BRUSSELS — The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, a recognition of its efforts to avoid nuclear conflict at a time of greater atomic menace than at any other period in recent memory.
The group was honored because of its efforts to foster a global ban on nuclear weapons, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was approved in July by 122 members of the United Nations and opened for signatures last month. The 10-year-old grass-roots civil society movement pushes for nuclear disarmament across the world.
The award comes amid rising global alarm about a potential nuclear conflagration. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has hurled threats of nuclear missile strikes against the United States, and President Trump has warned he could “totally destroy North Korea” if provoked. The barbed exchanges have raised fears among many global leaders of a miscalculation that could end in cataclysmic conflict.
Separately, Trump plans next week to “decertify” Iran’s compliance with an international agreement that limits its nuclear program, a step that European allies worry could lead to nuclear proliferation.
“The risk of nuclear war has grown exceptionally in the last few years, and that’s why it makes this treaty and us receiving this award so important,” Beatrice Fihn, the Swedish executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said in a telephone interview. “We do not have to accept this [risk]. We do not have to live with the kind of fear that Donald Trump could start a nuclear war that would destroy all of us. We should not base our security on whether or not his finger is on the trigger.”
While her group, known as ICAN, recognizes that nuclear weapons will not disappear any time soon, Fihn said it is still a realistic long-term goal, similar to the way an international taboo was created around the use of chemical weapons.
“Keeping nuclear weapons legal isn’t going to help things,” she said.
The Geneva-based coalition, which was modeled on international efforts to ban land mines, says it has branches in more than 100 countries.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has not attracted support from any of the world’s nine nuclear powers, and the United States and others boycotted the U.N. discussions that led to its creation. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said at the time that “we have to be realistic” about the nuclear threat of rogue nations such as North Korea, and she warned that the ban could actually increase the risk of nuclear war, not reduce it.
Nuclear powers around the world repeated their opposition to efforts to ban the weapons following the Nobel announcement Friday.
“The Nuclear Ban Treaty does not move us closer to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. In fact, it risks undermining the progress we have made over the years in disarmament and non-proliferation,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement. “Efforts towards disarmament must take into account the realities of [the] current security environment.”
The White House and leaders of other nuclear powers have instead endorsed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which limits but does not ban the powerful weapons. Russia and the United States hold the world’s largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee recognized ICAN for “its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons,” chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen of Norway said as she announced the prize in Oslo.
“There is a popular belief among people all over the world that the world has become more dangerous, and that there is a tendency where we experience that the threats of nuclear conflict have come closer,” Reiss-Andersen said. The group has been successful in “engaging people in the world who are scared of the fact that they are supposed to be protected by atomic weapons,” she said.
[Trump’s decision on Iran deal could cause major breach with Europe]
The Nobel committee said it chose to honor ICAN because of the group’s concrete success in pushing the treaty forward. But the idea of a nuclear-free world is broader, and an aging group of U.S. hawks has also played a prominent role in the movement.
George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry and Sam Nunn, a bipartisan quartet of former U.S. officials with deep national security credentials, made headlines in 2007 when they endorsed ridding the world of nuclear weapons. Their ideas helped launch the anti-nuclear Global Zero movement and fueled the New START treaty signed by the United States and Russia in 2010, which commits the two nations to reducing nuclear arms stocks.
One anti-nuclear campaigner said that activists recognize the challenge of persuading nuclear powers to agree to give up their weapons. Of the 122 countries that have signed onto the nuclear ban treaty, none possesses them.
But campaigners believe that the treaty creates an international norm that will eventually pressure nuclear-armed countries into compliance, even if they never sign the agreement, said Rebecca Johnson, executive director of Britain’s Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy.
“Nuclear weapons became a tool for weak leaders to take shortcuts instead of providing their own people with safety, security and food,” said Johnson, a founding co-chairwoman of ICAN. “We have to take that value away in order to pull down numbers to zero.”
She said nuclear tensions between Washington and North Korea represent a setback to world peace.
“That has to be done with diplomacy and politics, and definitely not nuclear saber-rattling between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un,” she said. “They are very dangerous leaders that think they are exercising nuclear deterrence but in their irrationality are actually risking nuclear war.”
The Nobel Committee said the award was not intended as a slap at any particular country or leader, but rather is an effort to encourage all nations to give up their nuclear weapons in the name of a safer world.
[North Korea now making missile-ready nuclear weapons, analysts say]
The award comes at a moment when world peace seems especially fragile. North Korea in recent months has embarked on a series of ambitious tests of nuclear weapons technology and has threatened to strike the mainland United States. Trump and the North Korean government have traded an escalating series of insults and threats of war.
Meanwhile, Trump is poised next week to decertify Iran’s compliance with a deal limiting its nuclear program. Under the 2015 accord, Iran pledged that “under no circumstances” would it “ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons” and said its aim was only to make progress on “an exclusively peaceful” nuclear energy program.