25th UN Conference on Disarmament Issues “Towards the realization of a world free of nuclear weapons following the 2015 NPT review conference” - IFRC President, Mr Tadateru Konoé

Published: 27 August 2015


Prepared remarks

25th UN Conference on Disarmament Issues

“Towards the realization of a world free of nuclear weapons following the 2015 NPT review conference”

Hiroshima, Japan, August 2015

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my honour to speak today on behalf of both the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Our Movement is united in its message to States on nuclear weapons: Nuclear weapons and their terrible humanitarian consequences threaten the existence of each and every one of us. They concern us all, both individually and collectively. We should all be deeply troubled about the terrible threat these weapons pose, and the potential they hold for ending life on earth.

Our Movement is known for its response to disasters and crises, both natural or man-made. Through this experience, we have come to appreciate many things about the nature of catastrophe. We have come to appreciate, for example, the inevitability of accidents, and we have come to appreciate the importance of developing contingency plans, of preparing for the unexpected and the impossible.

We believe that to reduce vulnerabilities we must reduce risks. But, as we have discussed over the past three years in Norway, Mexico and Austria during the International Conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, some risks cannot be managed or responded to in a responsible way.

The fallout from a nuclear explosion would be so catastrophic, the devastation so complete, that there is very little we can do to mitigate the consequences. We know that, in the eventuality of nuclear detonation, no international capacity exists or could ever exist to assist those affected or to protect those delivering assistance. The only conscionable step we can take is to eliminate them once and for all.

All other weapons of mass destruction have been banned. Nuclear weapons – which carry far worse consequences than chemical and biological weapons – must now be specifically prohibited and eliminated as a matter of urgency. I reiterate the call made by our 189 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the ICRC in 2011 and appeal to everybody to ensure that nuclear weapons are never again used. Further, the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement urge all states 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 the existing commitments and international obligations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

After decades of focusing on nuclear weapons primarily in technical-military terms and as symbols of power, we have seen signs of a fundamental shift in the debate. States have finally engaged in discussions about the impact of a nuclear detonation on people and the environment. In Norway, Mexico and Austria, States came face-to-face with the catastrophic consequences that were endured by the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, consequences that continue today, 70 years later, for the survivors and their children.

New scientific evidence has begun to quantify the impact that any use of nuclear weapons would have on global temperatures, on food production, on public health, and on the world’s economy. There can seemingly be no denying the impact of their use.

Some significant steps have also been taken to reduce the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. There has been a significant reduction in the number of warheads possessed by nuclear-armed States. Steps have also been taken to increase nuclear security and to establish nuclear weapon free zones in many parts of the world. However, indications that the pace of reductions has slowed significantly in recent years and that arsenals are being modernised are issues of serious concern.

And even though there are currently no future humanitarian initiative conferences planned, the Humanitarian pledge which was made by Austria at the close of the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in December 2014 has now been joined by 113 countries, many of which came on board in the final weeks of the NPT Review Conference. Part of this pledge is a call “to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons” and to cooperate with all stakeholders to achieve this goal.

Despite this progress, there remains a gap between our ambition and the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. This gap is broad, and exists despite the fact that, in two joint statements at the Review conference of the Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT) earlier this year in New York, 159 States insisted that nuclear weapons “must never again be used”, a goal they said must be achieved through the “total elimination” of such weapons.

We believe that the humanitarian imperative, the increased understanding of the unacceptable humanitarian consequences, and the risks associated with the mere existence of Nuclear weapons provide the arguments and the urgency to finally take determined steps to fill the legal gap. The humanitarian imperative – our common concern for the people who would suffer so terribly in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion – must be at the centre of all deliberations, obligations and commitments with regard to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, including in the context of the NPT and future deliberations.

My colleague and friend Peter Maurer, the President of the ICRC; put it well earlier this year when he said the following:

“We know now more than ever before that the risks are too high, the dangers too real. It is time for States, and all those of us in a position to influence them, to act with urgency and determination to bring the era of Nuclear weapons to an end.”

Ladies and gentlemen, friends;

Despite the failure of the NPT Review Conference, States that possess nuclear weapons and their allies must take further concrete steps to reduce the role and significance of nuclear weapons in their military plans, doctrines and policies. Our Movement continues to urge nuclear-armed States to reduce the number of warheads on high alert and to be more transparent about action taken to prevent accidental detonations. Many of these steps derive from long-standing political commitments and action plans adopted at previous NPT meetings and should be followed through as a matter of urgency.

Achieving these goals will require concerted action by governments. All nuclear-armed States must fulfil their existing international commitments to nuclear disarmament. We are well aware that this is not an easy task, particularly in light of the current international security challenges and the lack of trust amongst powers. It is thus a responsibility of all States to help create conditions under which nuclear disarmament becomes possible.

In closing, it was only a few weeks ago that many of us participated in commemorations for the 70th anniversaries of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. The average age of the survivors of those atomic bombings – the Hibakusya – is 80. When the last of them ends their long journey, we will lose the memories and testimonies that remain some of the most compelling anti-nuclear advocacy that we have.

I am Japanese: I understand instinctively the horrors that were unleashed on those awful August days in 1945. It strikes me, though, that outside of this country, and outside perhaps of my generation, these horrors are not fully grasped, and this lack of understanding means that people are not motivated to take the actions we are discussing today.

There are voices that would argue the legitimacy of those strikes. I – and I am sure many of you – would argue strongly that there is no legitimate use of such weapons under the principles of International Humanitarian Law, under the principles of distinction, of necessity and proportionality, and of humane treatment. However, if such a view is not shared widely by the general public, then we cannot expect governments to act and to eliminate these weapons.

We, the Red Cross and Red Crescent, have accompanied the Hibakusya throughout their journey, from the minutes and hours after impact, all the way to today. We will remain tireless advocates for the elimination of these dreaded weapons. We will exert our influence to raise public awareness, and ensure the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are never forgotten nor misunderstood, and we will remain unwavering in our advocacy to States to ensure they are never repeated.

Thank you.