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Q1: What is International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)?
A: IPPNW is the only international medical organization dedicated to the abolition of nuclear weapons. Founded by US and Russian physicians in 1980, IPPNW is credited with raising public awareness about the devastating effects of nuclear weapons and with persuading American and Soviet leaders that the Cold War nuclear arms race was jeopardizing the survival of the entire world. IPPNW received the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of this accomplishment.
Today IPPNW mobilizes doctors, medical students, and concerned citizens in 62 countries in the service of a broader war prevention mission. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and Aiming For Prevention, IPPNW's campaign to reduce the global devastation caused by small arms violence, bring the expertise and compassion of doctors to bear on the whole human tragedy of armed conflict.
Q2: Why are doctors involved in a security issue? Isn't this the province of policy makers and diplomats?
A: For as long as humans have resorted to war to settle their differences, doctors have been expected to treat injured soldiers and civilians, and to help restore societies to health at the conclusion of armed conflict. They have a unique and profound understanding of both the immediate and the long term consequences of war. In the 1960s, a group of concerned physicians studied and documented the blast, heat, and radiation effects of nuclear weapons, and came to the inescapable conclusion that a meaningful medical response to nuclear war is impossible. The atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the lifelong suffering of the survivors-the result of only two, small, relatively primitive nuclear weapons-had put the medical profession on notice that it must prevent what it would be unable to cure. That doctors would advocate the abolition of nuclear weapons not only makes sense, it is also seen by many as a professional responsibility. The World Health Organization (with which IPPNW has formal relations), the US National Institute of Medicine, the British Medical Association, and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences are just a few of the prestigious organizations that have made major contributions to our understanding of the medical consequences of nuclear war.
Q3: Isn't this really just another group of left-wing, anti-American zealots?
A: Unequivocally not. Like global warming, poverty, HIV/AIDS, and other threats to our common human survival, preventing nuclear war transcends partisan or national politics. The desire for a nuclear-weapons-free world has been expressed by voices from across the political and ideological spectrum, including prominent conservatives in the US.
IPPNW believes that nuclear weapons are incompatible with human survival, and that no country is entitled to possess them as a matter of international law-a principle that was affirmed by the International Court of Justice in 1996. As the largest and most powerful nuclear weapon state-and the only one to have used nuclear weapons in an act of war-the United States has a special responsibility to provide leadership toward nuclear abolition. But IPPNW holds every nuclear weapon state-and any state that might consider acquiring nuclear weapons-to a single standard: no one is justified in having, developing, or using nuclear weapons for any reason.
Q4: Why nuclear weapons? Isn't all war destructive?
A: Armed conflict occurs across a continuum of violence, from clubs and machetes all the way to nuclear explosions. What makes nuclear weapons different is the unprecedented scale, longevity, and horror of their effects. Only nuclear weapons can kill tens or hundreds of thousands of people with a single explosion, in a matter of moments. Only nuclear weapons produce radioactive fallout that can cause cancers, birth defects, and genetic damage for decades after they are used. Only nuclear weapons, used in sufficient numbers, could cause a nuclear winter effectively ending human life on Earth.
Nonetheless, the point is well taken, and IPPNW has broadened its mission in recent years to address the public health dimensions of armed conflict in all its aspects. We participated actively in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines in the 1990s and, for the past several years, have had a major program to confront the global scourge of small arms violence, called Aiming for Prevention. IPPNW doctors and medical students engage in medical peace education in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, South Asia, and other conflict-prone parts of the world.
Q5: Almost two decades after the Cold War, why should we still be worried about nuclear weapons?
A: In 1987 the World Health Organization concluded that nuclear weapons "constitute the greatest immediate threat to health and human survival and that the only approach to the treatment of the health effects of nuclear warfare is primary prevention, that is, the prevention of nuclear war." More than two decades later, the nuclear threat not only persists but is in many ways more dangerous than ever before.
Some 25,000 nuclear weapons remain in the arsenals of the nuclear powers-more than 95 percent of them in the US and Russia-with an explosive yield of more than a hundred thousand Hiroshima-sized bombs. The US and Russia maintain thousands of nuclear weapons on constant alert, ready to be launched at a moment's notice. China, France, the United Kingdom, Israel, India, Pakistan, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), also have nuclear weapons. Other countries have gone part way toward developing nuclear weapons in recent years but have stopped, while the intentions of some, such as Iran, are still uncertain.
The sizes of existing nuclear arsenals and the possible unraveling of the non-proliferation regime are worrisome, but so are changing nuclear weapons policies, which are increasing the risk that these weapons may actually be used. The US, France, and the UK are all developing new generations of smaller, more flexible nuclear weapons and have described uses for them that go beyond deterring the use of nuclear weapons by others. India and Pakistan have engaged in nuclear rhetoric reminiscent of that used by the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and there are legitimate concerns that the nuclear line could be crossed in the Middle East.
Add to that the growing threat of nuclear terrorism, and it becomes clear that our post-Cold War nuclear danger is not only very real but also far more complex than it was in the days of "mutually assured destruction."
Q6: What about Iran? Aren't some countries more of a threat than others when it comes to nuclear weapons?
A: As a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has made a solemn promise not to acquire nuclear weapons. The other NPT member states have an equally solemn obligation to hold Iran to that promise. The mechanism for doing that is the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has inspected Iran's nuclear facilities and has uncovered no evidence that it is enriching uranium for the purpose of building illegal nuclear weapons. While the international community must remain vigilant, it cannot single out Iran or any other country for harsh treatment as long as it remains within its Treaty obligations.
When the DPRK tested a nuclear weapon, declared itself a nuclear weapon state, and withdrew from the NPT, the response of the international community, including the US, was an intensive diplomatic effort that defused the crisis and has pointed the way toward the termination of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Diplomacy and negotiation-not military threats-are the best and only appropriate means to deal with proliferation concerns.
To end the proliferation threat permanently, however, the nuclear weapon states must renounce the double standard they use to justify their own possession of nuclear weapons while denying that right to others. There are no "responsible" and "irresponsible," "good" and "evil" owners of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons in anyone's hands are incompatible with human survival and must be abolished.
Q7: Why are there so many groups working on this problem? Wouldn't it be better if you all got together and formed a single organization?
A: That's a good question, and we hear it all the time. There are so many ways to work on the nuclear issue and the broader questions of war and health that no one organization could possibly have the expertise and the resources to do the entire job. Another way to put this is that people make the greatest commitment and work most effectively when they are part of organizations that reflect their interests and represent their communities. IPPNW, in fact, is a federation of medical organizations that mobilize doctors and medical students around the world. In the US, for example, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) is IPPNW. We also work in close collaboration with professional organizations of scientists, international lawyers, engineers, and educators, and with non-governmental organizations around the world including the Abolition 2000 network of nuclear disarmament groups, the Middle Powers Initiative, Mayors for Peace, and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA). We believe the movement is strengthened by having many organizations working together toward a common goal.
Q8: How does IPPNW propose to achieve a nuclear-weapons-free world?
A: When the 2005 NPT Review collapsed and prospects dimmed for any real progress in disarmament and non-proliferation, IPPNW launched the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). The goal of ICAN is the negotiation and adoption of a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC)-an international agreement that would prohibit development, testing, production, stockpiling, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. IPPNW, the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, and the International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation, drafted a Model NWC in 1998 and updated the text in 2007. ICAN global partners include Mayors for Peace, the Abolition 2000 network, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) UK, and other civil society organizations.
Q9: Who are IPPNW affiliates?
A: IPPNW affiliates are national medical organizations with a common commitment to the abolition of nuclear weapons and the prevention of war. In 2007, IPPNW had 60 affiliates in 59 countries, with several other groups in formation. Affiliates range in size from a handful of dedicated physicians and medical students to tens of thousands of activists and their supporters. As independent organizations within a global federation, IPPNW affiliates engage in a wide variety of activities related to war, health, social justice, and the environment. Their common bond, however, is a determination to rid the world of the most immediate and irreparable threat to life on Earth-nuclear weapons and nuclear war.
Q10: Where is IPPNW located?
A: IPPNW's headquarters is in Somerville, Massachusetts, in the United States. Addresses and other contact information for the Central Office staff and for every active affiliate are available on this site. Please use our affiliate directory to find IPPNW affiliates in your area, and explore our Affiliate Profiles for information on each country in which IPPNW is at work, including project descriptions.
Q11: There is no IPPNW affiliate listed for my country. How does an IPPNW affiliate get started?
A: Forming an affiliate is a relatively straightforward process. A group of 10 or more doctors residing in the territory of the proposed affiliate, whose mission and activities are consistent with IPPNW's goals, and whose membership and governance criteria are consistent with IPPNW's constitution, can apply for affiliation. The application is reviewed by the IPPNW Board of Directors and, if approved by the Board, is sent to the International Council for ratification. Complete information about the affiliation process may be obtained by writing to Doug Kline.
Q12: How is IPPNW governed?
A: An International Council, comprising delegates from each IPPNW affiliate, makes all decisions about IPPNW policy, and elects At-Large members of the Board, Co-Presidents, and other officers. Regional Vice Presidents, who are also members of the Board, are elected by the affiliates in their regions. The Board of Directors is the governing body of IPPNW, responsible for the organization's budget, staff, and program priorities. An Executive Committee of the Board manages ongoing governance and staff operations between Board meetings.
A directory of Board members and their biographies is available here.
Q13: How can I support IPPNW?
A: IPPNW depends upon the donations and active involvement of everyone concerned with the nuclear threat and with the impact of war on life and health. To learn more about donation options, go here.