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Urgent appeal for a nuclear weapon free world

International peace conference for nuclear disarmament in the Peace palace of The Hague

12.12.2019 On their 50th anniversary the Dutch IPPNW affiliate Dutch physicians for Peace (NVMP) organized an impressive peace conference on nuclear disarmament. It took place on the 26th of November 2019 in the beautiful Peace Palace in The Hague in collaboration with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It aimed to be a wakeup call on the growing risks of a new nuclear arms race, and the possibility of an (un)intended nuclear war. The unspeakable medical-humanitarian harm, without any hope for help – is the reason for the NVMP-physicians to raise their voice and to connect with other relevant partners.

The conference itself used as a platform for listening to each other and conducting a dialogue between important stakeholders in the discourse on nuclear disarmament. Alongside that, the Dutch affiliate succeeded in facilitating discussions between conference speakers and staff on nuclear disarmament of the Ministry of FA, members of parliament, civil society and the media.

The chair of the conference and NVMP Peter Buijs spoke briefly about ongoing efforts of the organisation. Based on the IPPNW medical-humanitarian arguments, Dutch politics were successfully through the initiation of a society coalition - ‘Balie Beraad’ – and resulted in remarkable parliamentary resolutions. One of them led to the Netherlands being the only NATO member to join Ban negotiations. This decision was made by the Rutte-II centrist cabinet in 2017. Its successor, the centre-right Rutte-III cabinet, decided that the Dutch NATO membership cannot be separated from nuclear deterrence and that therefore nuclear deterrence is incompatible with the TPNW.

The meeting started with the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Stefan Blok expressing the ambivalence of the Dutch government between wanting to remain with the NATO politics of nuclear deterrence and strong humanitarian beliefs and the wish for total elimination of nuclear weapons. He quoted the former Soviet president Gorbachev: ‘All nations should declare that nuclear weapons must be destroyed. This is to save ourselves, and our planet.’

Civil society leaders like Beatrice Fihn (ICAN), Ira Helfand (IPPNW) and Mary Robinson (former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) presented medical/humanitarian, legal and practical aspects of nuclear disarmament. Their message was the following: nuclear disarmament is just as urgent as mitigating climate change. Complete nuclear disarmament is a human health issue, as is preventing climate disasters like a nuclear winter. Nuclear disarmament needs ethical choices based on Human Rights and to build on these we need political will, especially in NATO states, not only in states of the global south. For them the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is a legal road to nuclear disarmament and in overcoming the paradigm of nuclear deterrence. Mary Robinson called on the Netherlands to exert leadership to build a link between the NPT and the road to the TPNW. She appealed for smaller countries to play a leading role in nuclear disarmament, like Ireland did in the 60s re the NPT.

Foreign policy experts from the Netherlands, the USA, Russia and NATO presented their views: they look forward to the upcoming NPT conference, praised the necessity of the NPT, while Eirini Lemos-Maniati, representing NATO, defended the paradigm of nuclear deterrence from a military standpoint of view.
Interestingly, Tom Countryman (former US Acting Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security) stated that he sees the greatest risk for a potential nuclear war in the  India- Pakistan conflict. He warned that a conventional war could easily become a nuclear war at a specific moment of escalation. The same principle could be applied to the USA and Russia, who could also slip from a conventional war to nuclear war. “There is no such thing as a limited nuclear war”, he warned. 

“1700 nuclear weapons are on high alert!” European countries should not wait for the USA, instead they could start taking specific steps and creating a dialogue with Russia to start disarmament talks in general. The panel discussion was concluded by a Dutch medical student, she characterized climate change and nuclear weapons as the great two threats for mankind’s future.

A famous Dutch actress recited a strong Peace Palace Appeal:” Let’s wake up!”
The Mayor of The Hague Remkes closed the meeting with the great and surprising news that the Dutch king has given the NVMP chair Peter Buijs a high royal decoration for his endeavours in the area of social medicine, especially regarding nuclear weapons.

Angelika Claussen and Peter Buijs

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