ICRC urgently appeals to states to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used

A statement by Helen Durham, Director of Law and Policy, ICRC
Statement 14 March 2022

Geneva (ICRC) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is alarmed by recent statements made with respect to nuclear weapons.

Five years ago this month, as States were beginning the negotiations of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the ICRC recalled that "[n]uclear weapons are the most terrifying weapon ever invented. They are unique in their destructive power, in the unspeakable human suffering they cause, and in the impossibility of controlling their effects in space and time. They threaten irreversible harm to the environment and to future generations. Indeed, they threaten the very survival of humanity."

The ICRC and the Japanese Red Cross Society witnessed first-hand the suffering and devastation caused by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 as humanitarian personnel attempted, in near-impossible conditions, to assist the dying and injured. We cannot allow a repetition of this dark part of our past.

We know that a nuclear explosion would cause insurmountable challenges to humanitarian assistance. No State or humanitarian organization is prepared to respond to the enormous needs that a nuclear explosion would create. What we cannot prepare for, what we cannot respond to, we must prevent.

It is extremely doubtful that nuclear weapons could ever be used in accordance with the principles and rules of international humanitarian law.

The only way to guarantee that nuclear weapons are never used again is by prohibiting and eliminating them. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, of which the ICRC is a part, has repeatedly expressed its deep alarm at the increasing risk that nuclear weapons will again be used by intent, miscalculation or accident and stressed that any risk of use of nuclear weapons is unacceptable, given their catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

The introduction of nuclear weapons renders armed conflicts significantly more dangerous and risks a global conflagration in which humanity will suffer irreparably. This is a wake-up call and a call for utmost caution.

States must now heed the Movement's call on all States to promptly sign, ratify or accede to, and faithfully implement the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Pending their elimination, all States and, in particular, the nuclear possessors and nuclear-allied States must take immediate steps to reduce the risk of intentional or accidental use of nuclear weapons, based on their existing international commitments.

In 2022, the first meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the 10th Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will provide key opportunities, but also tests, for States to make tangible progress towards achieving nuclear disarmament, a legal obligation of the international community as a whole.

Seldom have collective action and concrete, meaningful steps to free the world of the dark shadow of nuclear weapons been more urgent.