From a citizen of the world to Nobel Peace Laureates
[Mikhail Gorbachev chaired the 10th Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in the German capitol of Berlin, November 9-11, 2009 in conjunction with celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
IPPNW students and young doctors from the US, Australia, India, Nigeria and Germany represented IPPNW’s emerging generation that is passionately committed to the elimination of nuclear weapons.
“As a forerunner to the end of the Cold War, the fall of the wall is also a milestone for nuclear disarmament,” said Katerina Bergmann, one of the coordinators of IPPNW’s Nuclear Weapons Inheritance Project (NWIP). “As young doctors, we do not want to pass the nuclear legacy of our parent’s generation on to our children – that’s why we are committed to disarmament.”
IPPNW’s International Student Co-Representative, Agyeno Ehase Sunday represented the voice of medical student activists and shared the stage with more than a dozen Nobel Peace Prize winners at the two day, 10th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Berlin.
The following are his words from the November 11th session, “Walls of Nuclear Weapons and Armament: building up a world free from nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction.”]
Distinguished panelists and champions of peace in the world, delegates and youth participants from all over the world, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.
My name is Ehase Agyeno, an Intern in a specialist hospital in Lafia a small city in the middle of Nigeria, here on behalf of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). IPPNW is a network of physicians and medical students in over 60 countries spanning the globe, seven of which are represented right here. Founded in the early eighties during the height of the cold war by two cardiologists, Evgeni Chazov from the Russian Federation, and Bernard Lown from the US; they reached across the physical and ideological wall to show that across the divide, people, forces could still come together for the good of the world.
The message then as it remains to this day is that of preventing what cannot be cured, that in the event of a nuclear war all health systems – personnel and facilities will be overwhelmed such that there would be no meaningful response.
We maintain as they did, that the effect of a nuclear weapon starts long before it explodes and persists far after that. The latter scenario is really not hard to imagine as the voices of the Hibakushas, those affected when the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki still echo out of the void that has become their lives since that fateful incident. Furthermore, recent research has shown that even a limited regional war as could occur between India and Pakistan would disrupt global climate and lead to a sustained decrease in global temperatures over a decade accompanied by a shortening in the growing season over the same period. This would cause about a billion people who are now barely surviving to starve to death, and this is just a modest estimate!
Today, twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall, the walls of nuclear weapons and armaments still stand as a stark testimony to our mindless resolve to alienate and demonize others, at the risk of annihilating our species. And though some might argue that stockpiles have reduced since then, it is also true that nuclear warheads have become increasingly sophisticated. Today’s weapons are several hundred times deadlier than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with combined explosive power capable of destroying the world five times over! Twenty years later, there is still a North-South divide with about a billion people on the brink of starvation, thanks to wasteful expenditure on arms in the name of deterrence.
And I stand here today as a citizen of the world and heir to the future to proclaim it irresponsible for high technology to co-exist with lack of food and water like we have today. As it has been said severally since the beginning of this summit, we need to change our mindset and that of our leaders towards world affairs, to move from armaments to common security. Whether we unite, or divide, whether we choose to go forward based on present challenges and the opportunities they offer for cooperation, or we decide to go with past threats that are no more than nihilistic nostalgia is totally left to us. But bear in mind that posterity, history will hold us responsible. The groundswell is here, the time is now for armament walls to be brought down to allow flow of peaceful aid and cooperation from the nuclear weapons states to countries in need of aid, of the global south, which will lead to erecting of walls of common security, understanding and tolerance around us. Indeed at the start of this summit, during the youth dialogues, youth have come up with the idea of “peaceful armaments” where nuclear weapon states reduce their spending on all that pertains to nuclear weapons by a percentage to be agreed upon, and channel these funds to specific projects in the global south, “arming” the citizens with economic emancipation and social stability of the kind that would lead to self-actualization.
Like the Berliners brought down the wall separating them block by block, chip by chip, I hope that leaders of nuclear weapons states would borrow a leaf from that event and commence incremental steps leading to a Nuclear Weapons Convention. Indeed half the work in this regard has already been done by organizations like IPPNW, the International Association of Lawyers against Armaments (IALANA) and International Network of Scientists and Engineers against Proliferation (INESAP), who came together to draft a model nuclear weapons convention detailing in a step-by-step fashion the roadmap to zero, hard copies of which are available. I beseech world leaders to move beyond the argument of ‘disarmament first’ or ‘non-proliferation first’ that distracts from the urgent need for abolition. The two need to go together for they represent two sides of a double-edged sword.
Ladies and gentlemen, this auspicious gathering is a call for us to return to the nuclear debate, in which our position as physicians is simple:
We cannot intervene in the event of a nuclear war as we ourselves would be overwhelmed along with the institutions and facilities we would need to bring succor.
Hundreds of thousands of people will die immediately following a nuclear explosion! Most of those left alive will die subsequently from radiation sickness and those who do survive will experience profound reduction in quality of life, and will have gene alterations that will affect the quality of life of their off springs: Birth defects, cancers would become commonplace with their attendant psychological trauma.
And let us not forget the menace of small arms. Indeed in countries of Africa and Latin America, small arms are as real as nuclear weapons in the global north. They cause morbidity and mortality, and continue to reduce peoples’ quality of life by robbing them of family and friends, bread-winners, and making refugees of them.
We are physicians; our oath puts life first above anything and forbids us from doing harm or allowing harm. To sit by and do nothing about nuclear weapons and armaments is not an option for us. But equally, as human beings, we appeal to the broader humanity that lies within all of us, and the hope for a better future that is free from the madness of old-war nuclear doctrines. We invite you to join with us in urging world leaders not to allow the enormity of the task to deter them but encourage them to go for the impossible, and we say to them of bringing down the walls of Nuclear weapons and armaments to, Think big, act together, but start now!
Thank you for listening.