Nuclear weapons: a humanitarian perspective

Nuclear weapons have no military utility because any use of these weapons would not benefit national or international security. However, nuclear weapons are purported by some to be strategic assets. This perspective is rooted in the fallacious concept of nuclear deterrence and is reflected in the central role nuclear weapons are afforded in some national and alliance security doctrines.

A new approach has begun to challenge this perspective—an approach that reflects the reality of nuclear weapons as tools of great violence and destruction. In order to abolish nuclear weapons, states and societies must reject them as instruments of national security and disengage from nuclear weapons activities.

Over the past few years, a growing number of states, international organisations, and civil society groups have promoted a new focus on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. The 2010 NPT Review Conference expressed “deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons” and reaffirmed “the need for all states at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law.” Since then, the governments of Norway, Mexico, and Austria have hosted a series of conferences to examine the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons, the risk of their use, and explore legal and normative ways forward. At the conclusion of the third conference, the Austrian Government issued the Humanitarian Pledge, which commits states “to pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.” 126 states have so far fully endorsed the pledge. 70 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki we are witnessing the emergence of a new discourse based on a more realistic conception of what nuclear weapons really are: catastrophically dangerous weapons and an unacceptable threat to human security and development. Together with ICAN we are calling for the complete prohibition and elimination nuclear weapons.


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