September 11, 2002: Time to Remember Globally

Released September 19, 2002

On this first anniversary of the horrible acts of violence that took the lives of more than 3,000 people on September 11, 2001, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) joins the rest of the world in pausing to reflect on the lessons of terrorism and war. Our first thoughts must be for the families and loved ones of the victims of that day, who were from more than 40 countries and who included hundreds of self-sacrificing rescue workers. Sadly, those who lost their lives on September 11 represent only a fraction of those who have been killed and injured as a result of armed violence, including acts of terrorism, on a global scale. Although this unprecedented act of mass murder on American soil was carried out in an especially dramatic way, the events of September 11 were characteristic of the armed violence that has made the 20th century and the first years of the 21st the bloodiest period in human history.

In this violent world, the distinction between terrorism and war is often impossible to grasp.

In Israel and Palestine, acts of terror and reprisals on both sides have become almost commonplace; Russia has defined Chechnya as a terrorist state and launched a war which has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians over more than a decade; the 20-year war in southern Sudan has taken the lives of more than two million people and has left another four million displaced. India and Pakistan have threatened each other with a nuclear war that could immediately kill 12 million people and render much of South Asia uninhabitable for generations. To this list we must add also Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, East Timor, Afghanistan, Uganda, Angola, Somalia, and many others.

For some, terrorism is a daily fact of life that goes unnoticed by the media or global decision makers. A young IPPNW physician in the Philippines has described his encounters with a grieving mother who had just lost her two sons after their house had been indiscriminately fired upon by the military because of its proximity to the house of a suspected Muslim "terrorist." Who is the terrorist?

The events of September 11, 2001 must be seen in their global context:

  • All of the great threats that humanity faces transcend national boundaries. Weapons of mass destruction, landmines, small arms, and global environmental damage, all driven by global inequities and the yawning gap between the Global North and the Global South are threats that require international cooperation, the strengthening of international institutions, a just and equitable economic order and of the rule of international law. None of them can be addressed by a single nation, no matter how powerful.
  • The risk of nuclear war continues to threaten human survival. The casualties resulting from even a single nuclear explosion would overwhelm the medical facilities in any city on Earth. The use of nuclear weapons is morally indefensible, and the International Court of Justice has declared their use and threatened use illegal. Yet nuclear weapons remain part of the military strategy of many nations, and deliberate use of nuclear weapons remains an ever-present threat.
  • Current military conflicts are characterized by civilian casualties, whether deliberate or unintentional. The global proliferation of small arms and light weapons has caused unspeakable carnage in both armed conflicts and domestic violence. Small arms target particularly the most vulnerable populations - the economically depressed and politically unstable.
  • With the adoption of the Mine Ban Treaty the toll exacted by antipersonnel landmines has diminished. But many key nations, including the US and Russia, still refuse to sign the Treaty, while landmines continue to devastate the lives of individuals, families, and whole societies. This is an inexcusable humanitarian tragedy.
  • The increasing gap between the rich and the poor of the world is the critical fuel for global conflict and must be narrowed. This will require that developed nations increase their contributions to international development and aid, and forgive indebtedness in the developing world.
  • World military spending, estimated at $839 billion in 2001, would transform the world if it was channeled instead to meeting the social needs of the poor and deprived.

The Bush administration has transformed its legitimate pursuit of the September 11 perpetrators and their supporters into an open-ended "war against terrorism," and threatens unilateral war against Iraq, a country that has not been implicated in the attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Recent history suggests that the civilian population of Iraq will once again bear the brunt of such a war. Between 2,500 and 3,500 civilians were killed by air strikes during the 1991 US-led Gulf war; another 111,000 civilians (70,000 of them children under 15 years of age) died as a delayed result of the bombings; and more than 500,000 children have died as a result of post-war economic sanctions. We make no apologies for the oppressive and often brutal regime of Saddam Hussein. Nevertheless, an unprovoked, pre-emptive military invasion of a sovereign state is a clear violation of international law and is in the best interests of neither the Iraqi people nor the world community. It is not even in the best interests of the American people, who may be visited with new acts of terrorism in retaliation.

We recognize that nuclear proliferation is a global menace. Although the Bush Administration has not yet produced evidence that Iraq is on the verge of producing nuclear weapons, there is also no reason to believe that Iraq has set aside its ambitions to possess weapons of mass destruction. In either case, the surest way to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of governments with nuclear aspirations, non-state actors, and even terrorists, is for the US and the other nuclear nations to completely eliminate nuclear weapons from their military arsenals and to place all nuclear materials under international control. The World Court issued a clear opinion in 1996 that the use or even the threatened use of these ultimate weapons of terror is a violation of international law. All of the nuclear weapon states that are party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty are obligated to pursue complete nuclear disarmament and have recently recommited themselves to an "unequivocal undertaking" to do so.

On this first anniversary of the events of September 11, IPPNW recommits itself to the goals of nuclear disarmament, the prevention of war, and non-violent resolution of human conflicts. Dealing with political, social, and economic injustices which are the root causes of armed violence; promoting respect for human rights, democracy, and good governance; ensuring a more equitable distribution of resources; and investing in education and health care rather than in weapons are the only effective paths to true security for all people. The lesson of September 11 is that our collective survival depends upon forging co-operative, just, and equitable relationships with each other; in rejecting war; and in pursuing non-violent resolutions to inevitable conflicts. The alternative is a world perpetually divided, bloodied, and quite possibly destroyed by our failure to appeal to what is best in our humanity.

We call upon responsible leaders to take the following steps to reduce the likelihood of future acts of indiscriminate violence:

  1. Renunciation of the use and possession of nuclear weapons by all States, particularly by the declared nuclear weapons states in order to fulfill their legal obligations under Article Vl of the NPT, and negotiation and adoption of a Nuclear Weapons Convention.
  2. Adherence to and strengthening of the chemical and biological weapons conventions by all nations and groups, and implementation of effective verification mechanisms where necessary.
  3. Collection and reporting by health professionals of accurate data on small arms injury and death, including what is available from official records and health institutions, and education of peers and policy makers about prevention; assurance by governments that researchers will have access to data; support for a convention on arms brokering and an international framework agreement on arms transfers.
  4. Universal accession to the Mine Ban Treaty, accelerated mine clearance, and long term funding of victim rehabilitation programs, to end this disgraceful chapter in human cruelty.
  5. A reordering of global economic priorities including a redirection of global resources away from militarism and war toward unmet social needs and the cancellation of the unpayable and uncollectable debts of developing countries.
  6. International cooperation to find and bring to justice those who perpetrate such acts as were committed in the United States on September 11, 2001.

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