Global Green USA organized a plenary session at the 12th World Congress on Public Health in Istanbul, Turkey on April 28, 2009 on “Weapons of Mass Destruction and Public Health.” Chaired by Dr. Paul Walker, Director of the Security and Sustainability Program at Global Green USA, the session was introduced by Dr. Hikmet Pekcan, President of the Turkish Public Health Association which hosted the meeting of some 2,400 health officials from 142 countries. The plenary speakers were Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter, Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague; Ambassador Tibor Toth, Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) in Vienna; and Richard Lennane, Head of the Implementation Support Unit of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) in Geneva.
Hikmet Pekcan introduced the plenary by noting that “[w]eapons of mass destruction – weapons with massive and unpredictable killing potential which attack both civilian and military targets alike – have burdened our world for centuries…So I am most pleased to be able to include discussion of the dangers and risks involved with nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in our World Congress here in Istanbul, and to hear what these three representatives recommend for the control and eventual elimination of these dangerous weapons. I would also like to thank Global Green USA and Green Cross International for organizing such an important plenary…A healthy world is a world which is not threatened by massive and sudden casualties and deaths. A healthy world is therefore one without weapons of mass destruction…”
Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter talked about chemical weapons and public health: “[O]ne of the greatest achievements of public health in the 20th century was the eradication of smallpox, which has paid lasting dividends in lives saved and in savings to health care systems. Though we operate in a different sphere, the OPCW is engaged in a similar enterprise. Our goal is to permanently abolish – that is to say, eradicate – an entire class of weapons of mass destruction by destroying all existing chemical weapons and ensuring that new ones do not emerge. This will prevent the possibility of chemical weapons being used, make a lasting contribution to global peace and security, and as important, eliminate a significant threat to public health.”
Ambassador Tibor Toth talked about the need to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles and to halt all nuclear testing: “While we may not be able to undo the actions of the past, such as from the over 2,000 nuclear tests since World War II, we can and must safeguard the future to prevent such an unspeakable scenario from ever becoming a reality. However, the parameters are not very promising. The nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime needs to be strengthened urgently, as recent proliferation challenges have clearly shown. The existing large nuclear weapons stockpiles continue to pose serious challenges in themselves. And, all these developments are taking place at the same time when we find ourselves on the verge of the resurgence of nuclear energy. The nuclear energy industry seems once again poised to take off. With much more fissile material in circulation, and more actors handling that material, as predicted, we urgently need a comprehensive system of barriers against misuse.”
Discussing biological weapons, biosecurity, and biosafety, Richard Lennane concluded the following: “But it is worth concluding with some good news: for all its shortcomings, the BWC [Biological Weapons Convention] has at least succeeded in establishing a global norm against biological weapons. No government today, whether a member of the BWC or not, would claim that biological weapons could ever have a legitimate place in national defence. Government biological weapons programs may still exist, but if they do they are conducted in secret – and the political consequences of discovery would be serious. This is a significant change from the 1950s and 1960s, when biological weapons were just another part of the strategic arsenals of the superpowers, held without apology or reserve. It is also notably different from the situation with nuclear weapons. It may seem like a small achievement, but it is in fact a fundamental moral precursor to effective practical measures to ensure that biological weapons are never developed, acquired or used.”
The April 28th plenary session was followed by a “parallel session” which was chaired by Dr. Deborah Klein Walker, Vice President of Abt Associates Inc. (Cambridge, MA, USA) and included Dr. Paul Walker of Global Green USA (Washington DC, USA), Dr. Paula Gutlove of the Institute for Resource and Security Studies (Cambridge, MA, USA), and Dr. Mike Rowell, Head of the Health and Safety Branch at the OPCW (The Hague, The Netherlands). Pfirter, Toth, and Lennane provided additional comments as well.
The final “Istanbul Declaration” from the five-day World Congress included the statement that “[Public] health also depends on the safe and timely elimination of all weapons of mass destruction – nuclear, chemical, and biological.”
Download the remarks from the participants below: