Monday, March 10, 2008

Doctors gather in global opposition to nuclear weapons

This week in New Delhi, India about 400 doctors and 300 medical students from over fifty countries met to discuss and plan action responsive to their shared commitment to the abolition of nuclear weapons. The 18th World Congress of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) was inaugurated with a speech by the Vice President of India, Shri M. Hamid Ansari, who recalled India's tradition of advocacy for nuclear disarmament, including its role in proposing a nuclear test ban in 1954 and a non-proliferation treaty in 1965 (unfortunately, India would refuse to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty concluded three years later). The Vice President surfaced a three-point plan for Indian leadership on nuclear disarmament, calling for universal reaffirmation of the goal of the elimination of nuclear weapons, negotiation of a convention prohibiting the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons, and a Nuclear Weapons Convention that would ban production, stockpiling, or use of nuclear weapons in a global, nondescriminatory, and verifiable plan for the elimination of these weapons in a specified time frame.

The World Congress featured detailed discussions on a variety of related topics, including the signature effort of IPPNW, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) initiated last year under the leadership of Dr. Tilman Ruff of Australia. Other topics inlcuded opposition to the U.S.-India agreement on peaceful nuclear cooperation, the danger of global "nuclear famine" resulting from even a limited regional nuclear war, globalization and militarization, torture, and religious intolerance.

ICAN physician diplomats held meetings with the President and the Prime Minister of India on the margins of the World Congress to encourage India to assert a more active leadership role in moving toward a world free of nuclear weapons. This work builds on the model of physician diplomacy for which IPPNW was awarded the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize and holds substantial promise for widening and deepening the commitment of governments worldwide to work toward the abolition of nuclear weapons on the basis of facts and expert medical testimony physicians are able to provide on the dangers nuclear weapons pose to human life and health.