Will Russia ever launch nuclear weapons?

A fatal repression

75 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons are still not outlawed, on the contrary, the nuclear arms race seems to have entered a new phase - not only between Russia and the USA. New powers are pressing in. How can that be? Unreason, stupidity, power calculation?

Probably all three and a good deal of repression. After the end of the Cold War, the fallacy arose, especially in Europe, that the nuclear danger was over. The opposite is the case, as we are now painfully demonstrating. NATO's eastward expansion, conflicts in and around Ukraine, conflicting interests in the crisis region of the Middle East - all of this has led to an ever greater confrontation between NATO and Russia.

The security architecture, which was painstakingly built during the Cold War, has been dismantled for years and the nuclear arsenals on both sides have been modernized. Germany participates in the nuclear deterrent through NATO. While Russian nuclear weapons are targeted at Western Europe and the USA, German air force pilots are training to drop the US atomic bombs stationed in Büchel over Russian targets. The idea that the threat of nuclear mass murder of civilians in a city has something to do with security or peace is ridiculous. Nuclear weapons were designed to wipe out the alleged opponent's civilian population. They cannot be reconciled with international humanitarian law and must be ostracized and abolished.

The INF contract for the deployment of medium-range missiles and the Open Sky agreement have already been terminated, unilaterally by the Trump administration. The New Start contract will expire in February next year. Where is the world headed?

If we in Europe fail to rebuild a functioning cooperation and security architecture with Russia, then there is a risk of a relapse into the times of the Cold War. It was not nuclear weapons that brought us security in Europe, but the OSCE, the multilateral treaties, mutual confidence-building measures, credible disarmament agreements, arms restrictions, communication platforms. We are currently moving further and further away from that and that is foolish and irresponsible in view of the multitude of global threats. Climate catastrophe, worldwide pandemics, the challenges of globalization, the gap between rich and poor, the devastating consequences of the overexploitation of our planet and the exploitation of the Global South cannot be tackled alone. We need international partners instead of opponents, we need cooperation instead of confrontation and, above all, we need trust. Can you trust one another with nuclear weapons?

What can the IPPNW, founded in 1980 by a Soviet cardiologist and his American colleague, do about it? What worried citizens? The time of the great peace marches seems to be over - and not just «because of the corona. If you ask people on the street about the Pugwash movement today, you get a shrug. It was founded by world-famous scientists such as Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russel, Max Born and Linus Pauling in 1955 in the Canadian fishing village that gave it its name.

That's true. But there is also hope. Yes, the IPPNW is 40 years old this year and our Nobel Peace Prize is celebrating its 35th anniversary. But just three years ago we received a second Nobel Peace Prize for our ICAN campaign - the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons, which in 2017 played a key role in launching the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty, which was passed by over 120 UN member states and by over 80 has already been signed by them.

That gives hope. It is above all the non-nuclear-armed states in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia that are advancing and joining forces to oppose the nuclear-armed states. The people of these countries have realized that they are ultimately the ones who have the most to lose if there is a renewed use of nuclear weapons; that it will primarily be the countries of the Global South that will suffer the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of a nuclear war.

Scientific studies over the past ten years have clearly shown that even a limited regional nuclear war - for example between India and Pakistan - would result in global climatic changes: ash clouds would darken the sky for years and lead to unprecedented crop failures. More than two billion people would starve to death - not in Germany or the USA, but in Mali, Peru or Cambodia. The global interest in nuclear disarmament and concrete steps under international law to outlaw and abolish nuclear weapons has never been greater than it is today. And that gives hope.

Trump is reducing the number of US soldiers stationed in Germany who remain nuclear warheads. Can you understand why many politicians in this country complain about the US troop reduction, but the latter is not a problem?

I can understand that. It has something to do with repression. Who wants to deal with the fact that there are 20 B-61 bombs in the Eifel that German air force pilots train year after year to drop them over Russian targets? Which politician wants to ask the question of how this can be reconciled with Germany's contractual obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? Who wants to imagine what exactly these weapons can do and how much suffering we would be responsible for if these weapons were ever used?

Yes, I can understand this repression. I cannot accept you. There is a resolution of the German Bundestag from March 2010, passed under black and yellow, mind you, which calls on the federal government to "stand up against the American allies for the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Germany." But this decision has not been implemented in the past ten years. In view of the current US foreign policy, it would be high time to establish that weapons of mass destruction contrary to international law have no place on German soil. It's actually sad that you have to say that at all.

In 1985, your organization received the Nobel Peace Prize - for "competent and important information work". Do you feel, to put it casually, not being ridiculed if all information about the catastrophic consequences of a potential nuclear war does not penetrate the hearing of those in power, be it at the UN, the EU or the nation states?

No, a new generation is in power, there are billions of young people who were not born then. Our educational work continues and must also move with the times. We have to sharpen and adapt our arguments further and formulate our message in such a way that it resonates with today's generation of rulers just as it did with Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, who were primarily convinced by the medical arguments to sit down at the negotiating table and talk about nuclear disarmament. We see that we are on the right track with our ICAN campaign internationally, especially in the Global South and among the non-nuclear-weapon states, and that in recent years we have made further progress on the path to outlawing and abolishing nuclear weapons than ever before.

The IPPNW has been criticizing the 50-year-old agreement of the International Atomic Energy Agency for many years. What are your specific points of criticism?

We criticize the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) is contractually bound to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and that a kind of toggle contract prevents it from carrying out independent scientific studies on ionizing radiation. As an association of all atomic energy states, the IAEA is a kind of global nuclear lobby organization which, in accordance with its charter, is committed to promoting nuclear energy worldwide. Their influence on the WHO is therefore to be viewed very critically, especially when you consider that it was IAEA representatives who wrote the WHO statements on Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Are doctors more aware of the dangers of nuclear disasters than people from other professions?

I think we, as doctors, are committed to the health and well-being of our patients. How far this term "our patients" is understood is up to everyone. We at the IPPNW are like Rudolf Virchow, who said: "Medicine is a social science and politics is nothing more than medicine on a large scale." And we see the world population as our "patients" and try to use political means To influence the roots of problems instead of just treating symptoms.

That may sound presumptuous, but for an international organization with tens of thousands of members in over 60 countries it is a logical consequence of our history and our experience with decision-makers on both sides of the Iron Curtain. But working for a world without a nuclear threat is not an exclusive medical task. Other professional groups are also in demand here - our partners at the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms IALANA, the Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament PNND, the scientists from Pugwash or the mayors of Mayors for Peace are excellent examples. And through the ICAN campaign, everyone can actively contribute to outlawing and abolishing nuclear weapons.

Can and should one educate children about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the latent danger of nuclear war?

Yes, you have to. But in a child-friendly way and always connected with concrete positive options for action. The Hibakusha, the survivors of the atomic bombing, have been passing on their experiences from generation to generation of children for 75 years with the aim that no city will ever again be the target of a nuclear weapon, that people never again have to suffer the fate they suffered.

This culture of remembrance is important, but children also need suggestions and suggested solutions. The aim must be to show children where they can make a contribution themselves, where they are needed and where they can continue on the path to a world free of nuclear weapons. Via ICAN we try to give exactly these suggestions and to show, on both a small and large scale, that everyone can become part of the global campaign to abolish the last and most terrible of all weapons of mass destruction. If we don't destroy the weapons, they will destroy us.

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