorn Hilt | International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War | November 6, 2014

NoNukesKidsThey always tell us that nuclear weapons will never be used.

The fact is that nuclear weapons are used every day by the nuclear-armed states to threaten the rest of the world with total annihilation, while threatening themselves with the same fate.

During the time of the Cold War, we called such an insane situation MAD: Mutual Assured Destruction. The threat was immediate and the situation very dangerous. We don’t like to think about it, but today’s risk that nuclear weapons can be detonated somewhere deliberately or by accident is at least as high. The doomsday clock of the atomic scientists is set at five minutes to midnight.

The current situation is that all people in states with and without nuclear weapons are still terrorized by the nuclear-armed states and must live with the fear of the horrifying effects of nuclear weapons. MAD can be accomplished in an afternoon.

During the Cold War, we also talked about a terror balance. To use or to threaten to use indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction in order to achieve one’s own political goals is also a form of terrorism. The goal claimed by the nuclear-armed states is their own security. What a delusion. Nobody and nothing ever became more secure by the existence of nuclear weapons. These are nothing but weapons of terror, regardless of whether they are detonated in war or used to threaten and intimidate.

The other day I asked one of my grandsons (age 11) what he would think about someone who claims to need more and stronger weapons than most others. In his view that was cowardice and nothing else. When I asked him about nuclear weapons, he said that no country should need them.

For me, it is insane and terrifying that they are still around, and that we still allow a small number of states to be armed with nuclear weapons and to use them every day to threaten the rest of us. The time is more that ripe to ban nuclear weapons.

November 7, 2014 Posted by | Militarism | , , , , | 1 Comment

No more nuclear weapons testing

By Bjorn Hilt | International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War | September 8, 2014

A complete halt to all nuclear weapons testing is within reach. The testing of nuclear weapons is already prohibited under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) of 1996.

The problem is that not enough countries have yet ratified the treaty for it to enter into force. Along with 159 other governments, the nuclear-weapon-possessing states that have ratified the treaty so far are Great Britain, France, and Russia, while the US and China are still reluctant to do so, for who knows what reason (www.ctbto.org ). China says it will ratify the treaty the day the US does. For the CTBT to enter into force, however, six other  States still need to ratify the treaty: India, Pakistan, Israel, the DPRK, Egypt, and Iran. Many experts believe that US ratification is the key to all the others. Consequently, the whole world is held hostage just because the US Senate refuses to ratify an international treaty that is vital to us all.

During the past week, IPPNW held its 21st World Congress in Astana, Kazakhstan, with around 300 physicians and medical students from 35 countries participating. Our host country has suffered a lot from nuclear weapons testing. From 1949 until 1989 the former Soviet Union had its main testing site for nuclear weapons near the town of Semipalatinsk in eastern Kazakhstan. During that time the USSR performed at least 456 nuclear tests at the site of which at least 92 were atmospheric, introducing a serious radiation burden into the environment. Radiation from nuclear fallout was far beyond what humans can normally tolerate.

The health consequences of testing in Kazakhstan have been studied in recent years. They have been—and still are—dramatic: excess cancers and other diseases, malformations, and genetic damage. The good news in this terrible situation is that when Kazakhstan became independent in 1991, the government decided to shut down the nuclear weapons test site and to dismantle or return to Russia all of the 1,410 nuclear warheads that Kazakhstan had inherited from the former Soviet Union. The transfer was completed in 1995 and made Kazakhstan a much safer place for its 18 million inhabitants.

Moreover, in 2006, the independent states Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan declared Central Asia a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone and, in May 2014, the five old states that still possess nuclear weapons issued a guarantee that they would never use nuclear weapons against any of the Central Asian states. Good news for them.

As the Kazakhs have seen the terrible long term effects of nuclear testing on their own people, they have initiated an international campaign against nuclear testing called the ATOM project (Abolish Testing – Our Mission). They have called for 29 August to be the International Day Against Nuclear Weapons Testing, and the occasion was marked with a minute of silence in many places while we were in Kazakhstan.

I think that the states that have not yet ratified the CTBT, in particular the US and China, owe it to the victims of nuclear weapons testing and uranium exploitation all over the world to ratify the treaty right away as a concrete and necessary step on our way towards a safer world free of nuclear weapons.

September 8, 2014 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

IPPNW to Prime Minister Abe: “Cancel Rokkasho”

The co-presidents have sent the following letter to the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzō Abe, urging him to halt plans for nuclear fuel reprocessing, calling the program “unnecessary and hazardous” and “not consistent with Japan’s stated support for achieving a world freed from nuclear weapons.”

September 23, 2013

Your Excellency,

We write on behalf of physicians in 62 countries to express our concern at Japan’s intention to start commercial operation of the Rokkasho spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant next year, and to urge your government not to proceed with the operation of the Rokkasho plant.

The goal of our federation is to safeguard global health from the threat of nuclear annihilation, which the World Health Organization has identified as “the greatest immediate threat to human health and welfare”. In 1985 IPPNW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for performing “a considerable service to mankind by spreading authoritative information and by creating an awareness of the catastrophic consequences of atomic warfare.”

Nuclear weapons could not exist without fissile materials – highly enriched uranium and plutonium. If humanity is to enjoy a healthy and sustainable future, we must achieve a world freed from nuclear weapons, before they are ever again used. We are in a race against time to ensure this. Achieving a world free of the extreme humanitarian threat posed by nuclear weapons will require not only disarmament, but also minimising and wherever possible eliminating further production of fissile materials, and wherever possible eliminating existing stocks. Extreme levels of security are required for any remaining fissile material. This will be a massive task that cannot be undertaken too soon. The authoritative International Panel on Fissile Materials estimated global stockpiles in January 2013 to be 1390 tons of highly enriched uranium, with 31 countries possessing at least 1 kg; and 490 tons of separated plutonium. Each US nuclear weapon is known to contain on average just 4 kg of plutonium.

Japan already possesses 44 tons of plutonium – enough for more than 5000 nuclear bombs, even allowing a high quantity of 8 kg of plutonium per weapon. Japan is the only country without nuclear weapons to be separating plutonium from spent reactor fuel. Further accumulation of nuclear weapons-usable material is a concern for the international community, particularly for Japan’s North-east Asian neighbours. These concerns are accentuated by the lack of forseeable uses for this large and growing quantity of plutonium. Some Japanese politicians over the years have indeed drawn attention to the potential nuclear weapons arsenal that could be produced from such a plutonium stockpile within just a few months. Whatever the Japanese government’s current stated intention, which we have no reason to doubt, political intentions can change very quickly in comparison to the half-life of plutonium. Further, the mere existence of such a stockpile poses a risk of diversion and theft, and fuels fissile material production programs and the drivers for nuclear proliferation in other countries.

Japan’s policy of separating plutonium from spent reactor fuel represents a dangerous precedent for other states to push for similar programs. The inherent technical difficulties of adequately safeguarding nuclear reprocessing plants, and risk of diversion of separated plutonium adds to these risks.

This facility is especially concerning in the context of the North-east Asian region, where the proliferation of nuclear weapons is already a serious concern.

We understand that on 31 January 1997 the Japan Atomic Energy Commission promised that Japan would not hold surplus plutonium, and that this decision was endorsed by the national Cabinet on 4 February 1997. Further, on 5 August 2003, the Japan Atomic Energy Commission required electric power companies to publish plans for use of plutonium prior to separating plutonium from spent fuel. The commencement of commercial operation at the Rokkasho reprocessing plant would run counter to these decisions and thereby raise questions about Japan’s consistency and reliability.

As the people and government of Japan well know, any future use of nuclear weapons would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences. For this reason, IPPNW is working with other partners in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons for a global ban treaty to correct the anomaly that the worst of all indiscriminate weapons are the only ones not yet subject to explicit legal prohibition. As a State Party to the conventions on cluster munitions and anti-personnel landmines, we hope Japan would support efforts to ban nuclear weapons as well.

Given Japan’s already huge stockpile of nuclear weapons-usable material, the opening of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant appears both unnecessary and hazardous. Adding to an already large plutonium stockpile is not consistent with Japan’s stated support for achieving a world freed from nuclear weapons.

We encourage your government to reconsider its decision to start commercial operations at Rokkasho and to declare that such operations will not proceed. Such a decision would be widely welcomed around the world and would support rather than undermine global health.

Yours sincerely,

Tilman Ruff, Co-President

Ira Helfand, Co-President

Robert Mtonga, Co-President

Vladimir Garkavenko, Co-President

September 25, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on IPPNW to Prime Minister Abe: “Cancel Rokkasho”

After losing disarmament debate, Likud hawk concedes Iranian position on nuclear weapons is better for the world

Israeli and Turkish parliamentarians learn about nuclear famine

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War | June 24, 2013

On June 18, 2013, IPPNW Co-President Ira Helfand participated in an unprecedented debate about nuclear weapons in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. At an event organized by ICAN-Israel and the Israeli Disarmament Movement, Dr. Helfand presented the scientific findings about the global climate effects of a limited nuclear war, and made a compelling case for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The next day, he traveled to Ankara, where he gave a similar talk about nuclear famine and the medical consequences of nuclear war to the Turkish parliament. The following is Dr. Helfand’s report.

by Ira Helfand

Sharon Dolev, the ICAN campaigner in Israel, and the Director of the Israeli Disarmament Movement (RPM), ICAN’s partner organization in Israel, organized an enormously successful series of events to publicize the nuclear famine report, build support for the upcoming Mexico conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, and promote a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East.

The centerpiece of the event was a discussion of these issues, including open discussion of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, in the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset.  This session was the first ever discussion of nuclear weapons in the Knesset and broke a long-standing taboo against raising this subject in any official forum. The session was held in the conference room of the Knesset’s Science and Technology Committee and was hosted by two members of the Knesset, MK Tamar Zangberg of the Meretz Party and MK Dov Khenin of the Hadash Party. Equally important, MK  Moshe Feiglin of the ruling Likud Party—one of the pre-eminent hawks in the Knesset—also came and debated nuclear policy for nearly 20 minutes after my presentation on the medical effects of nuclear war.  He put forth the argument, common in Israel and other nuclear weapons states, that it is OK for “the good guys” to have nuclear weapons because they need them to protect themselves from “the bad guys.” Nevertheless, he seemed genuinely disturbed by the data showing that even a limited use of nuclear weapons, even by the “good guys,” would cause catastrophic consequences around the world that would affect the “good guys” themselves.  He ultimately conceded that the world would be better off without any nuclear weapons and said that there needed to be further reductions in the current nuclear arsenals.

The Knesset session was attended by 20 antinuclear activists, including IPPNW’s Dr. Ra’anan Friedman, as well as by members of the press. It was videotaped and the two host members of the Knesset posted to their large Facebook followings throughout the presentation and debate.

MKs Zangberg and Khenin indicated a desire to continue working on this issue with RPM and are talking now about forming a lobby in the Knesset. MK Feiglin agreed to meet for further discussion about the issue. The meeting was viewed as an historic breakthrough by former MK and RPM Chair Mossi Raz.

RPM also organized a meeting with a senior government official who, previously unaware of the nuclear famine study, seemed deeply disturbed by the data, asked many detailed questions, and requested copies of the report in both English and Hebrew (prepared in advance by RPM) so that he could study it more closely. Most significantly, he said Israel might consider participating in the Mexico conference as long as it did not anticipate being singled out for attack, as it has been at many other international meetings. We urged Israeli participation at the side events that ICAN will organize at the UN this fall and he agreed to continue meeting with RPM over the coming months.

In addition to the government meetings, Sharon and her colleagues in RPM organized interviews with the English-language Jerusalem Post, Ha’Aretz, and the religious paper Hamevaser. They also arranged for me to appear on Sharon’s weekly radio show, All for Peace, and arranged extended press briefings with Or Heller, the well known defense correspondent for Channel 10, one of the major Israeli TV stations; with Ami  Rokheks, who writes for Israel Defense a publication and web site devoted to security issues; and with Aviv Lavi, a leading environmental correspondent with a column in the business daily Globes and a weekly national radio program.

Arife Kose, the ICAN campaigner in Turkey, organized an extremely successful meeting at the Turkish Parliament on June 19, hosted and sponsored by Professor Aytug Atici, Member of Parliament, a pediatrician, and a member of IPPNW.  The hour-long event attracted 18 members of parliament and consisted of a one-hour presentation and discussion of nuclear famine and the medical consequences of nuclear war. The event was also attended by IPPNW-Turkey General Secretary Derman Boztok, IPPNW-Turkey President Ozen Asut, five other members of the affiliate, and representatives of the Platform Against Nuclear, an umbrella group uniting dozens of NGOs opposed, originally to nuclear power, but now working on nuclear weapons as well. At the conclusion, Prof. Atici expressed interest in organizing a Turkish parliamentary delegation to attend the Mexico conference next year. Parliamentarians will be asked to sign a statement endorsing the Mexico conference.

Later in the day, Arife, Derman, and I met with Volkan Oskiper, the Head of Department for Arms Control and Disarmament. Turkey had attended the Oslo conference in March but did not sign on to the joint appeal of 80 NPT member states in May. He indicated, however, that Turkey plans to attend the Mexico conference and is encouraging other states to attend as well.  He expressed some skepticism about the value of the ban treaty but was sympathetic to the argument that the nuclear-weapon states need to be pushed from the outside and agreed that their strong aversion to a ban treaty suggests that they are feeling pressured simply by the prospect of its being negotiated.

Oskiper was very familiar with the nuclear famine study from the Oslo presentation, and quoted several of the findings back to us. He is meeting with counterparts in Islamabad next week and agreed to bring a copy of the report to them for us. He will meet further with Arife and Derman in the lead up to Mexico.

Finally, Derman hosted a reception for IPPNW colleagues at the Turkish Medical Association office. The TMA issued a press release on June 19 about the situation in Turkey, specifically addressing the victims of police violence, but also referencing the presentation on humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons at the Parliament. A press conference held at the Medical Association dealt with both issues.

June 24, 2013 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on After losing disarmament debate, Likud hawk concedes Iranian position on nuclear weapons is better for the world