Nuclear weapons have only been used in the context of armed conflict on two occasions in human history - in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945 respectively. When used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the nuclear blasts wiped out these cities, instantly killing tens of thousands of people, obliterating medical facilities, and leaving behind appalling conditions for survivors. Tens of thousands more died in the following years due to radiation poisoning. To this day, Japanese Red Cross hospitals continue to treat victims of cancer, including leukaemia, attributable to radiation from the 1945 atomic blasts.
Since the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the entire International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, through its international conferences, has advocated the prohibition of weapons of mass destruction in general, and of nuclear weapons in particular. To find out more visit: https://www.icrc.org/en/nuclear-ban-treaty-no-to-nukes
The law regarding the use of nuclear weapons?
In 1996 the International Court of Justice concluded that the use of nuclear weapons would be generally contrary to the principles and rules of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). IHL requires that parties to a conflict distinguish between civilian and military targets, including those who are hors de combat. Arguably, using a nuclear weapon like the atomic bomb renders the user incapable of distinguishing between legitimate targets and civilians as the explosion can cause damage up to some distance meaning that the user cannot control over who the attack is directed against in populated areas. The attack and its impact must also be considered proportionate and must not cause superfluous-injury or unnecessary suffering.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) came about as the result of the need for a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons. The TPNW was adopted at the United Nations on the 7th July 2017 and was opened for signature by the Secretary-General of the UN on 20th September 2017. Once 50 countries have ratified or acceded to the TPNW, it will then enter into force.
What will happen if nuclear weapons are used again in future?
There are still thousands of nuclear weapons in the world, and the risk of their use is growing to alarming levels. If a nuclear attack happens again, we know that we will not be able to deal appropriately or sufficiently with the horrendous consequences of the explosion. The damage caused by nuclear weapons will hinder access to the area for emergency responders meaning they will not be able to treat the wounded. As well as this, the radiation exposure will put emergency responders in great danger – a risk that may not be worth taking. Currently, no equipment exists to protect emergency responders from at least some radiation slipping through.
The fact of the matter is, there is really no way to help victims of a nuclear attack. This makes it an imperative to remember these uniquely horrific weapons for what they are – and act with urgency and determination to bring the era of nuclear weapons to an end.