04 September / 2015


In recent years, humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons have become one of the “hottest” subjects on international arms control and disarmament agenda. The message saying that “awareness of the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons must underpin all approaches and efforts towards nuclear disarmament” is aggressively promoted on different international forums, and references to “humanitarian aspects” are systematically incorporated into non-proliferation or arms control documents regardless of their actual subject.

This aggressive campaign brings its results. Joint Statement on the humanitarian consequences delivered by Austria at the 2015 NPT Review Conference has received some 170 signatures of non-nuclear weapon states, while the consequent “Humanitarian Pledge” was signed by 113. So, there seems to be a solid majority behind this idea, and its promoters claim that “majority may not be wrong”.

Democratic rules being what they are, majority is supposed to enjoy a clear advantage. But minority also has a right to express its opinion, and in this particular case the minority includes the nuclear-weapon states that are directly concerned by the developments in this area.

As an nuclear-weapon state, Russia has a practical first-hand experience with nuclear weapons. It includes lessons learned from more than 700 nuclear explosions of different types that took place on our soil and 70 years of exposure to a risk of nuclear attack. It also includes history of building efficient military deterrence and “civil defense” capacity intended to deal with the immediate consequences of a nuclear strike. Given this experience, the presumptions underpinning the notion of “humanitarian consequences” are far from being indisputable. From our point of view they contain a number of understatements, overstatements and, what is the most important, “subject substitutions”.

For instance, assertion that “no State or international body could address the immediate humanitarian emergency caused by a nuclear weapon detonation” seems to be an understatement, for it does not take into account long-standing nation-wide programs intended to reduce damage of eventual nuclear attacks that exist in certain countries. Their core element is building and maintaining that very adequate emergency relief capacity that is denied by supporters of “humanitarian” initiatives. Countries without such programs may also have a robust relief capacity that should not be underestimated. Japan’s coping with Fukushima disaster is a living proof.

Assertion that any detonation of nuclear weapon will have catastrophic humanitarian consequences is an example of an overstatement. Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki there have been more than 2000 recorded nuclear explosions. With some very rare exceptions, operational nuclear weapons were detonated. Surely, nuclear tests did no good to environment and to the health of those who were exposed to their effects. There is no doubt that every case of irradiation is a human tragedy, but from our point of view it is not sufficient for making global conclusions and coining them into catchy political slogans.

Our main concern with “humanitarian aspects” is “subject substitution”. This school of thought shifts the purpose of nuclear disarmament, pretending its ultimate goal is to fulfill certain humanitarian requirements. Such interpretation makes it possible to take the issue out of historical, strategic and legal contexts and to create a one-sided and biased picture that is presented as universal truth.

We can not agree with these exercises. The purpose of nuclear disarmament is strengthening security. This evident fact is reflected in the formula contained in the Action Plan adopted by consensus at the 2010 NPT Review Conference. It stipulates that nuclear disarmament should be pursued “in a way that promotes international stability, peace and security, and based on the principle of undiminished and increased security for all”. Russia is committed to this formula and invites all NPT Member-States to use it as guidance.

Shifting nuclear disarmament priorities may have serious negative consequences. Focusing the agenda on humanitarian matters may divert – and is already diverting – public attention away from much more relevant issues that negatively affect today international peace and stability. They include unilateral deployment of global strategic missile defense, creation of conventional long-distance high-precision weapons that in certain cases may substitute for nuclear bombs and missiles, persistent risk of weapons being deployed in space, aggravating disparities in the area of conventional weapons etc. These subjects clearly do not get all the attention they need. Loss of public attention also reduces incentives to ratify the CTBT and bring it into force. As for the task of creating appropriate conditions for further nuclear weapon reductions, that should be the top priority in this area, it is completely neglected.

Meanwhile, developments in these areas are critically important for nuclear arms control. So, “humanitarian aspects” that currently overshadow everything begin in fact to jeopardize prospects for any further progress in the area of nuclear disarmament. It is a very disturbing trend that needs to be reversed.

Each of the P5 countries fully understands the serious consequences of nuclear weapon use. Our utmost goal is to avoid any such contingency. We strive to achieve it through strengthening international peace and stability, promoting nuclear arms control, carrying out reductions and limitations of our nuclear arsenals and correspondingly adapting our military doctrines and security concepts. We are strongly convinced that it is in the interest of all nations to assure that nuclear war should never be fought, for there can be no winners in such a conflict.

Russia is in total agreement with the signatories of the Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons that it is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again. In this context it is noteworthy that we have never used our nuclear weapons against any other State. Their only purpose is deterrence, that is to say, prevention of military conflicts. Our Military doctrine stipulates that possibility to use nuclear weapons may considered only in two cases of utmost emergency – for retaliation when Russia is attacked with weapons of mass destruction or in case of massive conventional attack when the country’s very existence is at stake.

Difference lies in the choice of means. “Humanitarian” initiatives target one particular type of weapons. We take a much broader approach aimed at preventing nuclear conflicts in general as well as conventional conflicts that may degenerate into nuclear war. In the case of Hiroshima, “humanitarian” concern is about banning dropping nuclear bombs on cities. This leaves aside numerous cases of massive civilian casualties by conventional weapons, including, for instance, the March 10 1945 Tokyo bombing that made over 80 000 victims.

As for us, we inscribe this tragic event in overall context of WWII and war in Pacific in particular. We try to understand when and why international security mechanisms failed, opening way to a chain of consecutive actions and counteractions that culminated in nuclear explosions. We also want to realize what can be done to prevent such occurrences from ever happening again, for this is the most important lesson that can be drawn from the disasters that took place in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 years ago.

We are open to serious and substantive discussion with proponents of “humanitarian” approach. We share their aspiration to live in a stable and secure world free of weapons of mass destruction. But avoiding real problems related to nuclear disarmament and replacing them with artificial agenda will hardly be helpful in trying to reach this goal.