Through Back from the Brink Fund, we call on the United States to lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by:
“The only rational course of action is to cease living under the conditions where our mutual destruction is only one impulsive tantrum away. A moment of panic or carelessness, a misconstrued comment or bruised ego could easily lead us unavoidably to the destruction of entire cities.”
– Beatrice Fihn, executive director of ICAN, 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
Since the height of the Cold War, the United States and Russia have dismantled more than 50,000 nuclear warheads, but 15,000 of these weapons still exist and they pose an intolerable risk to human survival.
95% of these weapons are in the hands of the United State and Russia; the rest are held by seven other countries: the United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea.
The use of even a tiny fraction of these weapons would cause worldwide climate disruption and global famine. As few as 100 Hiroshima sized bombs, small by modern standards, would put at least 5 million tons of soot into the upper atmosphere and cause climate disruption across the planet, cutting food production and putting 2 billion people at risk of starvation.
A large scale nuclear war would kill hundreds of millions of people directly and cause unimaginable environmental damage. It would also cause catastrophic climate disruption dropping temperatures across the planet to levels not seen since the last ice age. Under these conditions the vast majority of the human race would starve and it is possible we would become extinct as a species.
In the words of Robert McNamara, one of the most influential defense secretaries of the 20th century, “nuclear weapons serve no military purposes whatsoever.” “They are totally useless — except only to deter one’s opponent from using them. The devastation would be complete and victory a meaningless term,” he said.
Despite assurances that nuclear arsenals exist solely to guarantee they are never used, there have been many occasions when nuclear armed states have prepared to use these weapons, and war has been averted at the last minute.
Nuclear weapons do not possess some magical quality that prevents their being used.
“All we have built, all we have worked for, would be destroyed in the first 24 hours.”
– President John F. Kennedy
Our current nuclear policy is essentially the hope that our good luck lasts. Furthermore, the danger of nuclear war is growing as climate change puts increased stress on communities around the world increasing the likelihood of conflict.
The planned expenditure of more than $1.2 trillion to enhance our nuclear arsenal will exacerbate these dangers by fueling a global arms race and it will divert crucial resources needed to assure the well-being of the American people.
In May 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA), which oversees the U.S. nuclear stockpile and production complex, released the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Budget Request for Weapons Activities, a request of $10.2 billion. This is nearly 11% above the FY 2017 Omnibus level to meet the requirements to modernize the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile and infrastructure. Furthermore, the agency forecasted that more than $300 billion will be spent to advance nuclear weapons programs over the next 25 years.
In October 2017, the Congressional Budget Office provided a detailed report on the Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, by Function, 2017 to 2046.
There is an alternative to this march to nuclear war. In July 2017, 122 nations called for the elimination of all nuclear weapons by adopting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The United States should embrace this call for nuclear disarmament as the centerpiece of our national security policy.
Preventing nuclear war requires an energized campaign to educate the American people and decision makers about the medical consequences of nuclear war.
For decades, U.S. nuclear policy has been based on the theory of deterrence—the belief that as long as the U.S. has enough nuclear weapons to destroy its enemies, no country would dare to attack us, and the weapons would never be used.
Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) has always opposed this policy, arguing that nuclear weapons are so destructive, human beings are so fallible, and the technical systems we build so unreliable, that the continued existence of huge nuclear arsenals poses an unacceptable risk to humanity.
In the last few years, that risk has escalated dramatically as relations between the US and Russia, the US and China, India and Pakistan and North Korea and the rest of the world have deteriorated to the point where leading experts like William Perry argue that the risk of nuclear war is greater now than during the Cold War. In addition, security experts now warn that a cyber attack leading to the use of nuclear weapons is a real and growing danger. Finally the progressive effects of climate change are making many parts of the world less able to support their current population dramatically increasing the danger of conflict and forced migration on a scale unprecedented in human history.
The Korean crisis has focused renewed attention to the danger of nuclear war after 25 years of relative complacency about this existential threat to our survival. There is a growing anxiety that any one person can, without Congressional authorization, launch a nuclear war. This situation undermines a central pillar of deterrence theory, the requirement that those in command of nuclear arsenals be of sufficiently sound judgement that they will not use these weapons.
This presents us with an unprecedented opportunity to build a national consensus that nuclear weapons do not, in fact, make us more secure—that they are, in fact, the main threat to national security—and that our highest security priority should be to seek a multilateral agreement for the verifiable, enforceable elimination of these weapons.
PSR, U.S. affiliate of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), recipient of the 1985 Nobel Prize for Peace, has been working for more than 50 years to create a healthy, just and peaceful world for both the present and future generations.
Throughout its history, PSR has provided a strong medical voice against the development and use of nuclear weapons. The use of nuclear weapons represents a real and present danger to the planet. Any use of nuclear weapons would be catastrophic to the people where they are used. Even a limited regional nuclear war, would have global consequences with drops in temperature and food production.
During the Cold War, PSR played a key role in educating the public about the dangers of nuclear weapons, and as the U.S. affiliate of IPPNW, the organization shared the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for this work. In the post Cold War period, PSR and IPPNW kept alive the call for nuclear abolition by doing important educational work about accidental nuclear war, nuclear terrorism and most recently the danger of global nuclear famine resulting from climate disruption after even a very limited nuclear war.
In recent years, this work has been at the heart of the international Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons campaign that has led to the adoption in 2017 of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
“The world is over-armed and peace is under-funded.”
– Ban Ki-moon
PSR helped design the program for, and presented at, the three international conferences that led up to the negotiations and won the support of the American Medical Association, the World Medical Association, the World Federation of Public Health Associations and the International Nursing Council for this campaign. IPPNW was the founding partner in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which received this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
PSR has carried out this work with extremely modest financial resources. The total budget for PSR’s work on nuclear weapons has been in the range of $300,000 per year, with one or two national staffers. Given these limited resources, PSR’s impact in furthering the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons campaign represents a truly astonishing return on this investment.
Seizing the Moment
To help energize an educational campaign around these themes PSR is joining with many other NGOs in promoting Back from the Brink: A Call to Prevent Nuclear War, a short clear description of the key elements of a new nuclear policy, modeled on the “Nuclear Freeze” statement of the 1980s. Like the original Freeze statement it is designed to give city councils, town meetings, state legislatures, unions and faith communities a vehicle for showing their support for this new policy.
Doctors and other health professionals are among the most trusted voices in the United States. PSR, representing the health voice, has unique expertise and credibility to convey this message from health professionals. That has been the key to our success—and will be again. But to carry out this essential campaign, PSR seeks to scale up its organizational capacity.
Specific needs of PSR, an affiliate of an organization that received the Nobel Peace Prize
PSR’s goal is to grow a national consensus large and visible enough that political candidates and other leaders will find it political viable, even advantageous, to publicly commit to concrete policies that will lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons. PSR’s track record shows that, with adequate resources, it can play a major role in creating that consensus.
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”
– Dalai Lama XIV
Programming, Coursework, Partnerships and Development will address the Sustainable Development Gaols, with measurable outcomes of achieving all of the 17 SDGs.
Challenges that threaten humanity require innovative responses and insights. The power of collaboration can ensure a prosperous future. Our experienced team has the character, courage and commitment to solving the nature of the challenges we face today, and how to respond to and contain these threats.
Ira Helfand, MD is Co-President of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize, and he is co-founder and past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, IPPNW’s US affiliate. He has published studies on the medical consequences of nuclear war in the New England Journal of Medicine, and the British Medical Journal, and has lectured widely in the United States, and in India, China, Japan, Russia, South Africa, Israel, Pakistan, Mexico, Brazil, and throughout Europe on the health effects of nuclear weapons. He represented PSR and IPPNW at the Nobel ceremonies in Oslo in December 2009, honoring President Obama, and presented their new report, Nuclear Famine: One Billion People at Risk, at the Nobel Peace Laureates Summit in Chicago in April of 2012. A second edition was released in December of 2013. Dr. Helfand was educated at Harvard College and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is a former chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine and president of the Medical Staff at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, and currently practices as an internist and urgent care physician at Family Care Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“We stand today, I believe, in greater danger of nuclear catastrophe than we faced during the Cold War.”
– William Perry, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, 2017