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IPPNW Interview: Xanthe Hall

April 28, 2009

Xanthe Hall, IPPNW GermanyXanthe Hall is a disarmament expert and long-time antinuclear campaigner for IPPNW-Germany. Her views are sought and respected on topics ranging from missile defenses to a nuclear-weapons-free Europe. VS asked Xanthe about the current political landscape in Germany and about the prospects for a nuclear-weapons-free world.

IPPNW: European NGOs are demanding that NATO take a hard look at its nuclear weapons policies as it marks its 60th anniversary. What is IPPNW-Germany contributing to this campaign?

XH: IPPNW-Germany is one of the main organizations behind the three-year campaign “our future—nuclear weapon free”—supported by 50 organizations Germany-wide—which aims to get the US nuclear weapons withdrawn from Germany by 2010. Through this campaign we are highlighting in particular the nuclear sharing agreement in NATO, which provides for member states to host US nuclear weapons, to provide logistics and pilots, and to take part in nuclear planning for a potential NATO nuclear attack. When we started this campaign, most people here did not even know that there were still nuclear weapons in Germany. We changed this by having a large demonstration and actions at the Büchel nuclear base last summer. At the 60th anniversary this week in Strasbourg, many of us will be there. We will run a workshop on the nuclear weapons’ issue and talk about how changes in the US and UK nuclear policies might affect NATO nuclear policy, which is up for review again after the Strasbourg meeting. There is a general election in Germany this year, so we are asking candidates to take a definite position on the US nuclear weapons. After the election, we will ask the governing parties (at least one of which will be for the withdrawal) to write it into the coalition agreement that these weapons will be withdrawn. The goal is that by the next NPT Review Conference this decision will have been taken and can be announced, thus adding momentum to the disarmament debate.

IPPNW: You just organized a successful panel on the Nuclear Weapons Convention at the Middle Powers Initiative’s Article VI Forum in Berlin. Are diplomats and government officials more receptive to the Convention than they were a year or so ago?

XH: Well, they are letting us talk about it, which they weren’t doing before. The big breakthrough was Ban Ki-Moon’s expression of support in October of last year. Now we can say that it is one of the proposals in his five-point plan, which means it is not just some NGO initiative or attached to Malaysia and Costa Rica, but is proposed by the UN Secretary General. Nevertheless, there is a lot of resistance to the Nuclear Weapons Convention on a political level. It is still too large a commitment for many diplomats and officials. While we use the analogy of climbing a mountain and the need to plan a way to the summit, people like Kissinger talk about the summit being obscured by clouds, and Patricia Lewis [Director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research] proposes a “vantage point” that we still have to reach before the rest of the path can be clearly defined. This means we are still talking about steps and the rest is either described as a “vision” or “the logic of zero.” The Convention is seen as premature, but it is no longer utopian. That is major progress.

IPPNW: More than 50 German physicians signed IPPNW’s abolition appeal to Presidents Obama and Medvedev. How do you account for the resurgence of interest in a world without nuclear weapons?

XH: The op-eds in various countries of elder statesmen have helped get the political class to put nuclear weapons back on the agenda. Eighty two European Parliamentarians have signed a statement supporting the Nuclear Weapons Convention. But the general public is still way behind on this subject. Climate change and the financial crisis are still the top issues. However, politically active people are beginning to see the connections and there is a great deal more networking between different movements beginning to emerge. As for the German physicians who signed the appeal, the interest in nuclear weapons is latent, but easily tapped when an international action like this one comes our way.

IPPNW: There’s a vibrant youth movement working for abolition in Germany. What have you learned from them?

XH: “Ban All Nukes generation” is a European youth network that was initiated in Germany. They co-organized a successful simulation game in Geneva last year at the NPT PrepCom in which some of our students were involved. Having learnt from that, IPPNW-Germany organized a training weekend and simulation game on nuclear weapons in Germany about a month ago. We are now planning on sending medical students to their old schools to talk to students about the nuclear issue. We have developed a very good poster on nuclear weapons in Europe for schools with BANg. The Nuclear Weapons Inheritance Project has a lot of active student members in Germany who are getting involved in the campaign “our future—nuclear weapon free” and ICAN. The students are particularly good at holding dialogues with decision makers. We could learn a great deal more from them on this score!

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