Lars PohlmeierLars Pohlmeier, MD
Chairman of the German IPPNW – International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
Bremen, August 6, 2023

Hiroshima Day is a day of remembrance for the hundreds of thousands of people killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For me personally, having met victims of the nuclear weapons age myself in Hiroshima and also in other places around the world, it is always a moving day. But – and this may come as a surprise – it is also a day of encouragement.

I want to talk about that encouragement here. I would like to talk about what is nevertheless possible in these difficult months of war in Europe, waged by Russia against Ukraine. And since today is Hiroshima Day, I’m focusing on nuclear weapons.

Many will have watched the movie “Oppenheimer” these days. The Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. The cinemas are full. I thought a lot about Joseph Rotblat, the Polish physicist with a British passport, unfortunately unmentioned in the film. I was allowed to meet him myself. He had, when it became clear to him as early as 1944 that Germany would have no atomic bombs, abandoned the U.S. atomic weapons project because it had lost its rationale. The doubts that plagued Oppenheimer had been implemented by Rotblat in his life: he founded the Pugwash Scientists’ Movement. His mission in life became: Abolish nuclear weapons.

For the German philosopher Günter Anders, the development of the atomic bomb was the beginning of a new age. He described it analogously like this: There has since been a gap between what we produce as human beings and what we can imagine. In other words, we are no longer really aware of the effects. We can no longer emotionally grasp the consequences of our actions.

It is possibly both a burden and a privilege of us physicians in the IPPNW that we have an “inkling” of what suffering a nuclear war would mean. Knowledge and foreboding together give us the moral authority and obligation to become part of the global civil society advocates for the compelling need for nuclear disarmament on humanitarian grounds. And this is independent of detailed political issues, quite simply because the consequences of nuclear weapons use would be global, severe, quite simply inconceivably bad. That is why nuclear weapons must be abolished.

The great peace policy coup was achieved with the ICAN campaign. So many people from all parts of the world, young/old, from all continents, including the Bremen Peace Forum, are involved. The result of this “international campaign to abolish nuclear weapons” is the 2017 Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty, which was successfully negotiated at the UN level. Nuclear weapons are now banned worldwide. A majority of the international community stands for this.

Our country, as well as the other NATO countries and the nuclear weapon states, is not a member of this treaty so far. In this respect, our government determines for us citizens that this international legal norm shall not apply in our country. This is not correct. I repeat: That the German government does not want to sign this important UN disarmament treaty is not right.

At the same time, however, a continuous process is taking place within the framework of the worldwide governmental contract partners through which progress is to be achieved. The next UN review conference on the treaty will be held in New York in November 2023. More than 120 states support the treaty, and some governments (Austria is a good example) are working to increase the number of states. A new international disarmament standard has emerged here.


But there is also civil society involvement in this treaty process at the non-governmental level. We are sitting at the table! With the Mexican physician Dr. Jans Frommow, for example, the IPPNW sends a representative to an official advisory body that was recently created and is dedicated to the questions of humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons drops and nuclear tests. Among other things, concepts are to be developed here as to how not only health data can be better collected but also how those affected can be helped.

What can we do in Germany ? For us in Germany, this means that the Federal Government or the Bundestag could also address partial aspects of the treaty as a nonparty. For example, the Federal Republic could also provide financial and organizational resources to concretely address humanitarian issues. There had already been a hearing in the Bundestag in spring 2023.

Politically – and this is what diplomats tell us confidentially – we have to conduct the security policy debate above all on the subject of “nuclear deterrence”. The NATO doctrine of deterrence, defended with great ideological fervor by its proponents and now threatening to take on a whole new impetus against the backdrop of Russia’s war against Ukraine, means a trap. It’s a myth that needs to be debunked.

Nuclear deterrence means putting all one’s eggs in one basket in case of doubt, without having the certainty that this calculation will work out. Nuclear deterrence means these weapons would be used.

The fact that the German government is participating in this madness through nuclear sharing – the stationing of U.S. nuclear weapons in Germany – is not a “political balancing act,” as Foreign Minister Baerbock answered me at an event here in Bremen, but simply irresponsible.

The expected political payback: Russia, too, has announced that it will deploy Russian nuclear weapons outside its own territory. But where will it end ? No, with nuclear sharing, we in Germany are making ourselves common with something with which we must not make ourselves common.

Shaping the future of nuclear disarmament, along with the problem of climate change, is the critical task for our global survival. But is that still possible today in times of war?

A UN conference to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is taking place in Vienna these days. This treaty has been signed by the U.S. as well as China and Russia – and has not yet been terminated. It commits the signatory states not only to disarm but to completely eliminate all nuclear weapons. It is the largest and most important arms control treaty in the world.

I have been a regular observer and representative for IPPNW for many years. It has always been amazing that the nuclear weapons states, including the U.S. and Russia, have often issued joint statements. Most recently, in January 2022, with the statement that nuclear wars cannot be won and should therefore not be waged. So joint action between very different actors is possible after all.

So please, let us not be persuaded that talks or negotiations with Russia are not possible.

It would be conceivable, for example, to declare that the nuclear-weapon states USA, China and Russia renounce the first use of nuclear weapons and take nuclear weapons off maximum alert.

To use the words of Henry Kissinger recently in DIE ZEIT: All problems that can be solved.

I’ll conclude. Times are terrible, no question about it. And yet, even now, diplomatic structures and political instruments exist to achieve a return to arms control and disarmament. It is the responsibility of all of us to play a part in this. To rely on rearmament is not affordable, morally indefensible, we do not have the people for it, and we need the intellectual potential of each and every individual to tackle the global issues of the future, such as climate change, anyway.

I do not claim that all this would be easy. But to try it is without alternative!

Thank you.

Part 2 : Questions:

NATO acts as a nuclear alliance. What can you say about this?


NATO is a political and military interest group of its member states, a “closed store”. That’s how I would soberly describe it. It is thus not a system of collective security. And NATO probably won’t be either. But we need verifiable systems of collective security, either through the UN or UN-associated bodies. Basically, the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, is one of them. It is certainly in need of reform. Or something new is created. That would still be the right way for me.

Nuclear weapons, by the way, are not a core component of NATO agreements, although the public likes to give that impression.

For me, the following applies: Germany’s obligation under international law, which as a member state of the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has declared that it is not a nuclear weapons state, must take precedence over any agreement within NATO.

NATO must adapt to international law and not bend international law to fit NATO. This cannot be credibly communicated to other governments in the world and to us in the population. Therefore, all U.S. nuclear weapons must be withdrawn from Germany.


Can you comment again on what you think is realistic in terms of nuclear disarmament, even under the current political conditions?

Even now, nuclear-weapon states can make a binding treaty commitment to refrain from first use of nuclear weapons.

The nuclear weapons of all nuclear-weapon states could be taken off high alert.

All nuclear-weapon states, in particular the USA and Russia, could also now immediately enter into negotiations to regulate the existing obligations under international law from the Non-Proliferation Treaty for the worldwide abolition of all nuclear weapons in a verifiable and legally binding manner within a fixed timetable, in particular the disarmament obligation under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Federal Republic of Germany, as a non-nuclear-weapon state, can immediately end nuclear sharing and accede to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Arrangements could also be made to place non-military nuclear facilities, such as the nuclear plants in Ukraine, under special protection.

So there are quite a few realistic scenarios.

Read the IPPNW press release from 03.08.2023 HERE.

On the occasion of the anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, IPPNW demands from the federal government:

1. Germany must participate as an observer at the nextConference of States on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in New York in November 2023.

2. Germany must stand up for the recognition of survivors of nuclear weapons use and testing and declare its readiness to support those affected and to clean up contaminated areas.

3. Germany must develop a roadmap for phasing out nuclear sharing.