A future free of nuclear weapons is not only imaginable, it is also achievable

Global Health Webinar marking the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) convened by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)
Statement 21 January 2021

As delivered by Ms. Véronique Christory, Senior Arms Control Adviser, ICRC New York

Dear all,

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is honored to join this important event.

Tomorrow, January 22nd marks a historic victory for humanity. The entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons sends a powerful message: the use of nuclear weapons is unacceptable. They are unacceptable as a mean of warfare or as a tool of statecraft. They are unacceptable from a moral, humanitarian and now legal perspective.

Since 1945 the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has been calling for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. Doctors, nurses, and delegates of the ICRC and the Japanese Red Cross witnessed firsthand the unspeakable suffering caused by the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In Hiroshima, 80% of doctors and 90 % of nurses were killed. Those that remained tried to bring relief to the dying and injured. They worked in destroyed hospitals and with no medicines.

Seven decades on, the Japanese Red Cross hospitals continue to treat many thousands of victims with cancer caused by radiation exposure, a tragic long-term effect of nuclear weapons.

The existence of nuclear weapons poses some of the most profound questions about the point at which the rights of States must yield to the interests of humanity, the capacity of our species to master the technology it creates, the reach of international humanitarian law, and the extent of human suffering we are willing to inflict, or to permit, in warfare.

If nuclear weapons were to be detonated in or near a populated area today, ICRC studies, and those of the UN, have shown that no national government or international organization would have the capacity to respond to the colossal humanitarian needs that would result. There would be an untold number of people in need of treatment. Most of the local medical facilities would likely be destroyed. Many lives would be lost in an instant.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown inadequacies in our public healthcare systems when dealing with a large scale public health emergency. The use of nuclear weapons would create humanitarian consequences of catastrophic proportions. The international community would simply be unable to provide adequate assistance to deal with the magnitude of devastation and suffering.

Let us also recall that the power of many of today's 13,000 nuclear warheads are far greater than the weapons dropped in 1945. And thousands of these are on high alert. The catastrophic consequences of a launch would be worse than what we witnessed back in 1945.

But as of tomorrow, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons becomes the first instrument of international law to help mitigate the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, notably by requiring states to help victims of nuclear testing and use and, clearing contaminated areas.

Colleagues,

If history teaches us anything, it is this: what may seem unrealistic today can become reality tomorrow. And this shift, from unrealistic to realistic, is the result of people's – and most often young people's – unwillingness to accept that the world cannot change.

We owe tomorrow's entry into force first and foremost to the survivors and to all those that came together to make the milestone possible. On the day after tomorrow, we begin the hard work so that one day future generations can wake up to a world free of these inhumane weapons.

To reach more than 50 ratifications of the treaty shows that this future is not only imaginable but through collective effort is also achievable.

The ICRC congratulates the states that have ratified it, looks forward to the first meeting of states parties and calls upon all the other world leaders to act with courage and join the right side of history.

Thank you.