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Passing the torch

October 26, 2021

Joint statement of Russian Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and Physicians for Social Responsibility-USA
National affiliates of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)

To the Health Professionals of the World,

Participants in the intergenerational Moscow meeting included (from left): American co-founder Dr. James Muller, Ekaterina Schelkanovtseva, Olga Perekosova, Regional Vice-President for Russia/CIS Dr. Olga Mironova, Dr. Joe Hodgkin, and other rising leaders of the RPPNW and PSR student movements.

We write as Russian and American physicians – young and old – to describe the passing of the torch of our four-decade international effort to protect the life and health of humanity. The creation of nuclear weapons has resulted in a permanent threat to civilization that will require management by all future generations. Our meeting today of new and senior physician-activists, in Moscow and in Boston, is an essential component of our duty to train each new generation of health professionals.

The International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) was founded in 1980, at the height of the Cold War, when the US and the USSR maintained over 50,000 nuclear weapons and threatened to fight a nuclear war. IPPNW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for its efforts to alert the world to the nuclear threat. The increased public awareness contributed to a successful reduction of nuclear weapons to approximately 13,500 in 2021.

But now the nuclear danger is transformed and increasing. Nuclear weapons have spread from 5 to 9 nations, existing arsenals are being made more usable, and terrorists seek to escalate their violence from car bombs to a nuclear blast.

The threat of nuclear war no longer commands the public attention it once did, in part because more visible threats of COVID-19 and climate change obscure the persistent danger. Those of us who remember the Cold War are determined to push forward progress on this issue. Those of us who grew up after the Cold War can hardly believe our nations are still threatening each other with weapons that we learned about in history class.

In their cooperative effort to create the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty, leaders in the US and USSR called for limitation of the spread of nuclear weapons and committed to their ultimate elimination. President Putin and President Biden have shown the same determination by extending New START, the most significant remaining bilateral arms control treaty.

We welcome the US-Russia Presidential Joint Statement on Strategic Stability recently issued by President Putin and President Biden at their first meeting in Geneva in June of 2021. We fully support their shared assertion that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

We support the efforts of the leaders of our two countries to move decisively to reduce and eliminate the nuclear threat. We advocate commitment to a bilateral strategic dialogue that is regular, frequent, comprehensive and results-oriented, leading to further reduction of the nuclear risk threatening the world, and to the re-discovery of the road to a world free of nuclear weapons.

As Russian and American physicians, we recognize our special obligations as citizens of the two nations that possess approximately 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons. Our powerful nations have the ability to reduce the nuclear threat through mutually beneficial cooperative agreements. This would permit redirection of precious national resources to climate change and pandemics – the urgent problems of the 21st century.

The past year and a half have clearly demonstrated that the challenges of the 21st century do not respect international borders – pandemics, climate change and the nuclear threat – require increasing international scientific collaboration. As we pass the torch of our activism, we hope the young physicians of Russia and the United States can help eliminate the nuclear threat and accelerate medical efforts against the new threats to health posed by pandemics and climate change.

Dr. Joseph Hodgkin, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Member of Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility and IPPNW (US)

Dr. Sergey Kolesnikov, Member of Russian Academy of Sciences, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Past President of IPPNW and RPPNW (Russia)

Dr. Olga Mironova, Sechenov University, President of RPPNW and Regional Vice President of IPPNW (Russia)

Dr. James Muller, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Co-Founder of IPPNW (US)

*Affiliations listed for identification purposes only

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