CATASTROPHIC HUMANITARIAN HARM
“A unique existential threat to humanity.
The effects of nuclear weapons cannot be controlled in space or time. Their existence anywhere is a threat to people everywhere.” ICAN Report
Published in August 2012 by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (firstname.lastname@example.org) in partnership with Peace Boat and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
Reframing the nuclear weapons debate
The catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons on our health, societies and the environment must be at the centre of all discussions about nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.
Abolishing nuclear weapons is a paramount challenge for people and governments the world over – a pre-condition for survival, sustainability and the health of our planet and future generations. Both in the scale of the indiscriminate devastation they cause, and in their uniquely persistent, spreading, genetically damaging radioactive fallout, nuclear weapons are unlike any other weapons. A single nuclear bomb detonated over a large city could kill millions of people in an instant. The use of tens
or hundreds of nuclear bombs would disrupt the global climate, causing widespread famine.
A HUMANITARIAN APPROACH
Although the number of nuclear weapons in global stockpiles is declining, the risk of their use, by accident or design, appears to be growing. Any such use would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences. Despite new rhetoric in favour of achieving a world without nuclear weapons, governments have not yet
begun negotiations on a global nuclear disarmament treaty. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a movement of non- government organizations in 60 countries advocating such a treaty, believes that discussions
about nuclear weapons must focus not on narrow concepts of national security, but on the effects of these weapons on human beings – our health, our societies, and the environment on which we all depend. The processes that led to treaties banning landmines in 1997
and cluster munitions in 2008 demonstrated the importance of adopting a humanitarian- based discourse: new political coalitions were formed, longstanding deadlocks were broken, and two whole classes of weapons were outlawed. Today we must adopt a similar approach for nuclear weapons.
A unique existential threat to humanity
The effects of nuclear weapons cannot be controlled in space or time. Their existence anywhere is a threat to people everywhere.
Nuclear weapons are the most destructive, inhumane and indiscriminate instruments of mass murder ever created. The term “catastrophic humanitarian consequences”
– now commonly used by governments – describes their unique and horrifying effects on people, including lethal harm to those who are not part of the conflicts in which they are used. Physicians and scientists have long studied and documented the medical consequences of nuclear war, concluding that human security and survival depend upon ridding the Earth of these indefensible weapons.
NUCLEAR WEAPONS USE
Nuclear weapons have been used twice in warfare – on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. More than 200,000 innocent civilians died, while many more suffered acute injuries. Even if a nuclear weapon were never again exploded over a city, there are effects from the production, testing and deployment of nuclear arsenals that are experienced as an ongoing personal and community catastrophe by many people around the globe. This must inform and motivate efforts to eliminate these weapons.
The dangers of nuclear weapons arise from their very existence. Nine countries today possess
an estimated 19,000 nuclear weapons, around 2,000 of which are kept on hair-trigger alert – ready for use within minutes. Most of today’s nuclear weapons are dozens of times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. The failure of the nuclear powers to disarm has heightened the risk that other countries, or terrorists, will one day acquire nuclear weapons. The only guarantee against their spread and use is to eliminate them without delay.
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