Monday October 23, 2017

Malaysian doctor wins Nobel prize for anti-nuke movement

By Trinna Leong

Campaign he founded led to 122 countries signing UN treaty to adopt total nuclear ban

As a young medical student in post-war Malaya, Dr Ronald McCoy read Hiroshima by John Hersey, a 1946 report published in The New Yorker detailing the aftermath of the atomic bomb through the eyes of six individuals.

The horrifying accounts deeply affected him but he felt helpless over how to prevent such utter devastation from occurring again.

"I didn't think there was anything I could do about it," Dr McCoy told The Straits Times.

But there was.

Decades later, Dr McCoy heard of and joined IPPNW, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Years of campaigning to eradicate nuclear weapons led the retired obstetrician to found the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Ican) 10 years ago.

On Oct 6, Ican won the Nobel Peace Prize, after the United Nations announced in July that 122 countries had signed on to adopt a total ban on nuclear weapons.

The first UN treaty of its kind, it is legally binding and comes into effect once 50 nations ratify it. Absent from the negotiations were the nine nuclear-armed states and their allies, while Netherlands voted against it and Singapore abstained.

"A lot of people in the world don't understand what are the consequences of a nuclear war," Dr McCoy said in an interview at his home in Petaling Jaya.

"There is the feeling that no matter what they do, nuclear weapons won't be disarmed. But if there is a human problem, surely there is a human solution."

The founding of Ican, Dr McCoy said, stemmed from the 2005 failure of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to produce any agreed action plan.

"It felt like barking up the wrong tree… So I said, 'Let's take nuclear disarmament out of the NPT process, which was not working, and let's form an international campaign to abolish nuclear weapons'. That is how we got Ican."

A sprightly 87-year-old, Dr McCoy has had an illustrious career delivering more than 20,000 babies during his 40 years working as a doctor in Malaysia.

Watching over soon-to-be mothers and their babies, Dr McCoy could not shake off the feeling of responsibility for children growing up in a world with nuclear weapons.

"This baby now lives in a world bristling with nuclear weapons and the threat of a nuclear war… To me, I have an extended responsibility to do something about that," he said.

He added: "As doctors, we cannot do anything in a nuclear war… Nuclear disarmament is a kind of preventive medicine."

Dr McCoy said that the countries possessing nuclear weapons cannot use the excuse of deterrence to justify having such destructive arms.

"You can't forever rely on deterrence without an accident occurring one day," he said.

The road to eradication of nuclear weapons, Dr McCoy believes, has to come from the country with the most nuclear arms - the United States.

"If the US gives these up, other nuclear states would give up their nuclear weapons. The change has to come from the US."

Despite his age, Dr McCoy has not slowed down. Spending his days responding to e-mails and reading the news and reports on nuclear weapons disarmament, he stays healthy by doing light exercises at home.

Dr McCoy, whose father was a civil servant with Malayan Railways, grew up in Kuala Lumpur.

It was a five minute-walk from his home to his primary school in Pudu, an old neighbourhood in KL; later, he cycled daily to the prestigious all-boys Victoria Institution for his secondary school education.

Of Anglo-Indian descent, Dr McCoy said many people are surprised to learn that he is Malaysian. "Maybe it is my name and the colour of my skin. So I would say, 'I am 200 per cent Malaysian'," he said in jest.

Although he thinks that it will be "a tough road ahead" for nuclear abolition, the bright and cheerful grandfather of four is optimistic that nuclear weapons disarmament is possible.

More so after the UN treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons was passed.

"You should have heard the roar in the room when they announced it!" he exclaimed.

"When we get to zero nuclear, I won't be around. But do leave me a forwarded message and wherever I am, I will celebrate," he said, smiling.

The Nobel Peace Prize will be presented on Dec 10 in Oslo, Norway. Dr McCoy will be attending the ceremony.

When asked if he could impart any advice to the younger generation, he said: "Love your fellow human beings. What could be more needful than that today?"


Thursday October 12, 2017

How a Malaysian birthed an anti-nuclear arms campaign that won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize


Ronald McCoy speaks to reporters during an interview in Petaling Jaya on October 11, 2017.

PETALING JAYA, Oct 12 — Shortly after the failed 2005 review of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Datuk Dr Ronald McCoy, who is the former co-president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), emailed his colleagues in the global federation his idea to build a grassroots movement to advocate a ban on nuclear weapons.

That movement was inspired by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines that eventually led to the 1997 anti-landmine Ottawa treaty.

“We can call it an International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, with the acronym ICAN. Let’s startworking on this right now,” the Malaysian obstetrician had written in his open letter.

Ten years after ICAN’s 2007 launch, the UN adopted last July 7 a new treaty that imposed a total ban on nuclear arms called the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, hailed as a significant milestone in the seven decades’ effort to prevent a nuclear war since the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 during World War II.

None of the nine states with nuclear bombs — including the US, United Kingdom, China and Russia — had participated in the negotiations.

Last Friday, ICAN unexpectedly won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, with the Norwegian Nobel Committee reportedly saying that the risk of nuclear weapons being used now was greater than it has been for a long time.

“We’re all very elated at this recognition of years of work, although ICAN has only been in existence for 10 years. There’s still a long way to go, obviously,” Dr McCoy told Malay Mail Online in an interview at his home yesterday.

According to Dr McCoy, ICAN comprises 468 non-governmental organisations from about 100 countries. The campaign began in Australia and was officially launched in Vienna, Austria.

Dr McCoy said ICAN had the support of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which allowed the campaign to highlight the humanitarian consequences of nuclear detonations so that disarmament was not seen as purely a security issue.

“It’s going to take a lot more work and a lot more time obviously.”

When pointed out that all nine nuclear powers — China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the UK and the US — had boycotted negotiations on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, Dr McCoy said it was up to residents in those countries to highlight that their governments were in possession of “illegal” nuclear weapons.

“So we now have that political and moral pressure to rid the world of nuclear weapons,” said the 87-year-old.

The treaty bans nuclear weapons use, threat to use, development, testing, production, possession, stockpiling, transfer, and stationing in another country. For countries that own nuclear weapons who want to sign, the agreement details a process for the destruction of the arms “as soon as possible” in a “legally binding time-bound plan.”

The 1968 NPT, on the other hand, merely states that countries “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

Most nuclear-armed countries, however, have reportedly been modernising their arsenals instead of pursuing disarmament.

Dr McCoy, who quit his practice in Kuala Lumpur in 1996 to devote himself fully to campaigning against nuclear weapons, rubbished proponents’ stand that it was necessary to possess nuclear arms to deter others from using those same weapons.

“During the Cold War, deterrence almost failed on several occasions. And you know we came so close to a nuclear holocaust more than once during the Cold War,” he said.

The US, UK and France said in a joint statement issued on July 7 that they did not intend to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, claiming that the policy of nuclear deterrence “has been essential to keeping the peace in Europe and North Asia for over 70 years.”

“This treaty offers no solution to the grave threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear programme, nor does it address other security challenges that make nuclear deterrence necessary,” they said.

After North Korea’s recent nuclear and missiles tests, US president Donald Trump told the UN General Assembly last month that if the US was forced to defend itself or its allies, it would “have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

Dr McCoy, however, said North Korea was merely reacting to the US’ threat of using nuclear weapons against it.

“They’re not the bad guys. The bad guys are the United States of America and the other nuclear weapon states,” he said.

“The United States is not a democracy, good heavens. The United States has been wielding its nuclear weapons to protect its unfettered capitalist system.”

Dr McCoy stressed that nuclear arms are not weapons of war, but weapons that would wreak “total global destruction”, claiming that should India and Pakistan engage in a nuclear war, the impact would not be limited to South Asia.

“There will be a swift destruction and the black soot from these explosions will go into the atmosphere, block out the sun and we would have what is called a nuclear winter. All the crops will perish and we will die of starvation,” he said.

More than 50 countries have signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, including Malaysia. The Malaysia Nuclear Power Corporation, however, reportedly said last May that Malaysia may have its own nuclear power plant by 2030.

Dr McCoy cautioned the government against developing nuclear energy and said Malaysia should focus on renewable energy instead as an alternative to fossil fuels.

“How can it be clean if you have radioactive waste for generations?” he said. “To say it is not expensive and [that it is] safe is nonsense.”

Dr McCoy was among the University of Malaya’s first batch of students when the varsity was founded in Singapore in 1949. Dr McCoy said he was born in Seremban but has lived in Kuala Lumpur all his life.

“I’m 200 per cent Malaysian,” Dr McCoy proudly declared.

The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded on December 10 in Oslo, Norway.


Friday October 13, 2017

The role of one Malaysian in the formation of ICAN, winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize


KUALA LUMPUR: Not even in his dreams, did Datuk Dr Ronald McCoy think that one day he would have a share in the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.

It all started in 2005, after the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review failed to reach a consensus, partly due to non-nuclear states, who felt that the nuclear powers were unable to meet their obligations to disarm.

"So, I emailed my friends in the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) about the campaign.

"All of them were very keen with the idea," he said when contacted by the New Straits Times today.

This was how the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons or ICAN came to be, said the former co-president of the IPPNW.

Last Friday, a decade after ICAN was launched, the campaign became the recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

McCoy said he got the idea for the campaign from International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which later led to the Ottawa Landmine Treaty in 1997.

"Many non-nuclear states began to realise that nuclear weapons also have a humanitarian impact.

"So we convinced other countries that the only way to avoid the humanitarian catastrophe is by eliminating nuclear weapons.

"And the only way we can protect the world from a nuclear war is by getting rid of nuclear weapons."

ICAN kicked-off in Melbourne, Australia and was officially launched in 2007 in Vienna, Austria.

McCoy said to date, ICAN has participation from 468 non-governmental organisations, spread out in about 100 countries.

In its official website, the committee awarded ICAN “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”

McCoy said it is such an honour to have played a key role in the materialising the campaign.

“Many people congratulated me on the matter, because the idea was proposed by me.

“But, this award is for the whole organisation (IPPNW) because we worked so hard for ICAN.”

On July 7, when the United Nations adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, ICAN was the force behind it.

“We cannot help but to feel proud about it,” he said.

More than 50 countries have since signed the treaty, including Malaysia.

The prize presentation ceremony for the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize will be held in Oslo, Norway on Dec 10.

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