The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded on Friday to an advocacy group behind the first treaty to prohibit nuclear arms. Given the events and reckless behavior of the US and North Korea, it should be no surprise that the Nobel Committee chose to focus on a risk that literally threatens the future of our race.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons is a Geneva-based coalition of disarmament activists. It was honored with the award for its efforts to advance the negotiations that led to the treaty, which was reached in July at the United Nations.
“The organization is receiving the award for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in a statement.
At the same time, the selection of ICAN for the award called attention to the world’s nine nuclear-armed powers and their allies, who boycotted the negotiations, some denouncing the treaty as a “naïve and dangerous diversion.”
“This prize is a tribute to the tireless efforts of many millions of campaigners and concerned citizens worldwide who, ever since the dawn of the atomic age, have loudly protested nuclear weapons, insisting that they can serve no legitimate purpose and must be forever banished from the face of our earth,” ICAN said in a statement.
The United States, which with Russia has the biggest stockpile of nuclear weapons, had dismissed the treaty, saying that it would do nothing to alleviate the possibility of nuclear conflict.
The committee noted that “an international legal prohibition will not in itself eliminate a single nuclear weapon, and that so far neither the states that already have nuclear weapons nor their closest allies support the nuclear weapon ban treaty.”
However, at least 53 member states of the United Nations have signed the treaty since the September 20 ceremony to begin the ratification process was held at the UN General Assembly. They are expected to ratify the treaty in the coming year.
The treaty will go into effect 90 days after 50 United Nations member states have formally ratified it.
Delegates representing two-thirds of the General Assembly’s 193 members participated in the treaty negotiations.
“We have received this news with so much joy,” Elayne Whyte Gómez, the Costa Rican ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, who was the chairwoman of the negotiations, said in a telephone interview. “Every year there should be at least one happy event to give us hope, and this was it.”
She said ICAN’s work “represented efforts by civil society activists who approached governments around the world and maintained the momentum of the negotiations to keep them going.”
Under the agreement, all nuclear weapons use, threat of use, testing, development, production, possession, transfer and stationing in a different country are prohibited.
For nuclear-armed nations that choose to join, the treaty outlines a process for destroying stockpiles and enforcing the countries’ promise to remain free of nuclear weapons.
Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of ICAN, which has a three-person office in Geneva, said at a news conference that she had been so surprised by the award, she thought at first that the congratulatory telephone call from the Nobel committee was fake.
“I don’t think we have unrealistic expectations that tomorrow nuclear weapons will be gone,” Ms. Fihn said. “But I think this is really a moment to be really inspired that it is possible to do something.”