67th session of the United Nations General Assembly First Committee
Joint Statement on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament
New York, 22 October 2012
I am taking the floor on behalf of the 34 Member States Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, the Philippines, Samoa, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Thailand, Uruguay, Zambia, and Switzerland, as well as the Observer State Holy See.
Our countries are deeply concerned about the humanitarian consequences that any use of nuclear weapons would have. We welcome the increased attention that this issue has received over the last few years. The 2010 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons expressed its “deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons” and reaffirmed “the need for all States at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law”. We feel encouraged that consideration of this issue has garnered greater prominence in a number of General Assembly resolutions and in other fora since 2010.
Serious concerns related to the humanitarian implications of nuclear weapons have been voiced repeatedly. When the horrific consequences of their use became apparent in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) took a clear position calling for the abolition of these weapons of “extermination”.
The sheer horror of the use of nuclear weapons informed the very first resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1946 and was later reflected in key multilateral documents. The NPT Preamble refers to the “devastation that would be visited upon all mankind by a nuclear war and the consequent need to make every effort to avert the danger of such a war and to take measures to safeguard the security of peoples”. The First Special Session of the General Assembly devoted to Disarmament (SSOD-1) stressed in 1978 that nuclear weapons pose the greatest danger to mankind and to the survival of civilization. Several decades after their adoption, these expressions of concern are as pertinent as ever and will remain so for as long as nuclear weapons remain.
If such weapons were to be used, be it intentionally or accidentally, immense humanitarian consequences would be unavoidable. As the ICRC has already concluded, international organisations providing emergency relief would be unable to fulfill their mandates. In addition to the immediate fatalities, survivors of the horrendous effects of a nuclear explosion would endure immeasurable suffering. Studies have shown that the radiation released by even a single nuclear weapon would affect populations, agriculture and natural resources over a very wide area and also constitute a very real threat for future generations. Further studies conclude that even a “limited nuclear exchange” – in itself a contradiction in terms – would cause a global climate change with such a serious and long-lasting impact on the environment and food production that it could cause a global famine affecting over a billion people.
Nuclear weapons have the destructive capacity to pose a threat to the survival of humanity and as long as they continue to exist the threat to humanity will remain. This, in addition to the perceived political value and prestige attached by some States to these weapons, are factors that encourage proliferation and non-compliance with international obligations. Moreover, it is of great concern that, even after the end of the Cold War, the threat of nuclear annihilation remains part of the 21st century international security environment.
The utility of these instruments of mass destruction in confronting traditional security challenges has been rightly questioned by many States as well as by civil society experts. Moreover, nuclear weapons are useless in addressing current challenges such as poverty, health, climate change, terrorism or transnational crime. In times of decreasing funds available for social welfare, health care or education, using vast financial resources each year for the retention, modernisation and expansion of nuclear arsenals would appear to be at odds with our collective responsibility in accordance with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. The choice should be clear.
The grave humanitarian concerns resulting from the unique destructive capacity and uncontrollable effects in space and time of nuclear weapons also raise important legal issues. All rules of international humanitarian law apply fully to nuclear weapons, notably the rules of distinction, proportionality and precaution, as well as the prohibition on causing superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering and the prohibition against causing widespread, severe and long-term damage to the environment. In November last year, the Council of Delegates of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement adopted a Resolution emphasizing not only the incalculable human suffering resulting from any use of nuclear weapons but also stressing that it is difficult to envisage how any use of nuclear weapons could be compatible with the rules of international humanitarian law.
It is of utmost importance that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances. The only way to guarantee this is the total, irreversible and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons, under effective international control, including through the full implementation of Article VI of the NPT. All States must intensify their efforts to outlaw nuclear weapons and achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. Civil society plays a crucial role in raising the awareness about the devastating humanitarian consequences as well as the critical IHL implications of nuclear weapons.
The catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons concern the community of States as a whole. Accordingly, the United Nations General Assembly has a particularly important role in addressing this matter in a comprehensive fashion.
Thank you for your attention.
Aim for nuclear disarmament
By MASAYOSHI HAMADA
Special to The Japan Times, 2012-10-27
Every year, the member states of the United Nations gather in New York to debate disarmament, both conventional and nuclear. While the military and technical aspects of nuclear disarmament have been discussed at length, little attention has been paid to the humanitarian aspects — what happens to real people when nuclear weapons are used. On Oct. 22, a group of 34 nations led by Switzerland issued a joint statement that called for a renewed focus on this question.
The statement, submitted to the First Committee of the U.N. General Assembly, referred to the "immense humanitarian consequences" of the use of nuclear weapons, as was seen in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and declared that the only way to guarantee that such suffering is not repeated is "the total, irreversible and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons." The group of 34 states calls on all governments to "intensify their efforts to outlaw nuclear weapons and achieve a world free of nuclear weapons."
It is deeply disappointing that the Japanese government decided not to be part of this effort, declining to sign the statement when asked. Concerned by the attitude of the Japanese government toward this emerging initiative, Komeito, to which I belong, made an urgent appeal to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Oct. 18 in which we called on the government to reconsider its decision and lend its voice to the statement. We also raised this matter in the House of Councillors (Upper House) the following day.
Questioned about the decision, Naoki Kazama, parliamentary vice minister for foreign affairs, replied that parts of the statement were not in line with Japan's national security policy. His reply seemed to directly reflect Japan's National Defense Program Guidelines, which state: "as long as nuclear weapons exist, the extended deterrence provided by the United States, with nuclear deterrent as a vital element, will be indispensable." Kazama also noted that Japan is the only nation which has experienced the wartime use of atomic weapons, and has endeavored to make the consequences of actual use of nuclear weapons known internationally.
Japan's relationship to nuclear weapons has always been deeply ambiguous, if not contradictory. On the one hand, there is a widespread sense that we, as a nation, have a special responsibility to work to prevent nuclear weapons from ever being used again. No one, of course, feels this more intensely than the hibakusha (sufferers of the atomic bombings) themselves. Their efforts to spread awareness of the inhumane nature of these weapons have been motivated by the determination that the suffering they and their families have endured should never be visited on anyone else, anywhere in the world.
At the same time, Japan has relied on the "extended deterrence" — the nuclear umbrella — of the United States as a cornerstone of its security policy. As more and more voices are raised globally calling for a world without nuclear weapons, the contradictions of Japan's position are coming to a head.
Does the call to "intensify efforts" toward a nuclear-free world in fact conflict with Japan's present and future security interests?
In recent years, fears of nuclear proliferation and terrorism have prompted a number of former senior officials within the nuclear-weapon states to call for their elimination. In his famous April 2009 Prague speech, U.S. President Barack Obama stated that his government's policy was to "seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons."
In this context, signing this statement — carefully worded to accommodate the interests of America's North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies Norway and Denmark — would be a step to the realization of a policy that Japan has repeatedly called for and which our closest ally has publicly embraced.
Mayor Tomihisa Taue of Nagasaki made these points in an interview after a meeting with the Foreign Ministry on Oct. 19, where he also urged Japan's participation in the statement.
If Japan cannot take such a small but practical step, what is the purpose of the disarmament education the Japanese government has been promoting per Kazama's response to parliamentary questioning?
Recent research has made clear that even a "limited" exchange of nuclear hostilities would have a devastating impact on the planet's climate, producing crop failures and famine thousands of kilometers from the war zone. The inhumane nature of nuclear weapons — the indiscriminate impact on civilian populations, the long-term destruction of the natural and human environment — must serve as a rallying call for those who seek their elimination.
As U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon stated in August, "The elimination of such weapons is not just a visionary goal, but the most reliable way to prevent their future use."
Japan, as the only nation to have experienced the use of nuclear weapons in war, has a special responsibility to embrace this vision and to take practical steps for its realization.
Masayoshi Hamada is a Komeito member of the House of Councillors and former parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs.
The Japan Times: Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012. (C) All rights reserved