The Norwegian Nobel Committee sent a powerful anti-nuclear weapons message on Friday, not least to its home country of Norway itself. Its decision to award this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) aims to prod the nuclear states and their allies like Norway into going along with worldwide efforts to finally ban nuclear arms.
ICAN, a coalition of non-governmental organizations from around 100 countries, received the award “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.” Nobel Committe leader Berit Reiss-Andersen cited ICAN “for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”
While 122 of the United Nations’ member states have signed ICAN’s Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, those holding nuclear weapons themselves have been reluctant to go along. Norway hasn’t signed the treaty either, amidst much controversy at home, because of its membership in NATO. Like Russia, China and the biggest NATO members including the US, UK and France, the nuclear states have come to rely on nuclear weapons for their defense and aren’t ready or willing to give them up.
Call for nuclear states to join the effort
The treaty put forth by ICAN will enter into force and ban nuclear weapons as soon as it’s been ratified by 50 of the 122 states that already have signed it. Reiss-Andersen, a prominent Norwegian lawyer who strongly promotes the power of international law, stated that the treaty will then be binding under international law, if only for all the countries that are party to it.
She admitted that the Norwegian Nobel Committe “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 (including Norway) support the nuclear weapon ban treaty.”
The Committee therefore emphasized “that the next steps towards attaining a world free of nuclear weapons must involve the nuclear-armed states.” This year’s Peace Prize, she declared, “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.” She noted that the US, Russia, the UK, France and China already committed to that objective when they signed the non-proliferation treaty of 1970. It will remain the primary legal instrument for promoting nuclear disarmament, she said, and preventing the further spread of such weapons.
Anti-nuclear candidates led prize speculation
ICAN had emerged late this week as a top candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, following earlier speculation that the prize could go to the EU and Iran for mobilizing and securing the now-tenuous Iran Nuclear Deal. Given US President Donald Trump’s criticism of the Iranian pact, to which Iran has been adhering to limit its own nuclear development, and all the tension around North Korea and its threats, the frightening prospects of nuclear war are higher than they’ve been since the Cold War. Reiss-Andersen confirmed that the timing of this year’s Peace Prize to ICAN was in line with the rise in nuclear concerns.
“There’s a popular belief among people all over the world that the world has become a more dangerous place,” Reiss-Andersen said, adding that the nuclear threat is now suddenly real again. The Peace Prize is meant to be a tribute to ICAN’s efforts to abolish nuclear weapons and encourage nuclear states to sign the treaty ICAN hammered out.
She insisted that she “can’t see that this is a controversial prize,” adding with a smile that “we’re not kicking anyone’s legs” with it. She denied it’s a slap at Trump or any of the nuclear states, rather a message that it’s in everyone’s interests that nuclear weapons are banned. ICAN, she said, “has revitalized the process.”
May satisfy some critics
After years of criticism over earlier Nobel Peace Prizes not viewed as adhering to the terms of benefactor Alfred Nobel’s will, Reiss-Andersen felt obliged to justify the ICAN prize as being “grounded” in Nobel’s criteria for the Peace Prize. They called for promotion of fraternity between nations, the advancement of disarmament and arms control and the holding and promotion of peace congresses. ICAN has worked “vigorously,” Reiss-Andersen said, in all three areas.
Even one of the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s fiercest critics, Oslo lawyer Fredrik Heffermehl, agrees. He had noted earlier that anti-nuclear activists dominated Nobel Peace Prize nominations for 2017 and he specifically cited ICAN along with the International Laywers Against Nuclear Arms organization on his own shortlist of “valid nominations.” (external link) On Friday he sent out a mail with his “warmest congratulations” to both ICAN and the Norwegian Nobel Committee, calling nuclear disarmament “the most urgent aspect” of the general disarmament Alfred Nobel wanted to support.
“This is a great day for the Peace Prize and the global movement for peace and disarmament,” wrote Heffermehl, one of the founders of website Nobel Peace Prize Watch (external link), offering rare praise to the Norwegian Nobel Committee after what he called “a long series of untenable awards.”
This year’s Nobel Peace Prize, however, adds to a paradox revealed just hours before the prize was awarded Friday when a Norwegian organization criticized how funding of the Nobel prizes is based on investments in companies that many winners have fought against. They include the Nobel Foundation’s reported stakes in Sweden’s own weapons and fighter-jet producer SAAB AB and “probable” stakes in Northrop Grumman Corp, Safran SA, Boeing Co and Airbus SA that also are involved in weapons production.