Protecting humanity from the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons: Reframing the debate towards the humanitarian impact

The international community has been struggling to reach agreement on the nonproliferation and elimination of nuclear weapons since they were first used in 1945. Encouragingly, recent global debate has, for the first time, focused on the devastating humanitarian consequences that the use of nuclear weapons will have not only for nuclear weapons States but for all humanity. The fact that the risks and overwhelming humanitarian consequences of a nuclear event are so high, combined with the inability of the global community to adequately respond to the needs of victims, has compelled policy-makers to consider new ways to work towards the prohibition of the use of nuclear weapons under international law. This article examines how the "humanitarian initiative" has reframed the nuclear weapons debate away from the traditional realm of State security, deterrence and military utility, and towards the grim reality of the humanitarian impacts that would confront humankind if nuclear weapons were ever used again.

About the authors

Richard Slade
Senior Research and Policy Officer

Richard Slade is Senior Research and Policy Officer at Australian Red Cross and a candidate for a Master of Philosophy in Law at Monash University, Australia.

Robert Tickner
Former Under-Secretary

Is the former Under-Secretary of General Partnerships at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Prior to this, he was the CEO of Australian Red Cross.

Dr. Phoebe Wynn-Pope

Is the Director of IHL and Movement Relations at Australian Red Cross. Prior to this, she was the Director of the Melbourne-based Humanitarian Advisory Group.