Report from IPPNW’s 21st Congress, Astana, Kazakhstan, 27 – 29 August 2014

About 500 delegates from nations world-wide met in the amazing Conference Centre in the centre of the ultra-modern city of Astana, new capital of Kazakhstan. Six delegates, including Simon Rushton, co-editor of Medicine, Conflict and Survival, represented Medact. The Congress was preceded by the IPPNW Student’s Conference which took place two days before the main meeting amid great enthusiasm, beginning with the arrival of the “Bike Tour”.Caption: The Medact Team

We met under probably the worst International Situation since the end of the Cold War: our hotel TV screens (when we had time to look) were full of the conflicts in Ukraine, Iraq/Syria and Gaza/Israel, quite apart from Ebola and the continuing ‘smaller’ military conflicts around the globe. The Ukrainian situation was particularly poignant as several delegates from East European affiliates, including Russia, Ukraine, our host nation and Belarus, were present: we witnessed at first hand many earnest and obviously heart-searching conversations, and occasionally were able to join and give our own sympathetic support, bound as we all are by over-riding concerns for peace between their nations.

Similar feelings were expressed during the Congress about the Gaza/Israel conflict:

statements calling for urgent constructive peace talks were passed by the International Council of IPPNW and are summarised in the Astana Declaration’ (see below).  .

The three core missions of IPPNW are for the abolition of nuclear weapons, the prevention of conflicts which use ‘conventional’ weapons such as small arms (‘Aiming for Prevention’), and an educational programme for students on conflict-resolution. These were all represented well during the proceedings which included two sessions of workshops with nine alternative workshops in each session. In spite of being able to attend only a few, we participated where we could. Topics of particular interest are described briefly below

Middle-East WMD Free Zone Workshop

This issue has been a long-standing item on the International Agenda; the Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2010 specifically charged participating nations to make significant progress on developing a “WMDFZ – ME” by the next Review in 2015. Sadly no progress has been made.  Ahmed Saada (Egypt) opened the workshop by stressing the importance of linking work on the nuclear weapons ban with the WMDFZ – ME. Abraham Behar (France) then spoke on the importance of chemical weapons which have been used several times in the ME region recently; Derman Boztok (Turkey) gave a Turkish perspective; and Liz Waterston (UK) gave a powerpoint presentation of steps towards a WMDFZ – ME, covering fissile materials and national enrichment plans – from a report presented in Jerusalem in November 2013, by von Hippel et al [link].

The workshop proposed the following steps:

  • Share experiences of influencing decision makers and public opinion
  • Strengthen affiliates
  • Continue regional meetings, some by skype
  • All affiliates to dialogue with their decision makers in the near future, to promote the convening of the UN meeting on WMDFZ, before the NPT review in May 2015.
  • Request the IPPNW Board to make a statement that IPPNW supports and endorses Ambassador Jako Lajaava in his efforts to convene a UN meeting on WMDFZ in ME.
  • Endorse the recommendations of the NYC meeting on Advancing a WMDFZ – ME in April 2014.


In the plenary session “Defining a Political and Diplomatic Process for Nuclear Abolition”, Ward Wilson (Senior Fellow and director of the Rethinking Nuclear Weapons Project at the British American Security Information Council, BASIC) gave sage advice on how to tackle believers in the doctrine of Nuclear Deterrence, as summarised below:

  • Almost all claims about deterrence can’t be proved
  • Hypotheses based on a small data set can be fundamentally wrong – security may well not revolve round Nuclear Weapons at all
  • New doubts are emerging as to whether Nuclear Weapons ended the war in Japan – to the war leaders, Hiroshima had little strategic value, it may have been the Soviet entry into the war on Aug 8th 1945 which had greater symbolic importance: was the bomb a face-saving excuse?
  • Those who believe in the value of Nuclear Weapons have been wrong again and again – they don’t prevent countries without nuclear weapons from attacking those with
  • It is pragmatic and prudent to ban nuclear weapons
  • Be couteous to nuclear believers because they will, ultimately, lose.
  • The argument that you can’t disinvent nuclear weapons is irrelevant, as they will never be useful


Other memorable presentations included Alan Robock’s re-assertion of the huge humanitarian impact of the detonation of multiple nuclear weapons and the description of the impact of even a small detonation over New York; and the re-affimation by John Borrie (Senior researcher and policy advisor at UNIDIR and a founder of Article 36) that there could be no effective response to  humanitarian catastrophe (see ) although attempts to plan co-ordinated response systems should be made, as we cannot expect survivors to ‘wing it’.

At the plenary session on the Impact of the Nuclear Chain on health, environment and security, Frank presented the links between civil nuclear power programmes and the distinct and demonstrable risk of weaponisation of nuclear materials; his slides are here (link). With Peter Karamoskos of Australia, Frank is co-chair of a Board-approved working group on the nuclear-chain although this is not a core programme of IPPNW.

During the business meetings of IPPNW’s Board and International Council (IC, to which the Board is accountable) Frank was elected to the IC as Deputy Speaker, and Kati Juva (Finland) re-elected as Speaker. Liz Waterston remains the UK’s IC representative. Bjørn Hilt of Norway was elected by the Board to be its new Chair, Lars Pohlmeier having stepped down. The Astana Declaration, and a statement on Gaza/Israel were approved –  see

Meetings of the IC and of the Board are open to IPPNW’s general membership although those who are not elected members of either committee may not vote and can only speak with the permission of the Speaker (at the IC) or the Chair (at the Board).


Judith McDonald, Tony and Liz Waterston, Thomas Pierscionek, and Frank Boulton

This is a presentation given by Dr Liz Waterston on the “Steps toward a Middle East zone Free of nuclear weapons and materials and of national enrichment plants”

This is a presentation given by Dr Frank Boulton on “Proliferation dangers with dual purpose nuclear technology”