It warmed my heart when Pakistani media gave major attention to this year’s Nobel Peace Prize event in Oslo on 10 December. One newspaper had a photo from the elegant award ceremony on the front page, with the Norwegian Queen congratulating the winners. Why was I surprised and glad to see Pakistani media covering the event so well, after all it was a big event under any circumstance?
It was simply because the winner of ‘the world’s most prestigious prize’ this year was an organization that works for the abolition of nuclear weapons, eventually making it illegal – for all countries – to possess such weapons of mass destruction, not to speak of using them. Pakistan is a nuclear power, and one might expect that the Nobel Peace Prize winner would have been given less prominent coverage.
ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, is certainly a worthy winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Everyone says that, also most of those who disagree with ICAN. Ideally and ultimately, we should have a world without nuclear weapons, they would say. But as seen from a real political perspective, we cannot abolish them now or any time soon. NATO’s 29 member countries are for keeping the nuclear weapons. As a matter of fact, NATO is currently in a phase of rearmament and modernisation of its arsenals.
Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg generously congratulated ICAN on the prize, but she also said that Norway was not supporting the abolition of nuclear weapons, and she was abroad on 10 December. NATO’s secretary general is the immediate former Norwegian Prime Minister, and he, too, is indeed against abolition of nuclear weapons. Of course, if he were, he would have had to resign from his NATO; the same goes for any prime minister in the organization’s member countries. The Western countries, along with all countries with nuclear capability, are an obstacle to ICAN’s success.
Most countries have signed agreements against chemical and biological weapons, landmines and cluster bombs, and other particularly cruel weapons that would effect and target civilians. Nuclear weapons, which are even crueler weapon and effect larger numbers of civilians indiscriminately, if ever used again, have not been banned.
ICAN has said that irresponsible leaders could come into power in any of the nuclear powers. It says there is a greater risk for the use of nuclear weapons now than during the Cold War, making reference to the North Korea-USA situation, with open hostility between the leaders of the two countries. On the other hand, I believe it is very unlikely that nuclear weapons will be used.
And then, let me be more optimistic than that. Half a year ago, many countries voted in the United Nations General Assembly for the abolition of nuclear weapons, and much credit went to ICAN. Furthermore, it is in the United Nations’ mandate to work for a peaceful world, where conflicts within and between countries are solved peacefully, without wars and armed conflicts, indeed without the use of nuclear weapons.
Many would say that the UN has not done enough to promote disarmament and the abolition of nuclear weapons. However, the UN Security Council’s permanent members all have nuclear weapons, so what can we expect? Many countries have agreements with the ‘old world powers’ through NATO, and some other countries have obtained nuclear weapons over the years, including Pakistan.
The Non-proliferation Treaty of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) of 1968, effective from 1970, is an important instrument against the spread of nuclear weapons. Some would say that it is a sufficient instrument, although some countries, indeed Pakistan and India, both obtained nuclear capability after the treaty came into effect and are also not members of NPT; Israel, South Sudan and North Korea are also not members. India became the world’s sixth nuclear power in 1974, following China in 1968; the original nuclear powers are USA, Soviet Union (now Russia), Great Britain and France. Pakistan became a nuclear power in 1998. It is argued that its nuclear capability is a stabilizing factor on the Sub-continent, and that Pakistan is safer due to its nuclear status. It should be underlined that India and Pakistan have a non-nuclear aggression agreement, and they have also pledged not to attack, or assist foreign powers to attack, on each other’s nuclear facilities and installations. But what is termed the ‘no-first use’ doctrine has not been adopted by the countries.
It is my opinions that Pakistan and India will – and indeed should – grow closer in the future to enhance development in both countries. Hence, the issue of maintaining and modernising the costly nuclear weapons must become less important. The Kashmir issue remains the main stumbling block. I believe that entirely new approaches need to be found to solve that sad and dragged-out issue. The two large neighbours and the region must find peaceful ways of living together, in line with the Kashmiri people’s desire for self-determination, balanced with the interests of the whole region and world. Some form of joint jurisdiction, with neighbours and the international community may be a (transitional) way ahead, also suggested by the Norwegian Peace Professor Johan Galtung and others.
Recently, I attended a conference in Islamabad about the Pakistan-US relations, organized by a think called Pakistan House, and many seemed to be worried about less Americans in Pakistan and Afghanistan. If that is the case, I would consider it positive. It remains a fact that most issues can only be sorted within and between countries; superpowers are often a hindrance if they have heavy footprints. Smaller countries and organizations, on the other hand, can be helpful in facilitating solutions, and the superpowers and major powers should be consulted.
It is in many ways a contradiction that USA is allowed to be one of the main watchdogs on nuclear weapons and on other global and sub-regional issues. Being the only country that has used nuclear weapons, many would say that it should be disqualified from such a role.
ICAN has said that there are powerful forces against its campaign, but quietly and secretly, most leaders probably agree with its aims, but they cannot say it. If the campaign, or rather another broad campaign for peace on earth gained massive support, then we might see a much stronger opposition to that. It would hit the centre of much of the Western arms industry and innovation, with export to countries all over the world. It would hit fundamental aspects of capitalism, the world’s current economic system. Some would be more comfortable with a large, popular anti-nuclear movement than a real peace movement.
As Christmas approaches, a time of year when peace is high in the minds of ordinary people, as it always is at Eid celebrations, too, let us all think about how we can contribute to peace on earth – beginning with ourselves, widening it to our children and youth, but also those in power, and obviously, the old people, who can tell us about the importance of peace, justice and equality – the way that the Hiroshima nuclear bombing survivor Setsuko Thurlow (85) did at the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony in Oslo last Sunday, as she has done for years and decades before. May we listen to her voice, to ordinary people, to our heart and mind, and to God’s voice in us!
The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.