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BOMBINGS REIGNITE NUCLEAR WAR FEARS
- Date: Sat, 29 May 1999 01:47:26 -0400 (EDT)
Mary-Wynne Ashford spoke at the Appeal for Peace in the Hague.
This is her report from Russia as printed in :
Times-Colonist 13 MAY 99 page A15
"BOMBINGS REIGNITE NUCLEAR WAR FEARS"
by Dr. Mary-Wynne Ashford
[co-president of the Nobel Peace Prize IPPNW]
I am writing with an enormous sense of urgency and dread. I have
just been at a seminar in Moscow, followed by one at the Olof Palme Institue
in Stockholm. The meetings have convined me we are on the brinK of nuclear
war by the unintentional escalation of the war against Yugoslavia.
Only western press and television coverage does not portray the
significance of the change in Russian policy regarding nuclear weapons. The
media imply that Russian warnings of a looming world war, and their refusal
to ratify START II, are the usual political threats to gain concessions from
the U.S. and loans from the International Monetary Fund.
This analysis does not reflect the profound change in public opinion
expressed even by Moscow members of International Physicians for the
Prevention of Nuclear War. One of our long-term IPPNW doctors, Dr.
Davidenko, has changed from advocating nuclear disarmament to advocating
nuclear deterrence for Russia. Our meeting with Aleksander Arbatov, deputy
chairman of the Defence Committee of the Russian State Duma, left us deeply
Arbatov stated that U.S.-Russian relations, in the wake of NATO's
bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, are at the "worst, most acute, most
dangerous juncture since the U.S.-Soviet Berlin and Cuban missile crises."
He states that START II is dead, co-operation with NATO is frozen,
co-operation on missile defence is out of the question, and Moscow's
willingness to co-operate on non-proliferation issues is at an all-time low.
Moreover, anti-U.S. sentiment in Russia is real, deep and more
wide-spread than ever, and the slogan describing NATO action -"today Serbia,
tomorrow Russia," is "deeply planted in Russian's minds." Arbatov was bitter
about 10 years of wasted opportunities on both sides, with disarmament talks
completely stalled even before this crisis.
Scientist, politicians, doctors and generals all told us the same
thing -that NATO bombings of Serbia have set back disarmament 20 years. Some
said that India and Pakistan are safe now they have nuclear weapons and that
other states like North Korea will step up their nuclear weapons programs.
Officials from Minatom, the Russian atomic energy agency, have indicated
their great concern about some 22 nuclear reactors in the region of
conflict. A bomb hitting a reactor by accident would cause a catastrophe
worse than Chernobyl..
Government spokesmen told us repeatedly that Russia will not allow the
bombings to continue for another month, and that because their conventional
forces are in tatters, Russia must rely on its nuclear weapons. I must ask,
"if these are idle threats, what distinguishes them from real threats?" The
credibility of the people we spoke with has convinced me that the threats
Opinion is divided in most countries, even in peace organizations,
about whether the NATO bombings were a humanitarian effort to stop a
genocide or an act of aggression by NATO, but their impact on nuclear
weapons policy is an extremely serious development. Most worrisome to us was
the consistency of the statements from speakers at the Moscow seminar and
those we met later in ministries of foreign affairs and health.
The single exception was Dr. Evgenie Chazov. He said we must renew
our efforts for nuclear disarmament in this very dangerous situation. Dr.
Chazov said we are back where we were in 1981 when he and American
cardiologist Dr. Bernard Lown founded IPPNW, but our work will be more
The Russian speakers deplored ethnic cleansing and did not support
Milosovic, but Dr. Serguei Kapitsa, a scientist famous for his weekly
television show, stated that Russians feel a sense of betrayal by the West
and a profound loss of confidence in treaties and in the United Nations
because NATO took this action outside the UN.
Previously confident that Russia was moving toward integration with Europe,
they focused their security concerns only on their southern and eastern
boundaries. Now they perceive their primary threat from the West.
Officials in Foreign Affairs (Arms Control and Disarmament) told us
that Russia has no option but to rely on nuclear weapons for its defence
because its conventional forces are inadequate. When I said that if Russia
used even a single nuclear weapon the U.S. would respond with hundreds or
thousands of missiles, they nodded and said "Yes, it would be suicidal, but
how else can we defend ourselves?"
As I left Moscow, I felt the same dread I experienced in the Reagan
years, with a similar sense of unreality.
While the Russians are comparing this situation to the Cuban missile crisis,
journalists in the West tell me that the war is almost over now that
negotiations including the Russians are under way. Why are they reassured
when Milosevic has not agreed to anything, and the bombing of the Chinese
Embassy in Belgrade has added even greater tensions to this war?
Even if the bombings stop now, the changes in Russia's attitude
toward the West, its renewed reliance on nuclear weapons with thousands on
high alert, and its loss of confidence in international law leave us
vulnerable to catastrophe.
Those of us who live in NATO countries must convince our governments
to stop the bombings until negotiations can bring about a settlement. This
crisis makes de-alerting nuclear weapons more urgent than ever. To those who
say the Russian threat is all rhetoric, I reply that rhetoric is what
The global situation is the most urgent crisis of our time. We must
mobilize all or networks to stop this bombing before we slide into the final
[Dr. Mary-Wynne Ashford is co-president of the Nobel Peace Prize IPPNW]
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