Nobel Prize

Anti-nuclear campaign ICAN wins 2017 Nobel Peace Prize amid North Korea, Iran crises

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons was recognised for its decade-long effort to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of the weapons

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 October, 2017, 5:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 October, 2017, 11:35pm

Nuclear disarmament group, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its decade-long campaign to rid the world of the atomic bomb as nuclear-fuelled crises swirl over North Korea and Iran.

More than 70 years since atomic bombs were used on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Nobel committee sought to highlight ICAN’s tireless non-proliferation efforts.

The decision sent a strong message to nuclear-armed nations at a time when US President Donald Trump has threatened to tear up a 2015 deal curbing Iran’s nuclear abilities and who last month alarmed delegates at the UN General Assembly by warning he may be forced to “totally destroy” North Korea over Pyongyang’s atomic weapons programme.

This is a time of great global tension, when fiery rhetoric could all too easily lead us, inexorably, to unspeakable horror
ICAN statement

Announcing the prize in Oslo, Norwegian Nobel committee president Berit Reiss-Andersen said: “[ICAN ] 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.

“We live in a world where the risk of nuclear weapons being used is greater than it has been for a long time.”

But she stressed that the committee’s decision was not aimed at any particular world leader.

“We’re not kicking anyone’s leg with this prize.”

Founded in Vienna in 2007 on the fringes of an international conference on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, ICAN has mobilised campaigners and celebrities alike in its cause. It was a key player in the adoption of a historic nuclear weapons ban treaty, signed at the UN by 122 countries in July.

However, the accord was largely symbolic as none of the nine known world nuclear powers put their names down. It still needs to be ratified before entering into force.

Reacting to its win, ICAN said the “moment is now” to push for a total nuclear arms ban.

“This prize is a tribute to the tireless efforts of many millions of campaigners and concerned citizens worldwide who ... have loudly protested nuclear weapons, insisting that they can serve no legitimate purpose and must be forever banished from the face of our earth,” it said in a statement.

ICAN’s high-profile supporters include former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu and The Dalai Lama.

Despite the group’s efforts and declining global stockpiles of atomic weapons – from around 64,000 warheads in 1986 at the height of the cold war to more than 9,000 in 2017, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists – the number of nuclear-armed nations has grown.

Meanwhile, Friday’s award also came at a time of heightened concerns over the possibility of nuclear war.

Iran’s nuclear deal is under increasing pressure from Trump, who has threatened to scrap the agreement altogether. The US president has accused Tehran of developing missiles that may be used to deliver a nuclear warhead when the deal’s restrictions are lifted in 2025.

Tensions have also soared between the US and North Korea, which has test-fired two missiles over Japan and conducted a string of apparent underground nuclear tests this year.

“This is a time of great global tension, when fiery rhetoric could all too easily lead us, inexorably, to unspeakable horror,” ICAN said.

The UN welcomed ICAN’s win on Friday, with spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci telling reporters in Geneva that the prize was a “good omen” for the ratification of a nuclear ban treaty.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini also congratulated ICAN, tweeting: “We share a strong commitment to achieving the objective of a world free from nuclear weapons.”

The Nobel committee has rewarded anti-nuclear weapons drives on several previous occasions, including to Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov in 1975, the international non-proliferation IPPNW group in 1985, and the IAEA’s then head Mohamed ElBaradei in 2005.

More than 300 people and organisations were thought to have been nominated for this year’s Peace Prize, including the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR, Syria’s White Helmets rescue service and Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege.

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Awarded every year since 1901, the Nobel Peace Prize has had many successes in recognising the achievements of individuals, causes and movements, but it has also had a few missteps and disappointments.

Following the Oslo peace accords of 1993 – which sought to achieve peace in the Middle East – Israel’s the prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, its foreign minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Liberation Organisation leader Yasser Arafat jointly won the 1994 prize for agreeing to build a peace framework. But many at the time saw Arafat as an unapologetic terrorist and, within months, Rabin had been slain by a Jewish Israeli fanatic. The accords gradually crumbled and almost 25 years later, Middle East peace looks further away than ever.

In 1973, then US secretary of state Henry Kissinger was supposed to share the prize with North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho for the Paris-brokered ceasefire in the Vietnam war. Not only did Tho refuse to accept the honour, but Kissinger did not turn up to claim it and he continues to be a figure negatively associated with the war.

Aung San Suu Kyi, a figurehead for peace and democracy in Myanmar who was a political prisoner for years under the country’s ruling military junta, won the award in 1991. Today, as the country’s de facto leader, she has been heavily criticised by the international community and fellow laureates for her perceived indifference to Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing of its Rohingya minority.

Former US president Barack Obama receive the award in 2009 after serving less than nine months in office for his efforts to “strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”. While America’s first black president had won praise from many across Europe, by the end of his rule, US-Russia relations were at a post-cold war low and the US was fighting in both Afghanistan and Syria.

Then, in 2012, the Peace Prize was awarded to the European Union for 60 years of advancing “peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights”. It could not have come at a less auspicious time for the bloc. Several of its members’ economies were staggering under a debt crisis, its shared euro currency was at risk and anti-EU populism was brewing. In 2017, with members at odds over immigration and Britain poised to leave the bloc altogether, the EU is struggling to redefine its mission.

The prize, which comes with a gold medal and a cheque for 9 million Swedish kronor (US$1.1 million) will be presented to ICAN in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of the death of its founder, Swedish philanthropist and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel.

Agence France-Presse and Associated Press