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Countries from around the world met this March to discuss a global ban on nuclear weapons. 132 states took part in the United Nations conference. They’ll meet again in June and July, to draft a legally-binding treaty, to prohibit nuclear weapons. If successful, this would be the first treaty at the global level to explicitly prohibit nuclear weapons and reinforce the stigma against their use.
The ICRC and the Movement have been calling for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons since 1945 and the ICRC sees these United Nations negotiations as a significant opportunity. The ICRC believes prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons is a vital humanitarian imperative.
Because nuclear weapons can’t discriminate between civilians and combatants in war, they are incompatible with International Humanitarian Law. There is already so much evidence of the indiscriminate effects of nuclear weapons. In 1945, Red Cross witnessed the impacts of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today, Red Cross hospitals continue to treat the children of survivors, and thousands of victims who’ve got cancer from radiation exposure.
If a nuclear attack were to take place, we simply wouldn’t have the resources to respond. Nuclear weapons would cause death and injury on a massive scale, including the deaths of doctors and nurses, meaning no effective way to provide life-saving medical and humanitarian assistance.
How the negotiations can help: Following on from the Non-Proliferation Treaty
Negotiations to prohibit nuclear weapons will resume at the United Nations on 15 June, for three weeks, during which time governments will draft the treaty.
The ultimate and eventual aim is to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether. Although this might seem like a lofty goal, the conditions were set out in the Non-Proliferation Treaty, signed by 190 states in 1968.
The new treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons won’t mean they’ll disappear or be destroyed straight away. But it will send an important message to all states that there is a stigma against nuclear weapons and they are not supported.
Everyone has an interest in ensuring nuclear weapons are eliminated. Even a small nuclear exchange can have large impacts.
As with chemical and biological weapons, a clear position that nuclear weapons are prohibited is the basis for their eventual elimination altogether.