ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, has won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize; it was announced from Oslo, Norway a few days ago. It was awarded to 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 achieving a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”.
“Deserved and at the right time”, said the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs. “I salute ICAN for working with such commitment and creativity”, said Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary General. “With your support, we can take ICAN its full distance – all the way to zero nuclear weapons”, said Desmond Tutu, Nobel Laureate. “I can imagine a world without nuclear weapons, and I support ICAN”, said Dalai Lama, Nobel Laureate.
In Japan, the only country to suffer an atomic bombing in the closing days of the Second World War, Sunao Tsuboi, a 92-year old survivor of the Hiroshima bombing said to the AP news agency that he was overjoyed to hear of the Nobel peace award going to those who were also working toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. He said that “as long as I live, I hope to work toward the realisation of a world without nuclear weapons with ICAN and many other people”.
Many were overjoyed, and many couldn’t believe what had happened, that ICAN – a modest civil society umbrella organization of 260 NGOs, with members in 60 countries and campaigns in over 100, established ten years ago – had indeed been awarded the world’s most prestigious prize for peace. In July this year, ICAN was crucial in encouraging 122 member countries vote for making nuclear weapons illegal, in the United Nations general assembly. The treaty vote was for banning the use, possession and development of the nuclear mass destruction weapons. That was a fantastic and unbelievable achievement. Yet, the prize is very much within the spirit and letter of the Nobel Peace Prize statutes.
The prize places disarmament solidly on the agenda, not only nuclear disarmament, but overall disarmament in the conventional fields too, where ban on chemical and biological weapons, landmines and other particularly cruel weapons have already been passed (although not all bans ratified by all countries). With the fast technological developments in our time, including drones, we are facing a time with yet more destructive, cruel weapons in the hands of states, and with the risk of guerrilla and terrorist organisations also gaining access to such weapons.
It is telling that none of the countries that have nuclear weapons, or the NATO member countries, supports ICAN, at least not thus far. The Netherlands is the only NATO country that has indicated their willingness to negotiate and consider ratification of the July vote in the UN – but not Norway, whose conservative government sides with the old powers in this field, along with the Norwegian secretary general of NATO, obviously; he is a former Prime Minister from Norway from the Labour Party.
However, many will say that in our time it is naive and unrealistic to discuss peace and sustainable development if we at the same time don’t keep the door ajar for the possibility of the use on nuclear weapons. That is the concept of deterrence. Therefore, many will argue that there have been fewer wars in the world due to the deterrence of the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons. Some would go as far as saying that nuclear weapons have avoided major wars.
On the other hand, the most destructive current conflicts have to do with nuclear weapons possession and capability, notably those related to Iraq, Iran, Syria, Russia, and indeed North Korea. I don’t know quite where to place India and Pakistan because I don’t believe there is really a broad conflict between the two countries; I believe that in due course, the subcontinent will find that they are actually brothers and sisters, who will benefit from living and working together just as such.
The Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1967, enforced from 1970, which bans more states from obtaining nuclear weapons, is problematic. At the end of WWII, the single country to have nuclear weapons was USA, and then came USSR in 1949, followed by UK in 1952, France in 1960, and China 1964. It was then decided that as of 1 January 1967, any country that obtained nuclear weapons was to be considered an illegitimate nuclear power. India became a nuclear power in 1974 and Pakistan in 1998. Israel is also assumed to have nuclear weapons. All 28 countries belonging to the NATO alliance have installations, but don’t keep nuclear weapons in peace time. Furthermore, other countries friendly with nuclear powers have ‘nuclear umbrella’ as protection. The regime is built on an old and outdated world order, established before the independence of the colonies and creation of new, independent states, which are now members of the UN, but none of them are, or can be, permanent members of the UN Security Council with its veto. Thus, the main promoter and watchdog of democratic development is not quite democratic itself.
Let me end my article today, as I began, congratulating and thanking ICAN. I hope that we all will take part in a revival of anti-nuclear weapons and disarmament movements – supporting international organisations led by the UN, I-NGOs, governments, various local NGOs, civil society organizations and interest groups, including faith associations. I also hope that the private sector, with the multinationals, other large companies and the many small companies, will become active in disarmament and peace activities. They too benefit from a peaceful world, that is, if they don’t engage in weapons trade and receive war profits. In future, stiffer control and ban on production and trade in weapons must be installed. Mainstream organizations must advocate peaceful sustainable development much clearer than hitherto; underling that war is always wrong and destructive. I am glad for the recent ‘Don’t Bank on the Bomb’ report, and for the Amalgamated Bank in New York, as the first US bank, having drawn attention to fundamental problems related to nuclear arms and banking.
NATO’s requirement that every member country should increase its military budgets to two percent of GDP is a terrible rearmament call, which leads the organization further on the wrong path. In our time, neither conventional nor nuclear weapons need modernisation or expansion – at all. Funds that today go to the military should be diverted to peaceful civil activities, education, health, justice, and social and economic development of welfare states for all. It is our duty, as custodians of God’s creation, to work towards reaching these goals – in our lifetime. Children and young people should benefit from peaceful activities and peaceful thinking, in accordance with the values and wishes they are born with.
The work must go on so that we can reach a peaceful and prosperous world for all. We can do it – if we will.