World Medical Journal

The Growing Threat of Nuclear War and the Role of the Health Community

Ira Helfand, MD; Andy Haines, MD; Tilman Ruff, FRACP; Hans Kristensen; Patricia Lewis, PhD Zia Mian, PhD


January 03, 2017

In This Article

The 'Humanitarian Initiative' to Prevent Nuclear War

The contemporary humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons began with International Committee of the Red Cross president Jacob Kellenberger informing the Geneva Diplomatic Corps in 2010 that the world's largest humanitarian organization would make elimination of nuclear weapons—something it first called for on September 5, 1945—a renewed priority.[22] In 2011, the Council of Delegates, the highest governing body of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, called on all states "to ensure that nuclear weapons are never again used," and "to pursue in good faith and conclude with urgency and determination negotiations to prohibit the use of and completely eliminate nuclear weapons through a legally binding international agreement, based on existing commitments and international obligations."[23]

In 2013 and 2014, three successive fact-based international conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons were held in Norway,[24] Mexico,[25] and Austria,[26] the last with participation of 146 states. Remarkably, 68 years into the nuclear age, these were the first-ever intergovernmental meetings dedicated to the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons.

There was no significant disagreement at these conferences regarding the extensive expert evidence presented, leading to the conclusions (1) that any use of nuclear weapons would be catastrophic; (2) that no effective humanitarian response was possible to even a single nuclear detonation in an urban center; (3) that the risk of nuclear weapons use had previously been underestimated, is growing, and exists as long as the weapons do; and (4) that there is a legal gap for nuclear weapons, in that the most destructive and indiscriminate of all weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction not yet explicitly prohibited under international law.[27]

As a result of these efforts, the UN General Assembly First Committee voted in October 2016, 123 to 38, to begin negotiations in March 2017 for a new treaty to ban the possession of nuclear weapons.


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