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Old friends, new partners for peace, and much work to do back in the USA

Posted by Andrew S. Kanter, MD, MPH, FACMI on August 27, 2010

Some initial thoughts upon arriving at the first official day of the 19th IPPNW World Congress in Basel, Switzerland… Due to poor time planning, I arrived later than usual and I unfortunately was unable to participate in the International Council meeting and the Student Congress. It was nice to hear from Ira, Ashish and Peter, though! It is a rainy morning here in Basel, and it would normally be the wee hours of the morning back in New York, so I am functioning on the adrenalin of seeing so many old friends.  It is truly wonderful to see everyone here. You realize that this is a big family all working for our planet.

The morning plenaries and opening session has been impressive. It is nice to see a full auditorium of physicians, medical students and concerned citizens on this important topic. A giant IPPNW logo with the red PRESCRIPTION: ABOLITION stamped on it stands over the proceedings. There were nice introductory statements including a welcome from Russian President Medvedev and Mayor Akiba of Hiroshima. Mayor Akiba calls for elimination of nuclear weapons by 2020 as well as a hope that Hiroshima will be able to host the “Peace” Olympics in the same year. Where is President Obama’s statement? We’ve heard the statements from Prague, etc. but nothing here. We have to wait a bit to hear from Ambassador Kennedy, the US Ambassador to the UN Committee on Disarmament…

The initial session is on the history of Nuclear Abolition. Prof. Wittner gives us the history of early antinuclear movement, emphasizing the role of popular movement in moving political leaders… but I am unconvinced. Also not a lot about the Physicians’ role in ensuring the atmospheric test ban.  He was followed by a powerful statement from Christine Beerli, Vice President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose organization released a declaration in favor of a nuclear weapons convention in April. I am very impressed with the clear call from ICRC and hope that we will be working together in the future. Ambassador Duarte High Representative for Disarmament from the UN basically says that we can’t continue how we are now. If we remove weapons at the pace we are going now, it will be 2070 before they are all gone. He also said that only through a legally binding agreement will this happen at all. Finally, the Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey spoke in support of our agenda and for abolition.

After the break, we are honored to have Dr. Chazov speak, Co-founder of IPPNW with Dr. Lown. He looks great and probably has recently been climbing mountains! Then Ambassador Loschinsky from Russia reads a statement in support of New START and calls for ratification and next steps. There does not appear to be any preconditions, although there are mentions of reductions being in the total context of security and stability… perhaps a veiled comment on no missile defense. Ambassador Kennedy then makes her statement which basically explains that Secretary Clinton and President Obama have been working for disarmament with New START, the CTBT and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT). She explains that there is still a long way to go with the US Government ratifying these treaties and we haven’t even started on negotiating the FMCT yet!  She talks about the new transparency among nuclear weapons stockpiles and the new unique IDs for all nuclear weapons and delivery systems… license plates for missiles which can be used to track them from their silos until they are ultimately destroyed. She ends with an enthusiastic plea for the peaceful use of nuclear technology citing the Megatons to Megawatts program where Russian nuclear weapons are downblended and used for nuclear power plant fuel… Although I like the idea of dismantling the weapons, turning them into dangerous fuel, which only perpetuates our false assumption that nuclear reactors are an acceptable source of power. Perhaps only as a temporary bridge as they are being phased out…

We then have another impassioned speech from General Saighal, formerly of the Indian army, calling for a new world order… where civil society takes the reins and demands sustainability and safety for future generations. I can’t help but be moved by his call, but perhaps I am getting too old, but I am skeptical that such a new order will come about in the way that he would hope. Gunnar Westberg closes the session by calling on action and not words. It is not enough to talk about this if we (and our governments) don’t actually act. The morning sessions ended with stirring applause and everyone is excited to get to work… feels like a sea change for the better. However, there is still a lot of work to do back in the USA.

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