UN Disarmament Action in Mexico
September 21, 2009
Last week, I represented Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) at the 62nd Annual United Nations Conference for Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs), “For Peace and Development: Disarm Now!” This is a critical time for disarmament efforts in a rare moment of political opportunity as we approach the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May 2010.
The conference took place in Mexico City to recognize the 40th anniversary of the historic Treaty of Tlatelolco, which established a nuclear weapon free zone in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Mexican statesman, Alfonso Garcia Robles won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1982 for his work on the Treaty.
Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon gave an inspiring opening address, proving that nuclear disarmament is one of his top priorities. He outlined a specific and creative disarmament agenda and recognized that important work of NGOs and civil society, not governments alone, will help us achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.
Anticipation ran high for the “summit-level” UN Security Council meeting on nonproliferation and disarmament that President Obama will chair this Thursday September 24. At this meeting, the United States will table a draft UN Security Council Resolution that calls on all states to support steps towards a world free of nuclear weapons.
An unexpected and exciting experience for me was representing PSR and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) at a high level breakfast with Mexican UN Ambassador Claude Heller. The discussion focused on what disarmament messages Mexico could convey to the UN Security Council and to President Obama. A dynamic exchange of ideas took place on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, the US Nuclear Posture Review, and strategies for “getting to zero.” Mexico will push for concrete steps to realize Obama’s Prague vision.
Together with Khagendra Dahal of PSR-Nepal, I presented at a workshop, “Nuclear Famine: Health Consequences of Regional Nuclear War.” In 1983, Carl Sagan proved that “nuclear winter” could result from a nuclear war that included the detonation of thousands of nuclear warheads. Today, with far more scientific study into climate change, we know that even a “limited” nuclear exchange of a hundred nuclear weapons (for example between India and Pakistan) would have catastrophic global consequences. Abrupt global cooling, alterations in precipitation patterns, and radioactive contamination would cause major crop failures, and even global famine. The resulting global famine could result in death tolls in the range of one billion from starvation alone. Death would also be caused by infectious disease epidemics. This would also lead to an immense potential for further war and social violence (Power Point Global Famine).
Discussions at the conference took place on all aspects of militarism, not only on nuclear weapons, but also on the problems associated with the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons. Befitting its Latin American setting, the conference provided a forum for intense dialogue on small arms and the Arms Trade Treaty process at the United Nations. Ongoing efforts at the UN wisely put disarmament firmly in the context of development. The conference addressed diversion of resources, impact on human rights, and disarmament as necessary requirements for achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals.
I left the conference feeling very hopeful that current events are opening up opportunities to realize disarmament and peace goals PSR has held for nearly 50 years. However, this feeling was also accompanied by an awareness that we must act in this rare window of opportunity, or our species will truly be in grave peril. PSR’s work has never been more vital.
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