Sunday 22 July 2018

An end of nuclear arms would be fitting memory to Hiroshima victims

People wait to float candle lit lanterns to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
People wait to float candle lit lanterns to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

Charlie Flanagan

At 8.15 am, August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

In that moment, the world witnessed devastation wrought by a destructive power that was on a scale which was previously unimaginable. Today we know that the destruction went far beyond what was seen that day.

Altogether, some 150,000 civilians were either vaporised or suffered an agonising, lingering death in Hiroshima; a further 75,000 people died as a result of the bombing of Nagasaki. Hundreds of thousands more were injured. The effects have spanned generations.

In March last year, my department - in collaboration with the Royal Irish Academy, University College Cork and the Embassy of Japan - hosted an international Disarmament Education Symposium, at which we were privileged to hear a survivor of Hiroshima, Setsuko Thurlow, give her moving and harrowing account of the human suffering in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

Her experience of the terror and indiscriminate destruction bore eloquent testimony to the catastrophic humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

Some 17,000 of these weapons still exist today. We know that even a limited nuclear exchange would kill tens of thousands of civilians, cause devastating environmental damage, harm many other regions, jeopardise global food production and possibly cause famine in parts of the world.

In a message to the most recent Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: "The more we understand about the humanitarian impacts, the more it becomes clear that we must pursue disarmament as an urgent imperative".

Independent evidence presented at recent international conferences - based only on declassified information which has been made public - shows that the risks of a nuclear weapon detonation are far greater than we had realised. The research also shows that the world's capacity to respond to such a catastrophe is seriously inadequate.

Independent research has also found that a nuclear detonation would disproportionately affect women and girls. It was for this reason, at my instigation, that Ireland, working with other concerned states, organised a successful event at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference last May in New York. This event highlighted the link between gender and nuclear weapons, a previously under-reported aspect in the debates surrounding these weapons.

Our event examined gender and nuclear weapons from the dual perspective of the disproportionate effect of nuclear weapons on women and the need for women's voices to be heard and given equal weight in the debate about nuclear weapons.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Ireland's membership of the United Nations. Ireland initiated the Resolutions at the UN which led to the negotiation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. We have an abiding interest in ensuring that the provisions of the Treaty are honoured and implemented in full.

Ireland remains a strong and committed voice in the essential effort to achieve a world free from the shadow cast by nuclear weapons. We have worked and will continue to work with like-minded countries in the New Agenda Coalition of which we are founder members and with other countries and civil society to achieve this goal. We are duty-bound and, I would argue, Treaty-bound to do so.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was borne out of concern about the human cost of a nuclear weapons explosion. This original rationale must remain central to our present deliberations. Advancing the cause of nuclear disarmament is central to one of the five signature foreign policies which my department pursues on behalf of Ireland.

It is why Ireland, along with more than 110 other nations, has endorsed the Humanitarian Pledge, "affirming that it is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances".

It is why we will continue to support and strive to strengthen the international non-proliferation regime, including the recent historic accord reached between Iran and the P5+1 and the EU, which we warmly welcome. It is why we work for urgent discussions on legal pathways to hasten nuclear disarmament.

The threat posed by nuclear weapons remains real, and the risks of a nuclear detonation - whether it occurs by accident or design - are ever-present and greater than we thought. As we remember the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, surely the best way to honour their memory is to see to it that nuclear weapons are never deployed again. The only way to ensure that that never comes to pass is to secure the elimination of nuclear weapons once and for all.

We owe it that to the ­generations to come.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, TD

Irish Independent

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