This research is concerned with the use of nuclear weapons against combatants in an armed conflict and whether such a use violates or would violate the principle of unnecessary suffering as codified in St. Petersburg Declaration of 1868 and the Hague Conventions. In order to analyze what constitutes unnecessary suffering the method chosen for this research is comparison of the effects of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons on the human body. The reason for choosing this method is the abhorrence and distaste amongst international society towards chemical and biological weapons. These “inhumane” weapons are also already prohibited in international law mainly on the basis of violating the principle of unnecessary suffering.
The paper deals with the physical and legal consequences of using nuclear weapons in an armed conflict. The main argument is that late effects even as a byproduct of nuclear explosion may cause “unnecessary” suffering of combatants. Even after a conflict ends these late effects continue to damage their organisms and thus prolong the suffering. On the other hand, not all nuclear weapons are the same. While a strategic use of a high-yield weapon would definitely be illegal, a tactical use of a low-yield nuclear weapon in remote areas, as anti-materiel or on high seas could limit the number of casualties and thus possibly be in compliance with the rules of international humanitarian law.