In 2017, the United Nations convened a conference which resulted in The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
In 2017, the Nobel committee awarded The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – better known as ICAN – its coveted Peace prize for their work leading to the U.N.’s goal.
Who is ICAN?
ICAN is a coalition of more than 400 partner organizations in 101 countries working to promote adherence to and full implementation of the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
This year, The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation awarded ICAN its annual Peace Prize to ICAN. Accepting the award was ICAN’s executive director, Beatrice Fihn. In her acceptance speech, Fihn not only made clear the history and facts of nuclear weapons, but explains why it is vital that all of us engage in supporting the U.N.’s treaty. Here are some excerpts:
“Working in nuclear disarmament for the last few years, means constantly finding yourself in a state of either complete terror or inspiring hope. … it’s a little bit like being a parent. But instead of young children like the two ones that I have in my home giving us near nervous breakdowns constantly, it’s the two most powerful men in the world acting like children.
“Threats to wipe out an entire nation on Twitter: terror. A majority of states in the world, over 120, agreeing to prohibit nuclear weapons rooted in humanitarian reality and law: hope. North Korea testing a missile that could reach us in this room: terror. The treaty opening for signature a year ago and already been signed by 69 states, ratified by 19, at a record pace: hope.
“Over one million Americans waking up one morning to a text message saying ‘ballistic threat inbound to Hawaii, seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill’: absolute, sheer terror. And people are beginning to wake up to the reality that we are still living under the threat of these weapons every single day.
“… Following the end of the Cold War, we were promised a world where reasonable men and democratic states would slowly reduce their nuclear arsenals in an orderly fashion, until there were none left: from The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty under California’s own Ronald Reagan; to START under George Bush; to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty under Bill Clinton; to the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty under George W. Bush, when he said, ‘This treaty liquidates the Cold War legacy of nuclear hostility between our countries’; and Obama’s soaring Prague speech calling for the end of nuclear weapons era and his support of New START as the latest treaty.
“But the weapons weren’t liquidated. The threat remains.
“The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was never ratified by the Senate, and just yesterday, Donald Trump confirmed plans of the United States pulling out of the INF Treaty. You know, in honesty, it would be all too easy to just blame Donald Trump as a rogue, but the truth is that a system that one impulsive or unpredictable person can uproot is not an appropriate security system in the first place. Maybe the problem is not the man, maybe it is the weapon.
“Since the end of the Cold War, India, Pakistan, North Korea have become nuclear-armed states. You know, we might see Iran join them, and Saudi Arabia has said that if Iran can develop nuclear capability, they will too. … So what went wrong? Why are all these weapons still here threatening us all almost three decades on from the fall of the Berlin Wall?
“It’s not the treaties. Each one has value and must be fought for, including the INF right now, but it is a fact that we forgot to actually outright reject nuclear weapons – to ban them.
“Thanks to the leadership of The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, one of the first organizations to join ICAN, we are seeing monumental progress in a time of great danger – hope and opportunity in this time of terror and fear. … The mission of ICAN and our many partner organizations, including The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, was to bring those realities into the conversation about nuclear weapons.
“…As the International Committee of the Red Cross stated, ‘There will be no effective means to provide aid to the dying and wounded.’ People will essentially be on their own. Our recent climate modeling shows a relatively limited nuclear exchange involving about a hundred nuclear weapons between India and Pakistan could result in a nuclear winter lasting two to three years. Beyond the unacceptable immediate deaths from the blast and fires, billions more around the world would die from the resulting famine. Our food system would collapse, and our societies would likely follow. …
“The treaty was adopted by 122 states at the UN last year, bringing credible pressure to the nuclear-armed states and countries living under the nuclear umbrella. It will create even more pressure once it legally enters into force when fifty states have ratified it. …
“The atomic weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were designed at a lab run by University of California. Every U.S. nuclear weapon ever tested was designed by a UC lab. Every American warhead currently deployed around the world was designed in one of those labs now co-managed by the University of California. These labs are now developing Trump’s new generation of nuclear weapons. And their current task? Make nuclear weapons that are more likely to be used, what they call more usable. …
“We’re targeting cities and states, businesses like right here in Santa Barbara, banks like Wells Fargo, universities, like the University of California, and we will succeed. And how do I know that?
“Well, first, we have The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. We aren’t just guessing this, we know this approach works because we’ve seen it happen with other weapons: biological weapons, chemical weapons, landmines…
“Second, …The ICAN movement has grown to over 500 organizations in over 100 countries working across generations to finally end the threat of nuclear weapons.
“And third, because we’re already having historic success even without the nuclear-armed states’ administrations on board. Take California for example. In a true expression of representative democracy, the California state legislature has said that it is their role to tell their federal counterparts how to represent California on the world stage, and we are telling them to embrace the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. They passed Assembly Joint Resolution 33 to do just that and to make nuclear disarmament the centerpiece of our national security policy and spearhead a global effort to prevent nuclear war.
“And even more local, the L.A. City Council recently passed a similar resolution, and a Santa Barbara resolution to make Santa Barbara a nuclear free city is in the works, and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation has been working to make that happen. …
“This state and those cities will join a host of major cities around the world who are speaking up on the rational side of nuclear disarmament through the treaty. …What happens in these communities, in these cities, in California, matters around the world. I know this because I’ve heard it directly from global decision makers. …
“I know many of you here have long cared about this issue and to you I say, never sink to the unimaginable level of those who tell you that nuclear disarmament is a pipe dream, that the U.S. will never give up their nuclear weapons. Prove them wrong. And some of you, many young people and students in the crowd… to you I say we need a new generation of leaders to take up the mantle of peace so that you will never have to know those fears.
“You inherited a problem not of your own making. But by the same token, you can better imagine a new international security not based on the risk of nuclear weapons, because many others can’t. Don’t buy into their terror and join us on the side of hope.
“Together WeCan illuminate”
I hope those who read this will pass it on to others.
I hope some will support the important work organizations like ICAN and The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation do.
All of us have a role to play.