The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has been awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. ICAN was awarded the prize by the Norwegian Nobel Committee for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.

ICAN is a coalition of non-governmental organizations from around 100 different 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, 108 states have made such a commitment, known as the Humanitarian Pledge.

In the world today the risk of nuclear weapons being used is greater than it has been for a long time. Some states are modernizing their nuclear arsenals, and there is a real danger that it will cause more countries to procure nuclear weapons, as exemplified by North Korea.

General Vincent K. Brooks of the United States Forces Korea told Newsweek that North Korea seeks a nuclear deterrent to increase its international influence. “The regime seeks to be in a position to dictate its own terms internationally if it can sufficiently hold at risk the Republic of Korea, Japan, the full geography of the United States, and other countries in the region and well beyond the region.”

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North Korea also profits financially from its weapons production endeavour, as the sale of conventional weapons and military hardware—prohibited under a 2009 U.N. resolution—provides significant revenue for the regime, as the Washington Post has reported.

Nuclear weapons currently pose a constant threat to humanity and all life on earth. Through binding international agreements, the international community has previously adopted prohibitions against land mines, cluster munitions and biological and chemical weapons. Nuclear weapons are even more destructive, but have not yet been made the object of a similar international legal prohibition.

Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Toward this outcome, more than 50 heads of state, heads of government and foreign ministers met to discuss and sign the landmark Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on 20 September in New York during a high-level ceremony held on the margins of the annual opening of the UN General Assembly. Signing the new treaty – which was formally adopted on 7 July by 122 of the UN member states– will be a powerful step for states to take a stand against nuclear weapons. It will offer the international community a way to rid the world of the inhumane and unacceptable weapon. As soon as the treaty has been ratified by 50 states, 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.

Pine Gap Protest by International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons Photo Credit Flickr

Through its work, ICAN has been the leading civil society actor in the endeavour to achieve this prohibition of nuclear weapons under international law. “For decades nuclear weapons have remained the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited despite their immense destructive power and threat to humanity, and nuclear-armed states are still threatening to use them to wipe our cities and hundreds of thousands of civilians. Today states that sign the treaty will demonstrate their commitment to a world without nuclear weapons by making them illegal,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of ICAN

The treaty bans the use, threatened use, production, development, stationing, and testing of nuclear weapons; forbids assistance will all prohibited activities, and requires the provision of assistance to victims and remediation of polluted land from nuclear weapon use and testing.

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The Norwegian Nobel Committee is aware 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. The Committee wishes to emphasize that the next steps towards attaining a world free of nuclear weapons must involve the nuclear-armed states.

This year’s Peace Prize is therefore also a call upon these states to initiate serious negotiations with a view to the gradual, balanced and carefully monitored elimination of the almost 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Five of the states that currently have nuclear weapons – the USA, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China – have already committed to this objective through their accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1970. The Non-Proliferation Treaty will remain the primary international legal instrument for promoting nuclear disarmament and preventing the further spread of such weapons.

It is now 71 years since the UN General Assembly, in its first resolution, advocated the importance of nuclear disarmament and a nuclear weapon-free world. With this year’s award, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to pay tribute to ICAN for giving new momentum to the efforts to achieve this goal.

The decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017 to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has a solid grounding in Alfred Nobel’s will. The will specifies three different criteria for awarding the Peace Prize: the promotion of fraternity between nations, the advancement of disarmament and arms control and the holding and promotion of peace congresses. ICAN works vigorously to achieve nuclear disarmament. ICAN and a majority of UN member states have contributed to fraternity between nations by supporting the Humanitarian Pledge. And through its inspiring and innovative support for the UN negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons, ICAN has played a major part in bringing about what in our day and age is equivalent to an international peace congress.

It is the firm conviction of the Norwegian Nobel Committee that ICAN, more than anyone else, has in the past year given the efforts to achieve a world without nuclear weapons a new direction and new vigour.

Nobel Prize History

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded 27 times to organizations between 1901 and 2017. 24 individual organizations have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, as UNHCR, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has received the Nobel Peace Prize twice, in 1954 and 1981, and the work of Comité international de la Croix Rouge (International Committee of the Red Cross) (ICRC) has been honoured three times, in 1917, 1944 and 1963.

More recently and with similar motivations as 2017 winner ICAN is the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.