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“Until we get to zero we cannot rest”

November 15, 2010

By Vappu Taipale

[An address by IPPNW’s Co-President to the 11th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, in Hiroshima, Japan.]

Photo:World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates


I speak to you today not only as a representative of a Nobel Peace Laureate organisation, IPPNW, and not only as a former Minister of Health from Finland, but I am addressing you as a doctor. We physicians understand the full extent of the costs of relying on nuclear weapons for our security. We know that after the possible use of nuclear weapons there will be no cure and no care.

Drs. Vappu and Ilkka Taipale of Finland during a moment of reflection at a candlelight memorial ceremony in Hiroshima. Photo: Katsuko Kataoka / IPPNW

There will not only be unimaginably great human, economic and ecological direct costs but also long lasting indirect costs to our whole globe. Our message is that our only opportunity as physicians and as human beings is the total prevention of nuclear war or even a regional conflict.

Our knowledge about these consequences starts with the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since we are gathered in the first city ever destroyed by an atomic bomb, let me take a moment to remind us what happened here more than 50 years ago.

The 12.5-kiloton bomb detonated in the air over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 decimated the city. It created ground temperatures that reached about 7,000 degrees Celsius. 92% of the builidings of the city were destroyed. There were more than 100,000 deaths and approximately 75,000 injuries among a population of nearly 250,000. Of the 298 physicians in the city, 270 were killed or injured and 1,564 of 1,780 nurses died or were injured. No emergency health care to the survivors, no medication to the sufferers. How can the medical community ever think anything else than total prevention of the use of nuclear weapons?

The abolition of nuclear weapons has been IPPNW’s principal goal since our formation in 1980. The 1985 Peace Prize was given to IPPNW in recognition of the work we had done in a different time. In the 1980s the threat of nuclear war between two superpowers made the entire world hostage to an ideological conflict. The threat was felt everywhere, in all countries, in all families and it shadowed the future of our children.

Today the nuclear threat manifests itself in different ways. The stockpiles are there, the doctrines exist, but  people do not any more feel so threatened. However, we physicians cannot  forget the possibility for the final epidemic, use of nuclear weapons. Medical ethics   demands us to inform the people, and to act.

The US and Russia remain the nuclear superpowers, but seven other countries have their own nuclear arsenals and their own doctrines for using them. The possibility that a nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terror group willing to use it cannot be ignored. Conflicts in the Middle East or South Asia could too easily escalate into nuclear confrontations, with global consequences.

Therefore, IPPNW has been pursuing the goal of abolition, by campaigning for a Nuclear Weapons Convention. NWC means a global nuclear disarmament agreement. It is to eliminate the instruments of mass extermination from the world’s arsenals and to prohibit any state from rebuilding them.

We launched ICAN — the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons — for this reason in 2007, after the abysmal failure of the 2005 NPT Review. ICAN is spreading information and awareness about nuclear threats of today. ICAN has been a success among  young medical students and young people worldwide, because of it is calling for action and because of its direct messages. A growing number of states, including some in a position to influence the behavior of the nuclear-weapon states, have started to embrace our argument. Because the world needs global nuclear disarmament you need to negotiate global nuclear disarmament. Half measures are simply not good enough.

The Convention is a focal point of Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s 5-point action plan for nuclear disarmament. Earlier this year, 28 individual countries, along with the Non-Aligned Movement Group of 116 countries, voiced strong support for a Nuclear Weapons Convention at the 2010 NPT Review Conference. The outcome document of the Conference named the Convention twice as a serious proposal for fulfilling the nuclear disarmament obligations embedded in the NPT itself. Abolition NGOs around the world played a large part in making that happen.

IPPNW and ICAN are working with these countries and their abolition NGOs to build enthusiasm for the Convention.  In that regard, I’m excited to inform you that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway has just provided substantial funding for an ICAN campaigning office in Geneva.

As a federation of doctors, however, IPPNW finds the most compelling arguments for the abolition of nuclear weapons in their unique nature and devastating effects. The threat of human errors or terrorist use cannot be overseen in this world. We have to ensure the health of the entire planet. Fortunately, our preventive point of view is shared by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Medical Association, the World Court, and even the NPT member states, who have condemned the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.

Until we get to zero we cannot rest.

Photo: Nobel Peace Laureate Summit

Even if our luck continues to hold and we are able to forestall the day when nuclear weapons are used again, these instruments of mass murder cannot help us address other major global threats. As physicians we have to fight climate change, poverty, child mortality, or injustice in health. Instead, nuclear weapons undermine our capacity to deal with these problems.

Nuclear weapons, and the wider global military-industrial complex, consume vast resources that could be put to better use. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute SIPRI reports that global military expenditures in 2008 totaled $1.46 trillion. This is an increase of 45 per cent in the past ten years. SIPRI has also estimated that it will take $135 billion to meet all of the Millennium Development Goals. That’s less than one tenth of what the world spends on weapons and war every year.

Let me put this in perspective. Every billion dollars spent on nuclear weapons is a billion dollars that could have been spent to improve the health of the global population. The expenditure could be used to improve access to drinking water and sanitation in parts of the world where water-related diseases such as malaria and diarrhea are rampant.

New nuclear weapons — whether they are replacements for ones that already exist or completely new designs with new capabilities — are instruments of mass murder. We have to insist on using language that accurately describes the weapons and the policies behind them.  “Deterrence” is not protection; it is a threat to totally destroy the people, cities, and economies of entire states.  This is neither acceptable nor effective as a policy for “protecting” one’s own people or one’s allies.

We all here in Hiroshima today want to do everything possible to make sure a nuclear war never happens. We claim that these obscene weapons are never used again by anyone. We urge that we achieve a world without nuclear weapons as soon as possible. We physicians would like to add here a plea for a NWC. We have to re-examine our responsibilities in a world where security can only be based on initiatives that offer the possibility of a decent life to everyone.

Abolishing nuclear weapons is an essential step toward such a world.

  1. Ulrich Gottstein permalink
    December 11, 2010 4:32 am

    Thank you, Vappu, for your great speech, not only commemorating the criminal tragedy of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but to remind the world population, that one day another tragedy will occur if the nuclear weapons are not abolished. The Nuclear Convention is urgently necessary.
    IPPNW-Germany had three press interviews these days with articles in three Medical journals. But it remains disappointing that doctors, medical students and also most of the politicians refrain from positive activities to end the military strategy of the “Twentieth Century Weaponry”, as Gunnar has named it. I agree to you, Vappu, ” Until we get to Zero, we cannot rest”, and I add ” we remain hostages in great danger”.
    Ulrich Gottstein


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