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We condemn use of nuclear weapons

Letter to President Chirac

20 January 2006


President Jacques Chirac
Palais de l'Élysée
55, rue du Faubourg
Saint Honoré
Paris
FRANCE

Dear President Chirac:

IPPNW condemns unequivocally any use or threatened use of nuclear weapons for any reason. We are therefore appalled at your statement on January 19 that France has reconfigured its nuclear forces in preparation for a tactical nuclear strike against any country that your government concludes had sponsored an act of terrorism against France.

IPPNW does not condone terrorism in any form, nor would we deny the right of any government to use legitimate means to defend its people against acts of terrorism. The use of nuclear weapons, however, is not a legitimate means under any circumstances. Moreover, needlessly provocative statements of this kind are likely to incite proliferation. States that believe they are the targets of this rhetoric could well take it as an additional excuse to acquire nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in their own defense.

Even a single nuclear weapon can kill hundreds of thousands - even millions - of people indiscriminately; will cause cancers and other radiation-related illnesses among the survivors; can result in birth defects and other genetic damage across generations; and can cause long term, irreparable damage to the environment in which it is detonated. All other arguments aside, there is no conceivable way to target a group of terrorists or their purported national sponsors with a nuclear weapon without also killing countless innocent people. Even to suggest such a response is extremely irresponsible. That the suggestion would come from the leader of a country as important to the prospects for peace and security in the world as France is reprehensible and disheartening.

We regret the need to use such harsh language, but IPPNW has been delivering this message about the medical and moral unacceptability of nuclear weapons for more than 25 years, and we feel compelled to reject this shift in French nuclear policy in no uncertain terms.

We have been told consistently over many years by representatives of the French government - as recently as last October - that France had an unalterable policy that it would never be the first to use nuclear weapons. We have applauded that step in the right direction, as well as France's support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, while urging France to make even greater progress toward the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, as promised under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. We urge France to return unambiguously to that no-first-use policy, and to join with the other nuclear weapon states in a renewed effort to rid the world of all nuclear weapons in the shortest possible time. Abolishing these weapons of ultimate terror would send a real signal to the rest of the world that security cannot be obtained by terrorist means of any kind.

Respectfully,

Gunnar Westberg, Co-President
Ronald S. McCoy, Co-President

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