Yesterday I did a press conference on behalf of the Congress organisers on the subject of nuclear disarmament. Christian Schönenberger from the Swiss Foreign Office joined us, as did Rebecca Johnson, Vice-Chair of ICAN.

Christian Schönenberger referred not only to the excellent speech by Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss Foreign Minister in the plenary that morning, but also to the study that caused such a stir at the NPT Review Conference on “Delegitimising Nuclear Weapons“. The fact that nuclear weapons contravene international humanitarian law is a recurring theme, both in New York and here in Basel, and is fast becoming the central argument for the abolition of nuclear weapons. That might seem like a no-brainer for us but on the other hand but needs to be said repeatedly, especially since our friends at “Global Zero” are pushing the argument of fear against terrorism as being the main issue.

Since IPPNW and ICAN have the humanitarian aspect at the centre of their arguments for the abolition of nuclear weapons, I attempted to explain to the journalists present why that was so. And other than what would happen to people if nuclear weapons were used, which has been well documented by IPPNW, both in the case of accidental nuclear war and a so-called limited exchange (which would of course still be global because of the impact through the resulting smoke and drop in global temperature causing failure of harvests and mass starvation). But the point I wanted to make is that it is a humanitarian issue right now, because of the diversion of resources for nuclear programmes and our continuing failure to understand what kind of security humans need in the 21st century.

Take Pakistan as an example. Back then, when the decision was taken to build the nuclear bomb, the then Premier Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto said (and I don’t have the exact quote to hand) that even if Pakistan had to eat grass, they would make the bomb. Well, they are doing that now, because there is not enough money to help the people of Pakistan feed themselves in the face of these terrible floods. The diversion of resources into the military has left Pakistan unable to cope with this catastrophe.

This shows that investment in our security is completely inadequate. Houses are not built to withstand natural disasters, emergency relief is pitiful, even in daily life there is no protection from the big killers like malaria, dirty water, HIV, etc. Security is instead based on nuclear weapons, a weapon that cannot be used because of its own humanitarian and environmental impact.

It is time, in the 21st century, to understand that climate change and disease are the threats to our security and nuclear weapons do not protect us from them, so they are useless.

Time to retire the bomb.

Xanthe Hall, Basel, Aug 28 2010

Dimity Hawkins, Xanthe Hall and Tilman Ruff (from left to right)

Dimity Hawkins, Xanthe Hall and Tilman Ruff (from left to right)

Press Information from the IPPNW 19th World Congress in Basel

“The danger that nuclear weapons will be used in the future is underestimated” warned Prof. Dr. Andreas Nidecker, President of the Organisation Committee for the Swiss affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, on the eve of IPPNW’s World Congress, taking place this year in Switzerland. As many as 800 doctors and medical students are expected to meet in Basel to discuss the status of disarmament efforts and debate how to reach a world without nuclear weapons.

At the Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) this spring in New York, the Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey labelled nuclear weapons as “illegal”. She announced Switzerland’s support for a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC), a legal framework that would complement Article VI of the NPT. This article obligates the Nuclear Weapon States to eliminate their nuclear weapons. “Switzerland is new to the large circle of NWC supporters that are promoting a rapid implementation of Article VI” said Nidecker. He sees a next step towards abolition of nuclear weapons as being the creation of nuclear weapon-free zones. The final document of the NPT Review Conference contains the obligation to create a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East. A conference is to take place in 2010 with all the affected countries to agree upon the first binding measures to establish such a zone.

Prof. Tilman Ruff, Chair of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons (ICAN) is a vehement supporter of a NWC. ICAN was started two years ago as a citizen’s movement taking up the call of an overwhelming majority of the world’s population and 140 governments for a world free of nuclear weapons. “Every type of indiscriminate, inhumane weapon that has been banned was abolished through a treaty. Chemical and biological weapons, landmines and cluster munitions – why not nuclear weapons too?” asks the Australian IPPNW doctor. “The medical prescription is clear: negotiating a Nuclear Weapons Convention  is the most urgent priority for global health,” said Ruff.

Dr. Claudio Knüsli, President of the Swiss IPPNW affiliate, pointed out the damage to health caused by radiation from the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The incidence of cancer, and also heart disease, is still increasing in the victims. New findings show that the risk posed by radioactivity has been underestimated up until now. This has substantial consequences for the basis for future calculation.

The issue of major economic interests at work behind nuclear armament is the subject that Steven Staples is presenting at the IPPNW World Congress. The Canadian disarmament expert thinks that the financial crisis has revealed that the G8 is becoming increasingly dependent on the help of developing countries with growing markets to solve global crises. “Power is shifting away from the traditional economic and military powers, towards many new states which do not see nuclear weapons as a requisite for their own global influence or national prestige,” said the Director of the Canadian Rideau Institute. He believes that this shift will delegitimise nuclear weapons as a symbol of power and strengthen the growing international call for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Alex Rosen, a young paediatrician from Düsseldorf, relies on public education. He and a group of 40 young medics from all over the world rode bicycles 700 kilometres from Düsseldorf to the IPPNW Congress in Basel, in order to canvass support for a nuclear weapon-free Europe. On their way from Germany to Switzerland, they met with politicians, organised publicity events in inner cities and talked to passers-by about abolishing nuclear weapons. Medical students continue the decades-old commitment of the IPPNW founders and today’s activists.

Contact person: Angelika Wilmen, IPPNW, Tel. 0049 (0)162 205 79 43, IPPNW Germany, Körtestr. 10, 10967 Berlin, Email: wilmen@ippnw.de, www.ippnw.de; Claudia Bürgler, PSR / IPPNW Schweiz, ÄrztInnen für soziale Verantwortung/ zur Verhütung eines Atomkrieges, Klosterberg 23, CH-4051 Basel, Tel./Fax 0041 (0) 61 271 50 25, sekretariat@ippnw.ch, http://www.ippnw.ch