Nobel Peace Prize winner ICAN has disarmed critics. The nukes are next
The peace Nobel to ICAN has disarmed many of its critics. It’s a recognition that ridding the world of nuclear weapons is not an idealist’s fantasy, but a robust action planopinion Updated: Oct 09, 2017 10:56 IST
A little-known movement for a nuclear weapons-free world won the Nobel Peace Prize last week. The International Campaign to Abolish to Nuclear Weapons, ICAN (nuclearban.org, @nuclearban) is a movement of several hundred organisations and individuals spread over a hundred countries. It’s a movement of all the little guys banding together to take on the big bad world of the nuclear armed. Even little guys like me, the lone civil society participant from India at the crucial Geneva debates last summer. It was at Geneva that the resolution to the UN General Assembly was drawn up, that culminated in the Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons on July 7.
Ever since I quit TV news in 2008, an inevitable eye roll would follow when I revealed that I work on nuclear disarmament issues. Usually that would be followed by a commiserating, “Oh, zero nukes is a noble goal, but impractical, isn’t it? You should try for smaller numbers.” The peace Nobel to ICAN has disarmed many such critics. It’s a recognition that ridding the world of nuclear weapons is not an idealist’s fantasy, but a robust action plan.
How does it work? When the nuclear armed states are refusing to join the ban treaty, and indeed, the United States is actively discouraging states, how is disarmament possible?
The world of nuclear disarmament has changed tremendously from the days when stodgy, Leftist intellectuals formed its backbone. Now it is mainly a young people’s movement, young people who are armed with social media, incredible energy and the willingness to try the impossible, and they are spread across the globe. ICAN’s women are a tour de force. A cooler set of people would be hard to find. And they have the experience, wisdom and knowledge to back their credentials.
In 1996, the International Court of Justice regretted that no explicit law exists in the world prohibiting nuclear weapons. The ban treaty now plugs that hole. It bans all nuclear weapons. The Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) does not do that. It only allows a few states to keep their nuclear weapons while promising to eliminate them eventually. So, the plan is simple. Stigmatise nukes, then eliminate them. Stigmatise, meaning, keeping nukes will be uncool.
To stigmatise, you only need a law that prohibits nukes. And that law need not be created by the nuclear armed states. The non-nuclear armed states may not have nukes, but they have the numbers to create that law. ICAN launched a campaign that empowered the weak states to take on the Goliath of the nuclear powers by making them believe that non-nuclear states can lead us to a nuclear weapons-free world. Creating the law first and eliminating after that is true of every disarmament treaty in history.
To get such states on board, ICAN chose to campaign on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. This is where ICAN got a lot of help from key states and organisations. Its key events in Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna over 2013-14 made it clear that the world does not have the capacity to deal with the fallout of a nuclear war. And the fallout would be global and catastrophic, no matter where the conflict happens. Norway first gave ICAN the platform. Mexico gave it momentum on the American continent. Austria rallied 127 states under the Austrian pledge to disarm. The job was now up to ICAN and its campaigners to move the debate out of the moribund Conference on Disarmament in Geneva to the UN General Assembly, and get these states to put their money where their mouth is. Finally, the ban treaty opened for signature on September 20, and is expected to come into force soon.
No, nuclear weapons will not be dismantled immediately, but give it time like other treaties. Equally, no nuclear-armed State can indefinitely say that nuclear weapons are necessary for its security. That would violate a new law and would incite proliferation. This is the logic that provoked Kim Jong-un to counter Donald Trump’s America. Don’t underestimate the small guys. They’ve disarmed the critics. The nukes are next.
Vidya Shankar Aiyar is an anti-nuclear weapons activist
The views expressed are personal
First Published: Oct 08, 2017 17:05 IST