Last week, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
This is a coalition of NGO’s from over 100 countries, which has led the charge to convince nations to outlaw nuclear weapons.
The committee honored ICAN for “its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”
In July, prodded by ICAN, the world took a legal step toward global nuclear disarmament with the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, meant to legally prohibit atomic arms. More than 100 countries have signed the treaty, though none of the eight acknowledged nuclear powers have. (Israel, which is presumed to have nuclear weapons, has also not signed the treaty.) With ratification by 50 states, nukes would be legally prohibited.
In a post on its Facebook page, ICAN called the award an honor, adding, “This is a time of great global tension, when fiery rhetoric could all too easily lead us, inexorably, to unspeakable horror. The spectre of nuclear conflict looms large once more. If ever there were a moment for nations to declare their unequivocal opposition to nuclear weapons, that moment is now.”
If you’ve been to a Pax Christi or anti-nuclear weapons meeting in New Zealand you’ll see that almost all of the remaining activists are well into their sixties and most are in their seventies. Many have been to jail on their youth, and their journals are full of arcane and edgy activists with very tough stories. Sit down for a decent conversation with them and you will learn a lot about how to live a faithful life to the fullest.
The Nobel committee’s propitious timing to the honour was quite pointed. The United States and North Korea, both nuclear powers, have been , and U.S. President Donald Trump has hinted at a willingness to wage nuclear war.
The Trump administration is trying to jettison or at least overhaul the 2015 deal with Iran that pushed back its nuclear weapons development by at least a decade. And Trump himself has called for a more robust nuclear arsenal, publicly comparing the aged U.S. nuclear deterrent with Russia’s.
ICAN was not shy about pointing out the widespread concern Trump’s rhetoric has spawned. “The election of President Donald Trump has made a lot of people feel very uncomfortable with the fact that he alone can authorize the use of nuclear weapons,” said Beatrice Fihn, the group’s executive director. “There are no right hands for nuclear weapons.”
The aim of a legal prohibition across all nations is to establish a norm similar to those other banned weapons, and to exert an influence over time. It may appear unlikely in the current formation of world affairs, but ICAN and the Nobel Committee are sending strong signals that rebuke nuclear warmongering and promote the eradication of nuclear weapons for all time.
It’s been a long, long time since our country took a leadership position on this, but for those activists who continue, Sweden’s Nobel Committee’s honour will encourage them to keep at it.