Since the beginning of the nuclear age and the dropping of the first atomic bombs, humankind has struggled with the reality of being able to destroy the planet on the one hand and the abolition of these weapons on the other. This year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear (ICAN) acknowledges these realities and celebrates the efforts to achieve the latter. The Nobel Peace Prize with its award criteria specifies: the promotion of fraternity between nations; the advancement of disarmament and arms control and the holding and promotion of peace congresses.
From the beginning of the nuclear age in 1945 to the founding of the United Nations, 71 years ago, with its very first resolution – advocating for the importance of nuclear disarmament and a nuclear weapon-free world – nuclear abolition has been the necessary goal for our survival. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) exemplifies these ideals and brings hope to our world.
In a world armed with some 15,000 nuclear weapons, everything that we cherish and value is threatened every moment of every day. From a limited nuclear war to all out nuclear war between "superpowers," our future is hanging in the balance. Whether by intent, miscalculation or accident, never before has the world been closer to nuclear war. From the setting of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Doomsday Clock in January of this year to 2 ½ minutes till midnight – where midnight represents Armageddon from nuclear war and the relationship to climate change – to the dangerous rhetoric between our president and North Korea, China and Russia resulting in the worst relations between nuclear powers in decades, we face great peril.
This year’s Nobel Peace Prize acknowledges the grave humanitarian consequences of nuclear war – a threat for which there is no adequate humanitarian or medical response and whose only solution is prevention through the total abolition of these weapons.
This is the path chosen by the majority of the nations of the world on July 7 when they voted 122-1 to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Unwilling to remain forever hostage to the arsenals of the nuclear armed states, these nations, with the strong support of global civil society, agreed to eliminate and ban all nuclear weapons.
ICAN is a coalition of 468 non-governmental organizations from 101 countries around the globe. The coalition has been a driving force in prevailing upon the world’s nations to pledge to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders in efforts to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. To date, 127 states have made such a commitment, known as the Humanitarian Pledge that ultimately led up to this year’s U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This Treaty will ban nuclear weapons just as every other weapon of mass destruction has previously been banned. The Treaty opened for signature on September 21, the International Day of Peace. As soon as the Treaty has been ratified by 50 Nations, the ban on nuclear weapons will enter into force and will be binding under international law for all the countries that are party to the treaty.
Paradoxically (hypocritically), five of the states that currently have nuclear weapons – the USA, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China – have already committed to the objective of abolishing nuclear weapons through their accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1970. While the Non-Proliferation Treaty will remain the primary international legal instrument for promoting nuclear disarmament and preventing the further spread of such weapons, it has until this time lacked the juridical status of declaring these weapons illegal.
Now, flouting these laws and treaties, a new arms race is under way. It will cost in excess of $1.2 trillion dollars to the U.S. and rob resources from all other endeavors.
This nuclear hypocrisy must stop. These expenditures rob future generations, making it impossible to address desperate human needs around the planet. More scarcity, more poverty, more environmental degradation – more conflict.
We risk realizing Albert Einstein’s prophetic words: "With the unleashed power of the atom, we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe unless we change our mode of thinking." Ultimately, we will see the end of nuclear weapons. Either through adherence to international law and their abolition or through their use and the end of humanity, the choice is ours.
The Nobel Committee has joined the peoples and nations of the world in calling on and demanding the nuclear-armed states to begin the serious negotiations toward the complete elimination of these weapons. The time is now and this Nobel Peace Prize highlights these efforts and brings new hope and determination to this call. Each of us has a role to play in bringing forth this reality and must demand that our nation sign the Treaty and abolish nuclear weapons.
Robert F. Dodge, M.D., serves on the boards of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Beyond War, Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, and Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions, and writes for PeaceVoice.