By Dr. Arun Mitra
Despite ongoing tensions in various parts of the world, the year 2017 ended with a positive note. The Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) passed by the UN General Assembly on July 7 would always be counted in red letters in history. It has raised many hopes for a better future of a world without nuclear weapons and impending humanitarian catastrophe. Good health is a basic urge of every individual. Therefore, each person yearns for a life free of violence and more so when it comes to catastrophe like the one that happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the 1945 killing of over two hundred thousand people and the resulting genetic mutations affecting generations thereafter. Unfortunately, instead of working for nuclear disarmament the world moved towards an unending nuclear arms race, spending billions on it, which could have otherwise been utilized for healing millions of people living in despair and sickness. That is why on December 10, 2017, Oslo, the capital of Norway, was filled with exciting events when the Nobel Peace Prize for this year was bestowed upon the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Large number of medical professionals from around the globe had gathered there to affirm their commitment for a healthy future through diversion of wasteful expenditure from nuclear arms race to health.
ICAN, formed at the initiative of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) in 2007 with 468 partners, has been consistently working since long for a nuclear weapon-free world. The ICAN was officially launched in Vienna, Austria in April 2007 during the Non-Proliferation Treaty preparatory committee meeting. As a result of continuous work since then in the form of lobbying with governments in many countries and public opinion building by the ICAN partners in respective countries, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution on July 7, 2017, by 122 votes in favour and only one against, which declared nuclear weapons illegal. This is indeed a big achievement, drawing global attention, and was recognized by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, which announced ICAN as the recipient of this year’s prize. The major thrust of ICAN was the catastrophic humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and that it was necessity to prohibit and then abolish them.
When hundreds of millions of people across the globe go hungry, the nuclear-armed nations spend close to US$300 million (Rs. 2000 crores) a day on their nuclear forces. The production, maintenance and modernisation of nuclear forces divert vast public resources away from health care, education, climate change mitigation, disaster relief, development assistance and other vital services. Globally, annual expenditure on nuclear weapons is estimated at US$ 105 billion – or $12 million an hour. The World Bank forecast in 2002 that an annual investment of just US$40–60 billion, or roughly half the amount currently spent on nuclear weapons, would be enough to meet the internationally agreed goals on poverty alleviation. Nuclear weapons spending in 2010 was more than twice the official development assistance provided to Africa and equal to the gross domestic product of Bangladesh, a nation of some 160 million people. The Office for Disarmament Affairs – the principal UN body responsible for advancing a nuclear-weapon-free world – has an annual budget of $10 million, which is less than the amount spent on nuclear weapons every hour.
“The world is over-armed and peace is under-funded …. The end of the cold war has led the world to expect a massive peace dividend. Yet, there are over 20,000 nuclear weapons around the world. Many of them are still on hair-trigger alert, threatening our own survival.” – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The annual global defence expenditure is $1,699 billion (2.2 % of the global GDP). US tops the defence expending – $611 billion. China’s defence expending is $215 billion. India is the biggest buyer of arms
India is the 5th largest military spender with an outlay of $55.9 billion (Rs.3,63,350 crores) (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) annual report April 2017). India’s defence expenditure is equal to 1.62 % of GDP. The central health budget of India is only 0.26 percent of GDP, which is 6 times less than the arms budget.
These studies clearly indicate the threat looming large over mankind at a time when several parts of the world have serious conflict zones and there is direct involvement of nuclear weapons states in many of these conflicts. Any use of nuclear weapons intentionally, unintentionally or by accident would have extremely grave ramifications on the life system as a whole. Even in the situation of not using these weapons, their production and maintenance cost are depriving large population of health, education and other basic needs. For countries like India and Pakistan, the situation is even more grave as we are already one among the most deprived regions in the world with poor human development and hunger indices.
It is unfortunate that the nuclear weapon possessing countries have not joined the treaty. It is high time that we come forward to build strong public opinion in these countries to work for health instead of mutually assured destruction. (IPA Service)
The writer is senior vice President Indian Doctors for Peace and Development, Former Chairman Ethical Committee Punjab Medical Council & Member core committee ADEH (Alliance of Doctors on Ethical Healthcare).