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Nuclear Nightmare Persists As UN Treaty Awaits Ratification

By Ramesh Jaura

Photo: (left to right): Austria's Permanent Representative to the UN, Jan Kickert (standing); Brazil's Permanent Representative to the UN Mauro Luiz Iecker Vieira; ICAN Asia-Pacific Director Tim Wright; ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn; ICAN Steering Group member Ray Acheson: and Costa Rica's Permanent Representative to the UN, Juan Carlos Mendoza. Credit: UN

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – "They will continue to be guided by their solemn conviction that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought," says the historic Joint Statement U.S. President Ronald Reagan and his counterpart from the then Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, signed on December 10, 1987 in Washington.

Thirty years on, Gorbachev – who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 1990 "for his leading role in the peace process which today characterizes important parts of the international community" – is "deeply concerned about the fact that military doctrines once again allow for the use of nuclear weapons". [P 22] | JAPANESE Part 1, Part 2 | 

With this in view, he has welcomed the announcement of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize 2017 to the Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

"The Nobel Committee has taken a very good decision. It should be constantly reminded what the nuclear weapon is and strive for its abolishment. A world without nuclear weapons – there cannot be any other goal!" says a statement published on the website of the International Foundation for Socio-Economic and Political Studies (the Gorbachev Foundation).

Announcing the win on October 6, the Norwegian Nobel Committee 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 ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons," the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

For Daisaku Ikeda, President of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI), it's a profoundly joyous occasion. The Tokyo-based Buddhist network with 12 million members around the world has been working toward the abolition of nuclear weapons for 60 years, since the Declaration Calling for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons issued by second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda on September 8, 1957.

A relentless advocate of the pressing need to usher in a world free of nuclear weapons, the SGI President has expressed "heartfelt congratulations" to ICAN on behalf of SGI members in 192 countries and territories throughout the world.

"The adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which occasioned the conferral of the Peace Prize, demonstrates the global impact that can be realized through efforts, sustained by hope, to take on seemingly impossible challenges," he said in a congratulatory message.

"This recognition is a source of profound encouragement to all who have been working for the elimination of nuclear weapons, in particular the hibakusha [the Japanese word for the surviving victims of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki] and the members of global civil society who share bonds of solidarity with them," the SGI President added.

He pointed out: "Since ICAN’s launch in 2007, the SGI has been proud to work as an international partner toward the realization of a world free from nuclear weapons. The conferral of the Nobel Peace Prize on ICAN is a cause for unmatched joy."

"The adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and today's award mark the opening of a new phase in the effort to abolish nuclear weapons, a rising tide of energy and commitment," Ikeda said in his congratulatory message on October 6.

"The members of the SGI are determined to make all efforts to promote awareness and acceptance of the Treaty and move forward without cease toward the elimination of this gravest of threats to each individual’s right to life and to humankind’s shared right of survival," he emphasized.

The "new generation" of campaigners

ICAN's Executive Director Beatrice Fihn says, the award represents a special recognition for the efforts of the "new generation" of campaigners – "people who grew up after the Cold War and don’t understand why we still have the [nuclear] weapons."

In particular, she adds, it is also a huge recognition of the efforts of the Hibakusha in realizing the Treaty. Adopted on July 7 at a UN conference in New York, the Treaty is the first multilateral legally-binding instrument for nuclear disarmament in two decades. Quoting Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, Fihn says: "7th of July marks the beginning of the end for nuclear weapons."

"Of course a Nobel Peace prize isn’t going to make Trump give up nuclear weapons," Fihn said at a press conference at the UN Headquarters in New York on October 9. "But what we are trying to do is make nuclear weapons unacceptable in the mindsets of people . . . In the end, governments have to do what their people say."

The treaty, which opened for signature on September 20, has been signed by 50 nations and ratified by three. But 47 more countries need to ratify the treaty for it to have legal force within those countries. ICAN's ambitious goal is to get the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons ratified by 50 countries before the end of 2018," she told media representatives.

ICAN Asia-Pacific Director Tim Wright said Japan's failure to sign and ratify the nuclear ban treaty is a betrayal of the surviving victims of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "They have issued a dire warning to humanity and we must listen to their testimony and heed their call," he said. Japan has no nuclear weapons of its own, but is protected under the U.S. nuclear weapon umbrella.

In a statement on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Press Secretary Norio Maruyama responded: "Although ICAN’s activities to date are different from the Japanese government's approach, we share the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. It would be welcomed to see increased global awareness of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation with this award."

Quoting the Nobel Committee's announcement of the award for ICAN, which refers to North Korea's nuclear development, Maruyama said: "North Korea's nuclear and missile development poses unprecedented, grave and imminent threat. We must work with the international community to maximize pressure using all means to change the policy of North Korea."

The statement added: "Japan believes that realistic and practical efforts on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation are essential in truly pursuing a world free of nuclear weapons, through cooperation with both the non-nuclear and the nuclear-weapon states, based on the clear understanding of such a severe security environment as well as the correct understanding of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons."

In addition, Maruyama said, the Hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have conveyed to the world the reality of the atomic bombings for realizing a world free of nuclear weapons. "Taking this opportunity, I would like to renew my respect towards the longstanding efforts by Hibakusha and two atomic-bombed cities towards the elimination of nuclear weapons."

Explaining the Nobel Committee's decision, Berit Reiss-Andersen said, ICAN has been the leading civil society actor in the endeavour to achieve a prohibition of nuclear weapons under international law. On July 7, 122 of the UN member states acceded to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. 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.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee is aware, Reiss-Andersen added, 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.

In fact, the United States lost no time in issuing a statement asserting: "Today's announcement does not change the U.S. position on the treaty: the United States does not support and will not sign the 'Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.'"

Reiss-Andersen said: "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 (NPT) of 1970, she recalled. "The Non-Proliferation Treaty will remain the primary international legal instrument for promoting nuclear disarmament and preventing the further spread of such weapons."

ICAN has brought democracy to disarmament

A coalition of non-governmental organizations in one hundred countries, ICAN has "now brought democracy to disarmament," says Vidya Shankar Aiyar, an anti-nuclear weapons activist and a partner of ICAN in India since 2013. By harnessing the power of the people, it has worked to bring an end to the most destructive weapon ever created – the only weapon that poses an existential threat to all humanity.

ICAN considers the prize for ICAN "a tribute to the tireless efforts of many millions of campaigners and concerned citizens worldwide who, ever since the dawn of the atomic age, 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 is a tribute also to the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the victims of nuclear test explosions around the world, whose searing testimonies and unstinting advocacy were instrumental in securing this landmark agreement.

As part of the coalition of organisations forming the ICAN, Kazakhstan's ATOM Project Honorary Ambassador Karipbek Kuyukov thanked ICAN for its work with the organization and other non-proliferation partners to achieve a nuclear-weapons-free world.

Kuyukov said the ATOM Project had received the support of many anti-nuclear activists in various countries of the world thanks to the cooperation with the anti-nuclear campaign group, which started immediately after Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev initiated the project on August 29, 2012.

He added, "this award is an opportunity to remind the world about the tragic consequences of nuclear weapons tests and to encourage the broad international community to take decisive action to finally ban it." This is exactly what President Nazarbayev and Kazakh people have been seeking to achieve since 1991.

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF) President David Krieger said the Nobel Peace Prize was "an immense honor for the hundreds of ICAN partner organizations and campaigners around the world who have worked tirelessly for a treaty banning nuclear weapons, which was finally adopted this year. I am particularly happy for the Hibakusha – survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – who have dedicated their lives to the abolition of nuclear weapons.”

Rick Wayman, NAPF’s Director of Programs, took an active role in ICAN’s efforts during the negotiations of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations earlier this year. As part of ICAN’s diverse international team of campaigners, Rick assisted with lobbying countries to support strong language in the treaty, as well as with amplifying ICAN’s message in the media and social media.

Wayman said: "The recognition by the Nobel Committee of ICAN’s outstanding work is well-deserved. Achieving the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has been a collaborative effort that involved bold strategy, lots of hard work, and even some fun. There remains much work to be done to finally achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons, particularly in the United States, which continues to maintain thousands of nuclear warheads. I hope that this Nobel Peace Prize will awaken many more people around the world to the urgent need to work for the abolition of nuclear weapons. We can, and will, achieve this goal."

NATO wary, UN pleased

NATO, the transatlantic military alliance, does not agree. Expectedly, it gave a cold shoulder to nuclear disarmament group ICAN’s Nobel Peace Prize win, saying efforts to end the atomic bomb must take into account the "realities" of global security.

NATO, which has three of the world’s nuclear powers (USA, Britain and France) in its ranks, strongly criticised the nuclear ban treaty, saying it risked undermining the international response to North Korea’s atomic weapons programme.

Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance’s secretary-general, welcomed "the attention given to the issue" of disarmament by the Nobel Committee and said NATO was committed to creating conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. But he restated his criticism of the nuclear ban treaty – which was shunned by all nuclear powers – saying it put years of progress on non-proliferation at risk.

"What we need is verifiable and balanced reduction of nuclear weapons. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which all NATO Allies have signed, remains the cornerstone of international efforts to do so," he said in a statement, adding that NATO would remain a nuclear alliance as long as nuclear weapons existed.

"NATO regrets that the conditions for achieving nuclear disarmament are not favourable today, but efforts towards disarmament must take into account the realities of current security environment," the statement said.

However, top United Nations officials said that ICAN's recognition was reminder of the need to attend to grim threats posed by nuclear weapons to humanity.

"This Prize recognizes the determined efforts of civil society to highlight the unconscionable humanitarian and environmental consequences that would result if [nuclear weapons] were ever used again," read a statement attributable to the spokesperson of the Secretary-General (António Guterres).

"At a time when nuclear anxieties are at the highest level since the Cold War, the Secretary-General calls on all countries to show vision and greater commitment for a world free of nuclear weapons," it added, noting the urgency to end the threat of a "nuclear nightmare."

Concerted efforts by ICAN as well as many other civil society organizations contributed to the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, in July, the first multilateral legally binding instrument for nuclear disarmament in decades.

Also the UN's top disarmament official offered her congratulations to ICAN and underscored that achievement of a nuclear-weapon-free world continues to be an urgent priority for the UN. Expressing hope that the Nobel Peace Prize would give new momentum to the agenda, Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs called for "serious efforts by the international community to pursue disarmament as a means for preventing conflict, reducing international tensions and achieving sustainable peace and security."

More than 15,000 nuclear weapons remain in global stockpiles, with many on high levels of alert. Furthermore, tensions have flared over the nuclear weapons development programme of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea since past few months.

Nuclear disarmament has been an objective for the UN since the very first General Assembly resolution in 1946, which established the goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons and all weapons of mass destruction.

The European Union's foreign and security policy chief, Federica Mogherini, who was touted as a possible peace prize winner this year alongside the Iranian foreign minister for their work on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which is an anathema to President Trump, declared: While the world is confronted with new nuclear tests and the risk of a nuclear crisis, award of the Nobel Peace Prize to ICAN makes strongly the case for non-proliferation and disarmament as a goal of the entire international community, the way to secure long term peace and security.

She assured: "The European Union [which includes Britain and France as nuclear weapons states] shares the commitment to achieve a world free from nuclear arms and we will continue our daily work for non-proliferation and disarmament with all our partners in the world. We are constantly engaged for the full implementation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its review, and for the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty. We are working to seek a peaceful political pathway towards the de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. We will continue to make sure that the deal with Iran is fully implemented by all sides."

In view of the mixed reactions and the volatility surrounding U.S.-North Korea relations, a world free of nuclear weapons is nowhere within closer reach than it was when U.S. President Barack Obama promised "concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons" in his historic speech in April 2009 in Prague. Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2009 "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples". [IDN-InDepthNews – 14 October 2017]

Related articles: Nobel Peace Prize for ICAN Significant for Nuclear Disarmament by Sergio Duarte

Photo: (left to right): Austria's Permanent Representative to the UN, Jan Kickert (standing); Brazil's Permanent Representative to the UN Mauro Luiz Iecker Vieira; ICAN Asia-Pacific Director Tim Wright; ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn; ICAN Steering Group member Ray Acheson: and Costa Rica's Permanent Representative to the UN, Juan Carlos Mendoza. Credit: UN

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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