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Nuclear weapons ban negotiations resume in New York

The final round of nuclear weapons ban negotiations is underway this week in New York. Tadateru Kanoe, President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, talks to the importance of banning these weapons of mass destruction.

Thursday June 15, 2017

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"The simple truth is that there will be no winner in a nuclear war."

Children on the west coast of Japan have started rehearsing for a missile attack. In scenes that inevitably recall the peak of Cold War paranoia and fear, teachers usher their students into gymnasiums, urging them to remain calm as they await news of a hypothetical bomb blast.  

The fear of a nuclear strike, and of the nuclear war that would likely follow, has returned to our schools, to our offices, to our homes. Heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula have brought to light again the dangers of a world where there are more than 1,800 nuclear weapons on high alert, ready to launch at any time.

This fear comes with great uncertainty. No one knows if an attack will happen, no one knows when. But there is one thing we can be absolutely certain about.

We, as a global community, are utterly and completely ill-equipped to deal with the horrible consequences of such an attack. Were a nuclear bomb to hit a city or population centre, tens of thousands of lives - maybe more - would be wiped out in a cruel instant. But many, many more would survive, though their suffering would be indescribable.

There are no effective or feasible means to assist any significant portion of survivors in the wake of a nuclear detonation.

Hospitals and other medical infrastructure would be gone. Doctors and nurses would be among the dead and wounded; those still alive left with nothing with which to do their work. Roads and transport links would be ruined, preventing help from reaching with anything approaching the speed needed. A cloud of radiation would descend, further preventing relief efforts. People would die in agony, alone. A civilization would be erased.

And make no mistake. The fallout of a future bomb would show no respect for national borders, nor would the millions of refugees fleeing the devastation and radiation.

This isn't a guess. I say all of this with absolute confidence. A confidence that comes from my decades as a humanitarian, and my life as a Japanese national. As a humanitarian, I have seen the very worst of suffering - conflict and displacement, the aftermath of natural and man-made disasters. I know that none of this - even the shores of Aceh following the tsunami - would even begin to compare with a nuclear aftermath.

I know what the international community can do to mount a humanitarian response. It wouldn't be enough - not even close.

As a Japanese man, I know the lingering consequences of a nuclear attack. Today, 72 years after the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, our Red Cross hospitals are still treating the cancer and leukemia of the people affected by bombings. People have endured life-long stigmatization. For many, many families, those bombs have not stopped exploding.

The consequences of modern nuclear weapons would be so much worse.

I am writing all this not to alarm, but to plainly state the facts. Our world is not rational, and the risk of even one launch, one mistake, one accident is incomprehensible.

There is a chance, though - a hope. The negotiations taking place this week in New York to develop a global treaty that would prohibit the use of nuclear weapons, and lead to their eventual elimination, is a sign that wisdom can still prevail. We urge all States to seize this opportunity. We understand the complexity involved in such negotiations, and the mistrust and political realities that are ever present.

The simple truth is that there will be no winner in a nuclear war.

But we can choose a world that is free from this fear, where our children don't have to face their fragile mortality in school gymnasiums, or under their desks. We really have no other choice.