World Court Project update

Statement of Joseph Rotblat

The following statement by Joseph Rotblat was submitted to International Court of Justice on 14 November 1995 by Marshall Islands: "From 1933-39 I was a Research Fellow at the Radiological Laboratory of the Scientific Society of Warsaw and from 1937-39 Assistant Director of the Atomic Physics Institute of the Free University of Poland. In 1939 I left Poland for England take up a scholarship under James Chadwick at the University of Liverpool. My research in Liverpool, which, helped to establish the feasibility of the atomic bomb, led to my joining the British team on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. After the War I was made Director of Research in nuclear physics at Liverpool University, a position I held until 1949. In 1950 I changed my field of research to the study the application of physics ta medicine, specializing in radiation physics and radiation biology. From 1950-76 I was Professor of Physics at the University of London and Chief Physicist at St Bartholomew's Hospital where I established a large team specialising in the study of the effects of radiation on living organisms.

In 1981, while a visiting scholar at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), I wrote Nuclear Radiation in Warfare which examined the biological effects of radiation an man; the radiations from nuclear explosions and the effects of these radiations on human, animal and plant life; and the protection from radiation that might be afforded by civil defence. I served as rapporteur for the 1983 WHO investigations into the Effects of Nuclear War on Health and Health Services and the follow up report in 1987 which had an expanded remit covering in addition environmental consequences of nuclear warfare. I would like to summarise the effects of nuclear radiation in warfare as follows. Of the three main injurious agents of nuclear weapons - blast, heat and ionizing radiations - one aspect of the last agent, fall-out, is the least amenable to quantitative assessment, owing to its dependence on a number of unpredictable factors. Yet, in any nuclear war, local and/or global fall-out are likely to produce a heavy casualty tall.

In a counterforce attack, with the underground ICBM silos as targets, the great accuracy of modern missiles might make it possible to avoid direct hits on large centres of population, but millions of civilians are likely to be killed or suffer long-term effects of radiation from exposure to fall-out. I have noted the statement to the Court an October 20, 1995 by M. Vignes, Legal Adviser to the World Health Organization, and I share his conclusions on this point. In an all-out war, into which any nuclear conflict is very likely to escalate, the largest immediate casualty toll would be from the effects of blast, heat and initial radiation in the cities hit by nuclear weapons. But in this case too fall-out would add immensely to the number; of dead and injured, as well as greatly diminishing the extent of post-war recovery. Civil defence measures such as deep shelters, which may provide some protection against blast, would be must less effective against local fall-out, owing to problems arising from the necessary long stay in such shelters. Huge areas of land, remote from the target zones, would remain uninhabitable for long periods, probably years if nuclear reactors were targets of attack, and most of the livestock and crops would be lost.

The effects of local fall-out would be felt just as badly in some non-combatant countries, but global fall-out would result in long-term damage to all countries, including the Antarctic; it would be expressed in an increased incidence of cancers, and it is to be expected that there would be an increase in genetic defects in future generations. The property of fall-out to extend the injurious action both in space and in time, is a novel and unique characteristic of nuclear warfare. Not only the inhabitants of the combatant countries, but virtually the whole population of the world. and their descendants, would be victims of a nuclear war therein lies the radical change which nuclear weapons introduce into the whole concept of warfare.

I have read the written pleadings prepared by the United Kingdom and United States. Their view of the legality of the use of nuclear weapons is premised on three assumptions:

a) that they would not necessarily cause unnecessary suffering;
b) that they would not necessarily have indiscriminate effects on civilians,
c) that they would not necessarily have effects on territories of third states.

It is my professional opinion - set out above and in the WHO reports referred to - that on any reasonable set of assumptions their argument is unsustainable on all three points. Even in the hypothetical case that at some time in the future nuclear weapons are developed that have a negligible effect on the civilian population, any use of such a weapon is likely to start a nuclear conflict in which nuclear weapons are used that have all the effects described above."

Meetings on the outcome of the ICJ ruling

"Judgement Day":

When the ICJ announces its ruling, an international meeting has been tentatively scheduled for The Hague/Netherlands, probably around April 1996

The International Peace Bureau (IPB) will hold a conference on nuclear abolition in Brussels, tentatively scheduled for 13 May 1996. Organized under the auspices of the Parliament's European Intergroup for Peace and Disarmament, the conference aims to assess the Advisory Ruling on nuclear weapons due to be issued by the International Court of Justice before the end of April. Also, it is intended to launch publicly a new stage in the international campaign for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

(Note that prior to the conference, there will be IPB's annual Council meeting on May 11, and a Networking meeting on May 12)


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