Sunday, December 10, 2017

Nobel Prize: Hope and determination in the face of failure and threat

A statement from Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament chairperson, Dr David Hutchinson Edgar, on the presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

On Sunday, 10th December, the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was presented to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). The award was accepted on behalf of ICAN by Setsuko Thurlow, who was a 13-year-old schoolgirl in Hiroshima when the city was bombed in 1945, and Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN.

As a partner organisation of ICAN in Ireland, Irish CND is proud to share in this award. We acknowledge the tremendous work of hibakusha (literally, explosion-affected people) like Setsuko Thurlow in keeping the utter horror of the impact of just one nuclear weapon in public consciousness, the visionary campaigning of ICAN's small, dedicated staff, and the committed partnership of campaigners across more than 100 countries working together for a better, safer world.

The award highlights ICAN's role in working for an international treaty explicitly outlawing nuclear weapons, which came to fruition earlier this year with the approval by the United Nations of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Since September, the treaty has already been signed by over 50 countries, including Ireland.

This award also recognises that the ghastly spectre of nuclear warfare has not gone away; although there are less nuclear warheads now than at the height of the Cold War, there are still enough to destroy life on earth as we know it many times over. The volatile state of international relations today makes their detonation - through reckless political leadership, through a terrorist attack, or through accident - as probable, if not more probable, than at any stage since 1945. The level of silent threat is truly frightening.

In many ways, the award is an elegy for 70 years of failure to address the appalling potential for destruction posed by nuclear weapons. Rather than recoiling from their horror, a small number of states embraced their terrifying possibilities. Despite the obligation to negotiate nuclear disarmament in good faith imposed on the nuclear weapons possessors who signed up to the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty - France, China, Britain, Russia and the United States - these states have refused to engage seriously with genuine disarmament; on the contrary, they continue to renew their nuclear arms capabilities. Their bad faith in terms of their lip-service to the NPT while undermining it with their actions stands to their shame. Equally, the acquisition of nuclear weapons by India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea brings not elevated status, but dishonour on their countries.

One such state - South Africa - has destroyed its nuclear weapons. A co-sponsor with Ireland, Austria, Brazil, Mexico and Nigeria of the UN resolution which eventually led to the Prohibition Treaty, South Africa is now a leader in working for nuclear disarmament.

Failure also lies both with campaigners for disarmament and non-nuclear weapons states opposed to the continued existence threat of nuclear arms, in terms of their inability over decades to present a powerful, coherent discourse moving forward the urgency of disarmament. In 1985, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Frustratingly, over 30 years have passed since then, but nuclear weapons are today a greater threat than ever.

In this gloomy scenario, this year's award acknowledges a moment of genuine opportunity and hope: not in the award itself, but in the way that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has changed to landscape in relation to the development, possession and threat of use of nuclear weapons. There is now an international legal instrument which explicitly bans nuclear weapons, negotiated by a sizeable majority of UN member states, which will enter into force once ratified by 50 states. Under the umbrella of ICAN, civil society campaigners, scientists, medical and legal experts across the world have joined forces with non-nuclear-weapons states to create the conditions for this new treaty to come into being.

The momentum has changed. An international stigma, codified in law, now attaches to nuclear weapons possession - and the nuclear weapons industry - as never before. The initiative has been seized by those who believe that a safer world is created by removing the threat of absolute destruction, not by maintaining or recklessly increasing that threat. The new treaty is just a step, but still a significant step in the right direction. There is now a moment, right across the world, when people can see not only the threat, but the hope that there is a way out of this threat: an alternative to destruction. Ignorance, denial, powerlessness, resignation - negative impulses which have stood in the way of progress towards nuclear disarmament - have been faced down by the clear scientific evidence and political realism which made the treaty a reality.

We in Irish CND welcome the constructive role the Irish government has played in supporting the Prohibition Treaty process, and the fact that Ireland was among the first states to sign the treaty in September. We urge the Irish government to ratify the treaty formally at the earliest opportunity, and to transpose its provisions into Irish law.

The opportunities of this moment must be seized by all those committed to consigning these weapons of mass destruction to the dustbin of history. An award, even one as prestigious as the Nobel Peace Prize, is not victory. The Nobel Peace Prize gives renewed vigour, prestige and impetus to our campaign. Victory still lies ahead in the goal of a nuclear-weapons-free world. The campaign continues tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, until that goal is reached. 

No comments:

Post a Comment