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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

An NPT pop quiz

By John Loretz | International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War | May 11, 2015

Can you name the “official” NPT nuclear-weapons states?

If you said the US, Russia, the UK, France, and China…you’re wrong.

No, this wasn’t a trick question having something to do with North Korea. The fact is the NPT doesn’t contain a single word that confers any kind of special status on its five nuclear-armed members. The word “official” never appears. Neither does the word “recognized.” Nor does any other word that even hints at the notion that these five states have a right, temporary or otherwise, to the nuclear weapons they had when they joined the Treaty. (France and China did not even become Member States until 1992.)

The nuclear-armed states are mentioned only twice—and never by name—throughout the entire text of the NPT. Article IX provides a generic definition: “For the purposes of this Treaty, a nuclear weapon State is one which has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January, 1967.”

Then, of course, there’s Article VI, which says “Each of the Parties to the Treaty [not just the nuclear-armed Parties, mind you] undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

That’s it. No language anywhere that says—or could be interpreted to mean—that the nuclear weapons held by these five states got grandfathered in and are therefore permitted—or even tolerated for some indefinite time—under the treaty.

If you catch yourself using these words or any others that convey the same false impression, try to eliminate them from your personal glossary of nuclear terms.

While I’m on the subject, we keep hearing from certain states at the NPT Review Conference and elsewhere (you’ll find them in the glossary under “weasels”) that they don’t support the ban treaty because we will only eliminate nuclear weapons if we “engage” with the nuclear-weapons states.

Have they not noticed that this is exactly what we’re doing? Granted, the nuclear-armed states want nothing to do with negotiating a ban—which fact, alone, proves its effectiveness. “Engagement,” to the P5 and the weasels, means letting them define the terms and the pace of nuclear disarmament, and not rocking the boat with “unrealistic” demands and distractions. Once we have it, however, the ban treaty will set new terms for engagement. It will inform the nuclear-armed states that they are outlaws and that they need to “engage” with that and become respectable, law-abiding world citizens, like it or not.

If you ask me, the nuclear-armed states, to their distress, haven’t been so engaged since the end of the Cold War. The humanitarian impacts movement, the Austrian Pledge, and the campaign for a ban treaty have been the agents for that engagement. That’s official.

May 11, 2015 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a 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

NAM urges global nuclear disarmament

Press TV – February 14, 2014

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has renewed its call for the elimination of nuclear weapons across the world.

In a statement on Thursday, NAM labeled nuclear arms as a major threat and expressed deep concern over the destructive repercussions of the use of such weapons on present and future generations as well as the environment.

The statement said that using or threatening to use nuclear weapons was in contravention of international law, urging all countries to fulfill their denuclearization commitments.

It said that global nuclear disarmament is the first step toward creating a world free of nuclear weapons, stressing that the elimination of all such weapons is the only way to guarantee that they will not be used as a threat against countries.

Calling on world countries to respect international law and meet their legal commitments, NAM also urged an immediate conference attended by the leaders of world countries to discuss global disarmament.

It also urged the full implementation of a UN General Assembly resolution on nuclear disarmament, which was passed last year.

In December 2013, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a nuclear disarmament resolution that includes proposals forwarded by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as the head of NAM.

The resolution, adopted on December 5, 2013, calls on nuclear-power states to make more efforts to scale down and ultimately eliminate all types of nuclear arms.

According to the resolution, non-nuclear states should be given guarantees that they will not be threatened or attacked by nuclear weapons.

It also calls on the General Assembly to urge all signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to follow up on the implementation of their obligations as agreed in the 1995, 2000 and 2010 Review Conferences.

February 14, 2014 Posted by | Militarism, War Crimes | , , , , | Leave a comment

“It is time we ban nuclear weapons”

Civil society statement to the UN high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament

Delivered by Nosizwe Lise Baqwa of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) on behalf of civil society

26 September 2013, New York

The use of a nuclear weapon on a major populated area would immediately kill tens if not hundreds of thousands of people—women, men, and children.

Hundreds of thousands more would be alive—but severely injured. Blinded, burned, crushed. The immediate effects of even a single nuclear weapon are shocking and overwhelming. Its destructive force capable of nightmarish scenes of death and despair. Of suffering. They go far beyond what is considered acceptable, even in the context of war.

The blinding flash will leave people sightless; the massive blast will level cities; the searing heat and spreading fires will melt steel and engulf homes, and can coalesce into a firestorm that will suck the air from anyone still breathing.

And the survivors of these physical traumas may yet be poisoned by radioactivity, which invades and destroys their bodies over the days and weeks that follow.

In addition to this, there are significant long-term impacts of a nuclear weapons explosion.

A single nuclear weapon will cause devastating damage to infrastructure, critical industry, to our livelihoods and to our lives. The lives of fathers, of mothers, of grandparents; the lives of our children. The long-term effects of exposure to radiation will lead to increased incidence of leukemia and solid cancers among survivors, and a heightened risk of hereditary effects for future generations. Their use would result in large-scale forced or voluntary migration—floods of refugees into neighboring countries, who would be unable to return home for decades, if ever. A nuclear weapons explosion will affect the environment and agricultural production for decades to come.

If multiple nuclear weapons were used, the combined effects of their firestorms would seriously disrupt the global climate, causing widespread agricultural collapse and famine that could blight the lives of millions. Global communications and electrical and electronic systems would be disrupted. An extensive nuclear exchange would produce temperatures lower than the last ice age.

The effects will spread beyond borders, to areas far away from where the bombs were dropped.

There will be a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable people around the world: those without enough food; those without access to health care, water, and education; those who are already suffering from the lack of resources.

The Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Oslo held in March this year, concluded that it would not be possible to coordinate and deliver any meaningful humanitarian response, to a catastrophe brought about by nuclear weapons. No international organization or state could adequately deal with the situation.

Any use of nuclear weapons would eradicate hospitals, food, water and medical supplies, transportation and communications—infrastructure required for the treatment of survivors.

Physicians and paramedics arriving from outside would have to work without resources needed for effective treatment; furthermore, radiation, as we know from both Chernobyl and Fukushima, can make it impossible for rescuers to enter highly contaminated areas.

There are still many aspects of the impact of nuclear weapons that are rarely discussed. We look forward to the upcoming conference in Mexico next year, where we hope all governments will continue to engage in a fact-based discussion around the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. The horror that these weapons threaten is stark.

That nuclear weapons have not already been clearly declared illegal for all, alongside the other prohibited weapons of mass destruction, is a failure of our collective social responsibility.

The time has come for committed states to correct that failure. The time has come to ban nuclear weapons once and for all.

The current framework provided for multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations has not been able to overcome the lack of political will of nuclear-armed states to comply with their obligations to disarm. Let us not allow deadlocks in meetings to be the legacy we leave behind us, for our children.

A treaty banning nuclear weapons is achievable. It can be initiated by states that do not possess nuclear weapons. Nuclear-armed states should not be allowed to prevent such negotiations. We should not abandon productive or promising efforts in other forums, but neither should we ignore the opportunity that lies before us now, to make history.

History shows that legal prohibitions of weapon systems—of their use or their possession—facilitate their elimination. Weapons that have been outlawed increasingly become seen as illegitimate. They lose their political status, and so do not continue compelling money and resources to be invested in their production, modernisation, proliferation, and perpetuation.

The ban on nuclear weapons will raise the political and economic costs of maintaining them, by prohibiting assistance with the development, production, or testing of nuclear weapon systems.

The new treaty will perhaps be the most important tool in our collective work towards eliminating nuclear weapons, and this tool can actually be achieved now.

It will take courage. It will take the leadership by states free of nuclear weapons. And you will have the support of civil society. My name is Nosizwe Lise Baqwa and I am a campaigner from ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Campaigners like me, from all around the world, are demanding action to finally achieve the outlawing and elimination of nuclear weapons. It is time. It is time to change the status quo. It is time we ban nuclear weapons.

September 27, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , | Leave a comment