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A brief history of the New Zealand Affiliate of IPPNW (1982-2013)

Internationally, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) was established in 1980. This was on the basis that the profession had an important teaching role on the hazardous effects of nuclear weapons and because nuclear war constituted a major threat to public health. Since this time it has played a significant role in many areas of nuclear disarmament. The awarding of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1985 was in recognition of the success of this work.

There has been a long history of citizen activity against nuclear weapons testing and the nuclear arms race in New Zealand. Part of this work has involved doctors in the local affiliate of IPPNW(NZ), which was established in 1982.

Public Education Activities

IPPNW(NZ) initially focused its efforts into public educational activities. During the 1980s and 1990s this frequently involved bringing key international people to New Zealand on speaking tours and providing opportunities for them to interact with the media and politicians. For example, at the height of the Cold War in 1982–1983, the visit of Drs Helen and Bill Caldicott from the United States helped to build up public concern at the acceleration of the nuclear arms race and New Zealand’s military relationship with a nuclear superpower. Their visit led to a peak in IPPNW membership at 1100 members (or nearly a fifth of all doctors in the country at this time).

There were many other notable speakers brought to New Zealand by IPPNW(NZ) including the former director of the US Air Force’s Strategic Air Command General Lee Butler (Ret) in 1997. General Butler was able to highlight the need for further steps to eliminate nuclear weapons and affirm the value of New Zealand’s anti-nuclear weapons position. Some of the other notable visitors included Douglas Roche (a former Canadian parliamentarian and diplomat), Robert Del Tredici (photographer), and Miguel Marin Bosch (diplomat). [See their photographs in the PowerPoint presentation here]. Many of these successful visits were organised by Ian Prior who contributed more to the organisation over a period of two decades than any other person. He also became a Chairperson of the NZ Affiliate (see here for a tribute to Ian and this obituary).

Often in conjunction with other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), IPPNW(NZ) contributed to organising events that affirmed the value of this country’s anti-nuclear legislation and promoted nuclear disarmament internationally. One prominent member, Erich Geiringer, even published an anti-nuclear book “Malice in Blunderland”. See here for a tribute to Erich.

Contributing to the World Court Project

The idea of going to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to seek an advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons was put forward by Harold Evans, a retired Magistrate from Christchurch. This project was then taken by IPPNW(NZ) members Dr Robin Briant and Dr Erich Geiringer to the IPPNW International Council in Montreal in 1988 and was accepted as an important area for IPPNW to develop. The project grew to involve a coalition of IPPNW, the International Peace Bureau, and the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA). In 1993, following intensive lobbying at the World Health Assembly by IPPNW members from New Zealand and elsewhere (particularly George Salmond and Erich Geiringer from IPPNW(NZ)), the resolution to seek an advisory opinion on the threat to use and use of nuclear weapons from the ICJ was passed. Also, in 1994 the Non Aligned Movement countries were successful in getting a resolution passed at the General Assembly of the United Nations to seek an advisory opinion from the ICJ on nuclear weapons.

The ICJ findings, announced in July 1996, clearly supported the illegality of nuclear weapons except in extreme circumstances where the very survival of the state would be at stake. The ICJ also urged the nuclear weapon states to implement Article VI of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and move to the abolition of nuclear weapons. The ICJ’s findings have been generally interpreted as being likely to facilitate further nuclear disarmament moves through delegitimising nuclear weapons.

Contribution to the Abolition 2000 Campaign

The slow progress in nuclear disarmament that has occurred since the end of the Cold War also led to the formation of the Abolition 2000 campaign. This campaign has expanded to a global network involving hundreds of NGOs and has played an important part in the discussions leading to the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996. The New Zealand contribution to this campaign has also involved a coalition of IPPNW and other local NGOs involved in peace and disarmament work. As key political figures in New Zealand already favour moves to eliminate nuclear weapons, the most appropriate response has been to encourage and support opportunities for this view to be promulgated at international meetings by New Zealand’s official representatives.

Other activities

IPPNW(NZ) supported the successful campaigns to outlaw landmines and cluster munitions. It successfully obtained PADET grants to host events in New Zealand and also to send medical students to international IPPNW congresses and other violence prevention meetings. It supported research around the epidemiology and prevention of violent injury from small arms in Bougainville, various parts of Papua New Guinea and in Liberia.

IPPNW(NZ) ceased to operate in December 2013, owing to reduced membership numbers and other demands on the time of its more active members. At the time of closing the Executive included: Nick Wilson (Chair), Lynsie Kerr (Treasurer), George Salmond (International Councillor) and Osman Mansoor (Secretary).

Key Publications of IPPNW (NZ)

  • Abolition 2000, IPPNW (NZ). Abolition of Nuclear Weapons: A New Zealand Perspective. Wellington: Roger Steele, 1998.
  • Pathways to Peace: Key Nuclear and Peace Issues on the eve of the 50th Anniversary of Hiroshima. Wellington: IPPNW (NZ), 1994

Publications involving IPPNW(NZ) students included:

  • Agraval J. 2008. Doctors creating change? Aiming for prevention with small arms research. NZ Medical Student Journal; No. 7: 18-19.
  • Cowie R, Winnington A, Wyber R. 2008. Conference Report: 18th World Congress for Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. NZ Medical Student Journal; Issue 8.
  • Winnington A, Wyber R. 2008. Medical students at the 18th IPPNW World Congress in Delhi. Med Confl Surviv; 24(3).
  • Winnington A, Wyber R, Yang C, Al Awami M. 2007. Medical students at an IPPNW World Congress: a growing force. Med Confl Surviv; 23: 132-6.
  • Wyber R, Yang C, Winnington A. 2007. 17th Global Congress International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). NZ Medical Student Journal; No. 6: 20-21.

Some of the other publications involving IPPNW(NZ) members are listed here - at the Disarmament, peace and conflict studies webpage

More information

  • Dewes K, Green R. The World Court Project: How a citizen network can influence the United Nations. Pacific Review 1995;7:12-37.
  • Dewes K, Green R. Aotearoa / New Zealand at the World Court. Christchurch: Disarmament and Security Centre, 1999.
  • See this PowerPoint on selected highlights of IPPNW(NZ) activities.
  • Archival material relating to IPPNW(NZ) has been deposited with Turnbull House.

Prepared by Nick Wilson, December 2013