Remarks upon 77th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

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Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki Online Forum

77 years ago today, an atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. Three days earlier, on the 6th of August 1945, the same fate had befallen the people of Hiroshima.  Tens of thousands died instantly. In the years that followed 340,000 people – overwhelmingly civilians –succumbed to the attacks. We remember them today.

But it’s more than just numbers. The horrors unleased have been well-documented – we have heard them many times -  but it is important that we take time to remember the impact of those weapons, especially on this day.

Survivors recall a sudden, blinding light that penetrated everything. Then heat, so hot people could not breathe, then the blast wave that flattened buildings, spread fires, and destroyed both cities. We’ve all seen the photos.

Some victims were vaporised, leaving behind only their blackened shadows scorched into the ground – the so-called “Hiroshima shadows”.  Others suffered severe burns, many others radiation sickness that caused haemorrhaging and organ failure.   And help was not at hand – how could it be?  ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolosh Nuclear Weapons, has reported that 90% of physicians and nurses were themselves killed or injured, that almost all hospitals were rendered non-functional, and that 70% of victims had combined injuries – mostly involving severe burns. Truly hell on earth.

As in past years, it’s important that we honour the victims of these attacks, and we repeat and amplify the message of the survivors: nuclear weapons are an unacceptable and inhumane weapon by their very nature, and their very existence should be abolished.  

And we also heed the message of our neighbours in the Pacific, who too have first-hand experience of the horrors of nuclear weapons. We stand with our brothers and sisters across the region in demanding justice for the nuclear testing regimes they experienced in the decades that followed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

On all days, but especially on this day, let us be clear: as long as nuclear weapons exist, the prospect of nuclear war remains all too real. And the consequences would be worse, far worse, than even that which was experienced in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Nuclear war would create a humanitarian emergency almost beyond our imagination: death and destruction, a health crisis, an environmental catastrophe, and complete economic collapse. Indeed, human survival itself would be in the very balance.

We know this to be true. And yet nine countries still possess a total of 13,000 nuclear weapons. And this 52 years, yes 52 years, after the recognised Nuclear Weapon States made commitments on nuclear disarmament by agreeing, alongside 186 other countries, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT.

There has, of course, been important progress in that time. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was negotiated. Arms control agreements have been made. Commitments have been made, including the “unequivocal undertaking” by the Nuclear Weapons States to achieve the total elimination of nuclear weapons.  And arsenals have come down a long way from their Cold War peaks.

But, it is not enough. Nuclear Weapons States need to do more, and do it faster, to honour the obligations and commitments they have made under the NPT. Just last week I was in New York for the high-level segment of the NPT Review Conference. In my statement I observed that we still seem far from a world without nuclear weapons, and in danger of moving backwards.

I noted that transparency is in decline, the trend of stockpile reductions on the verge of reversal, that all nuclear weapon states have modernisation programmes underway, and the military doctrines of these states continue to reflect an undiminished reliance on nuclear weapons.

I also referred to the dangerous nuclear rhetoric from Russia in the lead up to and following its illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine – an invasion which has also shattered the concept of negative security assurances. New Zealand condemns Russia’s actions in the strongest possible terms.

I concluded my remarks by emphasising that progress on disarmament cannot be deferred any longer, whatever other challenges we are facing nationally, regionally or as an international community, we simply must make progress.

That was also the message I took to the First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in June. 

We continue to see the TPNW as the most positive and promising development in nuclear disarmament in a long time.  I am proud of the TPNW and of the role New Zealand played in making it real. At the meeting in June, the sixty-six States Parties of the TPNW sent a message regarding the necessary and urgent elimination of nuclear weapons.

The meeting also made great practical progress, including on extending the partnership between states and civil society, agreeing an intersessional structure and action plan, and creating a Scientific Advisory Group.

The resulting Vienna Declaration has been described by ICAN as “the strongest multilateral statement on nuclear weapons of all time”.

This was an important message to send, including ahead of the NPT Review Conference. I hope that all countries, and in particular the nuclear weapon states, will heed our message, and will step up and deliver concrete progress on nuclear disarmament as an outcome on 26 August.

New Zealand will continue to work with partners across the globe in pursuit of the vision of a world without nuclear weapons. 

Achieving that vision is the only way to truly honour the victims that perished on the mornings of 6 August 1945 in Hiroshima and three days later on 9 August 1945 in Nagasaki, and all those whom have suffered from nuclear tests in the decades that followed.  

To all of the victims, the Hibakusha [hee -bah-koo-sha], your courage and strength continues to inspire our mission.