The Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons

C Humanitarian ImpactOslo, March 2013

On 4–5 March 2013, the Norwegian government hosted a conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in Oslo. Governments, UN agencies, international organisations, and civil society analysed the effects of the use of nuclear weapons on human health, the environment, economies, and development. Only two of the nuclear possessing states, India and Pakistan, attended the meeting. The other countries with nuclear weapons — China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, France, Israel, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States — did not participate  Three key points emerged from the presentations and discussions:

  • It is unlikely that any state or international body could address the immediate humanitarian emergency caused by a nuclear weapon detonation in an adequate manner and provide sufficient assistance to those affected. Moreover, it might not be possible to establish such capacities, even if it were attempted.
  • The historical experience from the use and testing of nuclear weapons has demonstrated their devastating immediate and long-term effects. While political circumstances have changed, the destructive potential of nuclear weapons remains.
  • The effects of a nuclear weapon detonation, irrespective of cause, will not be constrained by national borders, and will affect states and people in significant ways, regionally as well as globally.

Summarising the Conference, Mr. Barth Eide, the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs observed: “This broad participation reflects the increasing global concern regarding the effects of nuclear weapons detonations, as well as the recognition that this is an issue of fundamental significance for us all.”

At the end of the conference, the government of Mexico announced that it will hold a follow-up meeting to continue this discussion.

Some highlights from the conference

  • UN agencies were very clear that they would not be able to effectively respond to the humanitarian and environmental catastrophe that would be created by the use of nuclear weapons.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called for the abolition of nuclear weapons as the only effective preventative measure.
  • Many countries emphasised that elimination of nuclear weapons is the only way to prevent their use, including Austria, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Germany, Iran, Ireland, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.
  • Some participants criticised modernisation of nuclear weapons and continued spending on their maintenance, including Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Iran, Mozambique, and Nicaragua.
  • Chile, Costa Rica, Iran, and Mozambique, along with the ICRC, said the use of nuclear weapons would violate international humanitarian law.

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