The world watches as the natural disasters of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the earthquake off Mexico wreak their devastation, waiting for their final tolls of death, destruction and devastation. Yet on a daily basis the world faces a far greater man-made threat, that of nuclear war, as tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, the U.S., its NATO Allies and Russia over Ukraine and Syria, and between India and Pakistan play out. The actuality of nuclear war which has grown since the Cold War, would dwarf the devastation of these natural disasters, potentially bringing about the extinction of humans. Even a limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan, who are always on a war alert, using half of their arsenals, about ½ percent of the global nuclear arsenals, could kill up to two billion people, or a third of the world’s population, from the dramatic global climate change that would follow.
While these climate events were occurring this last week, more than 400 health professionals representing 33 countries including the U.S., Russia, Japan, and North Korea, met in York, England for the World Congress of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and Medact for the “Health Through Peace” forum. Meeting to discuss the effects of war and conflict on health and to reinforce their efforts to provide for the health, well being and security of people throughout the world, the conference celebrated the recent Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and worked on how to facilitate its ratification including the Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) and Nuclear Dependent States (NDS).
These doctors and health professionals who deal with public health threats that arise from disease, poverty, climate change and war on a daily basis, recognize that the greatest public health threat we face is the threat of nuclear war. No other public health threat even comes close. They also acknowledge that there is no adequate medical response to nuclear war and prevention is the only response. And the only way to prevent nuclear war is to eliminate all nuclear weapons.
While President’s Trump and Kim Jong un taunt and threaten each other and the U.S. ignites the new nuclear arms race with our proposed trillion dollar buildup over the next three decades, each of the other nuclear nations follow suit not to be outdone, and the world moves closer to nuclear war. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientist’s Doomsday Clock has moved to 2 ½ minutes till midnight or nuclear Armageddon. This is the future we face, though it is a future that does not have to be.
The non-nuclear nations have spoken and taken action, having grown weary and fearful of the nuclear nations. For 47 years the nuclear powers have failed to abide by their obligation in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to eliminate their nuclear arsenals. Tired of being bullied and threatened any longer they have come together with Indigenous peoples, victims of atomic war and nuclear weapons production and testing particularly harmful to women and children. The coalition also included civil society, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, NGOs and the entire international health community armed with the health and humanitarian consequences of nuclear war report of IPPNW.
Led by the decade-long efforts of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a global campaign coalition of more than 400 organizations in 100 countries, the Ban Treaty case was developed. The resulting “Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Treaty” (PNWT) was adopted July 7, 2017. The Treaty explicitly condemns and declares illegal nuclear weapons because of their medical, environmental, and humanitarian consequences, placing those who continue to possess and rely upon them on the wrong side of a powerful new international norm.
The Treaty will be open for signature when the U.N. reconvenes on September 20. Once ratified or signed by 50 nations, it will go into force 90 days later. Thereafter, those nations who maintain their nuclear arsenals will be stigmatized, de-legitimized, and will be on the wrong side of history.
Moving forward, nuclear weapons will be eliminated. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “Nuclear abolition is the democratic wish of the world’s people, and has been our goal almost since the dawn of the atomic age. Together, we have the power to decide whether the nuclear era ends in a bang or a worldwide celebration.”
The world’s physicians and health community are committed to a world free of nuclear weapons that provides for the health, well-being and security of people throughout the world. This Treaty provides an “Rx for Survival,” What will we tell our children’s children when they ask what we did when the world was threatened? The choice is ours.
Robert F. Dodge, M.D., is a practicing family physician and writes for PeaceVoice. He is co-chair of Physicians for Social Responsibility National Security Committee and the President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles.