Docs and nukes — still a live issue
More than 50 years ago, doctors who would go on to form Physicians for Social Responsibility and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War published a groundbreaking series of articles on the medical consequences of nuclear war in the New England Journal of Medicine. A new article by long-time PSR and IPPNW leaders Victor W. Sidel and Ira Helfand, challenging the medical community to once again take up the task of banning and eliminating nuclear weapons as a humanitarian priority, was published today in the NEJM.
In the years since the end of the Cold War, the medical community has paid far less attention to this issue. We, like most of the world, have acted as though the danger of nuclear war were a thing of the past. To the extent that we have considered the matter, we have focused on the possibility that terrorists or “rogue states” such as North Korea and Iran will acquire nuclear weapons. Although these are important threats, it is critical that we understand that the greatest danger is posed by the arsenals of the countries that already have nuclear weapons. There remain in the world today more than 15,000 nuclear warheads, 95% of which are in the arsenals of the United States and Russia.1 Of these warheads, some 2000 are on hair-trigger alert. They can be fired in less than 15 minutes and can destroy their targets across the globe 30 minutes later.
These weapons pose an existential threat to humanity.