Australia should lead a global nuclear weapons ban
Sixty-six years ago today the face of civilization was changed forever, when a nuclear bomb almost incinerated the Japanese city of Hiroshima, instantly killing tens of thousands of people.
By the end of the decade that bomb – and another bomb dropped on nearby Nagasaki – had claimed the lives of half a million people.
This year on Hiroshima Day, 6 August 2011, Australian Red Cross begins a campaign to re-ignite the push for a ban on the use of nuclear weapons – calling on young Australians from all walks of life to finish what their parents started.
We want Australia to lead the world in a renewed call for an unequivocal ban on the use of nuclear weapons.
The anti-nuclear weapons debate helped define a generation in the 60s and 70s, but fizzled out before concrete change was achieved. Since then there has been an alarming proliferation in the production of nuclear weapons, and today, in 2011, more than ever they are a uniquely destructive threat to the future of humanity.
It is estimated there are at least 20,000 nuclear weapons in existence worldwide, about 3,000 of them on a launch-ready alert. Combined they have a destructive force equivalent to around 150,000 Hiroshima bombs.
If even one of those nuclear weapons were to be used, the humanitarian and environmental consequences would be devastating; not contained in time or space.
A nuclear conflict would not only result in an enormous loss of life, but also the destruction of huge tracts of land, mass starvation and the disruption of global food distribution.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has a unique relationship to the laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions, and Australian Red Cross believes it has a duty to use that relationship to draw attention to the horrific humanitarian consequences the world would face if a nuclear weapon were ever used again.
In the years since Hiroshima the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has, again and again, voiced its concern about the use of nuclear weapons.
In 1950 the International Committee of the Red Cross called on States to take all steps they could to reach agreement on the prohibition of such weapons. And as recently as 2009 the Movement called on countries to pursue the elimination of nuclear weapons with “determination and urgency”.
The people and governments of the world have shown that progress can be made by putting in place significant new international humanitarian law conventions targeting land mines and cluster munitions, but the challenge of nuclear weapons has so far eluded us.
The creation of a convention banning the use of nuclear weapons is one step toward ending the nuclear era, and, building on the principles of international humanitarian law, it would help stigmatise these uniquely destructive weapons.
In his final major address, Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed concern about nuclear weapons, as one of the major threats facing mankind.
His words: ‘… The world is not only sleepwalking towards disaster. In truth, it is worse than that – we are asleep at the controls of a fast-moving aircraft. Unless we wake up and take control, the outcome is all too predictable.’
Seven decades on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still live with the psychological and physical scars of those terrible events of 1945. Australian Red Cross believes it is time to re-ignite the fervor of those who marched for change all those years ago, and to call on the humanitarian and social conscience of a new generation.
We want to ensure the world never again has to face the horrific humanitarian fallout of another Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
The debate about nuclear weapons is ultimately about human beings, our environment and the future of humanity. Despite its overwhelming humanitarian appeal, convincing countries to ban the use of nuclear weapons will not be without challenges.
This should not deter us. It is time for the global community – Australians included – to decide if we want nuclear weapons to continue to be a threat to our future, or to become part of our history.
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