While there are fewer nuclear weapons today than during the Cold War, the number of states which possess them has increased. Since more actors are involved, there is greater potential for mishap or misunderstanding, and greater risk that a weapon could be detonated, either intentionally or accidentally. We also know that proliferation leads to further proliferation, with the result that even more states, non-state actors and networks may today be trying to acquire nuclear weapons.
Against this backdrop, it is legitimate for anyone living on our planet to ask: what would the consequences be for human beings, our societies and the environment should these weapons ever be used again? And just as importantly, could we cope with the consequences, and if so, how?
On 4–5 March 2013, Norway organised a conference in Oslo to explore these questions. The aim of the conference was to facilitate a facts-based and open discussion about nuclear weapons detonations, their humanitarian consequences, and our ability to offer sufficient and timely assistance to affected populations. 128 states, the ICRC, several UN humanitarian organisations, and a large number of civil society representatives participated in the discussions.
The conference was a reminder that nuclear weapons represent a profound humanitarian challenge for us all. They have the potential to affect all states, directly or indirectly. We are all stakeholders. At present, no state or international body would be able to adequately address the humanitarian emergency caused by a nuclear weapon detonation. Due to the characteristics of nuclear weapons, it may not even be possible to develop the capability to address a humanitarian emergency of this kind.
With a view to disseminating the knowledge presented at the conference in Oslo, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs commissioned the International Law and Policy Institute (ILPI) to prepare this report. The report presents some of the humanitarian consequences that can be expected from any use of nuclear weapons, based on the conference’s findings, and explains why the world’s ability to assist those affected by a nuclear detonation is likely to be inadequate.
It is not only our moral duty to do our utmost to prevent a potential nuclear catastrophe. It is also clearly in our best interest. It is therefore my hope that the knowledge presented in this report will inspire further critical and constructive discussions on how the issue of nuclear weapons in international relations can be addressed.
See the report.