The vile suffering inflicted by poison gas on soldiers in World War I so horrified the world that chemical weapons were banned just seven years after the end of the Great War.
But in the next world conflict, an even more indiscriminate and inhuman weapon was thrown. The nuclear explosions decimated two Japanese cities as if they had been “swept away by a supernatural power”, wrote Dr. Marcel Junod, doctor of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) after his visit to Hiroshima.
The doctor quickly concluded that, like poison gas after World War I, nuclear weapons, too, must be banned outright. “Only a unified world policy can save the world from destruction,” he wrote. In 1950, approximately 340,000 people had died from the effects of these two bombs.
For more than 75 years, almost half of the 158 years of the ICRC’s existence, we have advocated for the elimination of nuclear weapons for one simple reason: we do not believe that they can be used without inflicting death. and significant suffering to civilians.
That’s why January 22, 2021 is such a memorable day for us. This is the day the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty (TPNW) comes into force.
This day is nothing less than a victory for humanity. Seventy-five years after nuclear bombs caused the worst horror of war on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world’s most recent multilateral treaty bans nuclear weapons. It bans the use, threat of use, development, production, testing and stockpiling of nuclear weapons, formalizing in law a firmly entrenched taboo against the use of nuclear weapons and further discouraging their use. proliferation.
The TPNW is also the first international law instrument to mitigate the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons by requiring states that have suffered a nuclear explosion to provide medical care to victims within their territory.
What the treaty clearly does not do is magically wipe out the current nuclear arsenal from the world. Indeed, it would be naive to expect the TPNW to deliver a world without nuclear weapons tomorrow. Rather, the new treaty should be seen as the moral and legal starting point of a long-term effort to achieve nuclear disarmament. We must now work to ensure the widest possible respect for the treaty prohibitions.
The nine nuclear-weapon states of the world possess more than 13,000 nuclear bombs, with command and control networks vulnerable to human error and cyber attacks. Many of these warheads are far more powerful than those dropped in 1945, which killed more than 100,000 people, including 1,924 of Hiroshima’s 2,080 doctors and nurses. This is the reality we are facing.
Even though the horror of nuclear detonation may seem like a distant story, the risk today is too high. Treaties aimed at reducing arsenals are abandoned, new types of nuclear weapons are produced and serious threats are launched. It’s an arms race and it’s scary.
By setting out the pathways for their elimination, the treaty is a concrete step towards meeting long-standing nuclear disarmament obligations, including those stemming from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which desperately needs to be seen. real progress on its nuclear disarmament obligations if it is to maintain its credibility.
We urge states that possess nuclear weapons to urgently remove them from high alert status and reduce their role in their military doctrines, pending their total elimination. And we hope that every country will sooner or later be able to sign and ratify the treaty.
The passage of time may have numbed us to the devastation of a nuclear detonation. But every human being on earth should be horrified at the very thought that such a weapon could be used again.
Today we celebrate the entry into force of the TPNW. But this is only the beginning of the world’s journey to eliminate nuclear weapons. The end comes when these 13,000 nuclear weapons no longer exist.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.