Avoiding catastrophe: we must act now to ensure nuclear weapons are never again used

Avoiding catastrophe: we must act now to ensure nuclear weapons are never again used

Joint statement from the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mirjana Spoljaric, and the President of the Japanese Red Cross Society, Atsushi Seike, ahead of the G7 summit in Hiroshima 19-21 May 2023
News release 17 May 2023 Japan

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Japanese Red Cross Society (JRCS) welcome the selection of Hiroshima as host of the G7 Summit, a choice that draws global attention to the calamitous consequences of the use of nuclear weapons.

As G7 leaders gather in Hiroshima for their meeting, the world must remember the horror wrought by the two atomic bombings of 1945. For the sake of the survival of humanity, we must free the world of weapons that threaten catastrophic humanitarian consequences and irreversible harm. This requires immediate and decisive action by the entire international community.

The risk of use of nuclear weapons is highest since the worst moments of the Cold War, amid heightened political tensions and new steps to expand arsenals. Even the use of a so-called "tactical" or low-yield nuclear weapon would have devastating humanitarian consequences and break an 80-year nuclear taboo. The Hiroshima bomb had a yield of 15 kilotons, what today would be described as a small nuclear weapon. It killed 140,000 people.

Providing effective medical assistance following a single detonation of this size in Hiroshima in 1945 was almost impossible; today it would be even worse.Such a detonation would open a portal of misery that may never close, with widespread and horrendous suffering and a risk of nuclear escalation. With almost 13,000 nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the nuclear-armed states, many with much more destructive power than the Hiroshima bomb and ready to be launched within minutes, that dark path would have catastrophic effects on human health, the environment, the climate, food production, and socio-economic development around the globe. No government or international organization is prepared to deal with such a situation.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Japanese Red Cross Society witnessed first-hand the unimaginable suffering and devastation caused by the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as medical and humanitarian personnel attempted, in near-impossible conditions, to assist the dying and injured. Today we know even more about the long-term poisonous effects of nuclear weapons. Japanese Red Cross hospitals have continued each year to treat many thousands of survivors who have suffered and died from cancers and other diseases linked to exposure to nuclear radiation. We cannot allow a repetition of this dark part of our past; we owe it to the survivors – the Hibakusha – to ensure that the horrors they suffered are never repeated.

What we cannot prepare for, what we cannot respond to, we must prevent.

The only way to guarantee that nuclear weapons are never used again is by eliminating them, and their prohibition is an essential step for reaching this goal. An increasing number of states around the world recognize the existential threat nuclear weapons pose, leading to 68 states ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and another 27 states signing it.

The entire Red Cross Red Crescent Movement recognizes that it is extremely doubtful that nuclear weapons could ever be used in accordance with the principles and rules of international humanitarian law. Moreover, any use of nuclear weapons would be abhorrent to the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience. Any threat to use nuclear weapons is equally abhorrent, as it implies the possibility of actually using them.

Preventing a second use of nuclear weapons has always been vital, but reining in the risk at this moment is imperative. Threats to use nuclear weapons and increasingly strident nuclear rhetoric are exacerbating an already dangerous situation. Recent statements from global leaders on the inadmissibility of use or threat of use of nuclear weapons are welcome.

We want to see these statements translated into action. Therefore, the ICRC and the JRCS call on all states to:

  • Sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
  • Condemn all threats to use nuclear weapons, implicit or explicit, regardless of circumstances.
  • Refrain from rhetoric that envisages or speculates about the use of nuclear weapons, that ignores or minimizes the humanitarian consequences of use, or that otherwise erodes the taboo against their use.
  • Take immediate and concrete steps to reduce the risk of nuclear weapons being used, by taking nuclear weapons off high alert, committing to no-first-use policies, and de-prioritizing nuclear weapons in military doctrines and security policies.
  • Fully implement the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and commitments made at its review conferences, including achieving the complete elimination of nuclear weapons pursuant to their obligations under international law.
  • Take robust measures to assist those affected by nuclear weapons use or testing and to decontaminate the impacted natural environment.

For more information, please contact:

Crystal Wells, ICRC Geneva,
+41 77 963 75 74, cwells@icrc.org
Louise Taylor, ICRC Bangkok,
+66 659 562 064, ltaylor@icrc.org
Hitomi Makabe, ICRC Tokyo,
+81(0) 804 142 97 23, hmakabe@icrc.org