Nuclear weapons: Which direction are we heading?

by Corianne Nieuwenhuis
Advocacy Intern, Pax Christi International

On Monday, 19 March, Professor Tom Sauer was the guest speaker at a lunch conference in Brussels which Pax Christi attended. At the conference, Professor Sauer talked about the current threat of nuclear weapons, the way non-nuclear weapon states view nuclear weapon states, and the importance of citizens’ initiatives. Thanks to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the nuclear weapons ban treaty is a reality, he said.

After being introduced by Willy Claes, former secretary general of NATO, Professor Sauer took the floor with an interesting speech. In 2017, his newest book was launched on the ‘battle for peace’. He emphasised the current threat nuclear weapons present, since these weapons are modernised rapidly now and the number of nuclear weapons states is increasing. Besides modernising, or even because of this, the level of threat is higher than ever. It is getting more likely that states will use nuclear weapons, or that non-state actors will get possession of these weapons.

Despite the threat, Professor Sauer hopes for a dialogue. He pleads for international politics to go back to the core of international declarations regarding nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. These declarations all emphasise disarmament.

Besides the international declarations, nuclear weapons also have an exclusive effect. That is why Sauer stressed the importance of looking at nuclear weapons from another perspective.

Non-nuclear weapon states are in favor of prohibiting these weapons since nuclear weapons are a threat for them only. There is need for a prohibition/new declaration since the nonproliferation treaty (NPT) does not work.

Professor Sauer had a positive view on the future because now, for example via ICAN, citizens speak up to prohibit nuclear weapons. They speak up and make the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons a reality. Several states, also important powers, showed their loyalty towards the treaty and signed it. It is not enough, but still it is a sign. It is a signal from both citizens and non-nuclear weapon states that they want to end this dangerous situation.

Sauer called upon citizens to speak out against nuclear weapons which are against all human rights treaties and the rules of war. He stressed that there is no one in favor of nuclear weapons yet still the nuclear weapons arsenal is modernising very rapidly. We must keep control over these weapons.

Nuclear weapons need to be stopped. ICAN is a good example of a humanitarian initiative. Although it is not a final goal in itself, it is a necessary starting point.


The choice is between nonviolence and nonexistence

by Tony Magliano

“To call the world’s nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger and its immediacy,” warned Rachel Bronson, Ph.D., president of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Famous for their symbolic Doomsday Clock, the Bulletin’s highly respected scientists and 15 Nobel Laureate consultants recently moved the clock to two minutes before midnight – warning that a nuclear war catastrophe is very possible!

The only other time in its seven decade history the minute hand has been set this close to midnight – that is, the devastation of the planet, and virtually everything and everyone on it – was in 1953 after the U.S. and the Soviet Union tested thermonuclear weapons for the first time (see:

And in less than three weeks after the Doomsday Clock was moved so perilously close to nuclear midnight, the Pentagon on Feb. 2 released its 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), providing the world with even more reasons to be alarmed.

Adding to the insane fact that both the United States and the Russian Federation each have hundreds of nuclear weapons aimed at each other programmed with a “launch-on-warning” – hair-trigger-alert – status, the NPR states that the U.S. will continue its policy to be the first to initiate a nuclear attack if it decides that its “vital interests” and those of its “allies and partners” are at risk (see:…

Click here to read the entire column.


At Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony: Challenges of nuclear abolition aired in new light

By Jonathan Frerichs
UN Representative Pax Christi International and World Council of Churches

Ed. Note: On Sunday, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) received the Nobel Peace Prize during a beautiful award ceremony attended by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, the Norwegian royal family, diplomats, ICAN-campaigners, and others. The award ceremony included two powerful speeches from Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN, and Tetsuko Thurlow, survivor of the Hiroshima bombing.

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons offered an array of the moral, ethical and spiritual convictions and the political will that is needed in the abolition of nuclear weapons. The passion and the pageantry point towards the critical mass of commitment required for achieving the Nobel Laureate’s goal, one which many churches share.

Two women are the picture of this Nobel Prize: Setsuko Thurlow and Beatrice Fihn. Thurlow, a Hiroshima survivor, is a voice for the cloud of witnesses to nuclear disasters, a lifelong advocate whose testimonies also speak for generations alarmed by nuclear dangers. Fihn is the voice of a new movement to abolish nuclear weapons and, like many in the ICAN network which she leads, a committed campaigner in the prime of life. Pax Christi International and World Council of Churches are among the 468 partners in ICAN.

In the joint address on receiving the award for ICAN, Fihn laid out a challenge: “The story of nuclear weapons will have an ending, and it is up to us what that ending will be. Will it be the end of nuclear weapons, or will it be the end of us?” She challenged each of the nine governments that have nuclear weapons: “The United States, choose freedom over fear. Russia, choose disarmament over destruction. … China, choose reason over irrationality.” Fihn also said governments that shelter under an ally’s nuclear umbrella are complicit in the crimes which would be committed by the use of such weapons.

“We were not content to be victims,” Thurlow said in her part of the Nobel Lecture. “We refused to wait for an immediate fiery end or the slow poisoning of our world. We refused to sit idly in terror as the so-called great powers … brought us recklessly close to nuclear midnight. We rose up. We shared our stories of survival. We said: humanity and nuclear weapons cannot coexist.”

“We are overjoyed by the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” [cited in the Nobel award to ICAN], Thurlow said. “Let this be the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.”

Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairperson Berit Reiss-Andersen, in her opening address, reviewed threats posed by nuclear weapons and gave clear answers to arguments often used to defend nuclear weapons. The peace prize has been given to work in this field 12 times in the nuclear age. Her speech provided a firm foundation for the award to ICAN in 2017.

Reiss-Andersen cited what Pope Francis said to participants in the Vatican’s recent symposium on nuclear weapons including representatives of Pax Christi International and World Council of Churches: “Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity.”

A final note: A Nobel Peace Prize ceremony’s greatest power may be that it enables unrealised truth to be told in a new light. The truth at issue has surely been spoken before, from shattered neighborhoods to the heights of power. Yet this Nobel award enabled such truth to be spoken to an attentive mixed audience representing the street as well as the summit: Civil society campaigners; the diplomatic corps; religious leaders; Norwegian society including a royal family in the front row.

A worldwide audience watched. Trumpets sounded. Artists sang. Listeners reached for their handkerchiefs when Setsuko Thurlow told what happened to her as a girl in Hiroshima.

In this unique setting, what truth is said to power has good prospects to also be heard. Words that touch hearts and minds are now on a record of special note. They will be repeated as a basis for taking action to sign and ratify the new nuclear ban treaty and for other steps to further delegitimise an immoral and unacceptable weapon.

Jonathan Frerichs is the UN Representative in Geneva for Pax Christi International and the World Council of Churches. He prepared this report for both organisations.


Please see the links included in the article above for more information on the award. Below is a small sampling of international English-language press coverage including a story about Pope Francis’s Angelus on the day of the prize.


Nobel winners busy before the Peace Prize, planning what comes next

By Jonathan Frerichs
UN Representative Pax Christi International and World Council of Churches

Ed. Note: On Sunday, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) received the Nobel Peace Prize during a beautiful award ceremony attended by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, the Norwegian royal family, diplomats, ICAN-campaigners, and others. The award ceremony included two powerful speeches from Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN, and Tetsuko Thurlow, survivor of the Hiroshima bombing. This story by our UN representative, Jonathan Frerichs, who is in Olso, is about the days prior to this big moment.

ICAN campaigners in Oslo for the Nobel Peace Prize award were busy the day before the award planning for what comes next. “Tomorrow we will have to be silent so let’s make a lot of noise today,” Selma fan Oostwaard of PAX, Netherlands, told about 150 activists and supporters of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Campaign veterans, atomic bomb survivors and advocacy strategists took turns at the microphones. The enthusiastic focus on the task ahead is fueled by what campaigners have learned in the decade since ICAN took shape. ICAN now has nearly 500 partners in 100 countries including Pax Christi International,  the World Council of Churches and other faith-based organisations.

ICAN’s founders include doctors whose anti-nuclear endeavours earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. Disillusioned by the nuclear powers’ failure to meet their disarmament obligations, plans for a new and broader campaign began in 2005.

Dave​ ​Sweeney of the Australian affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War described ICAN today by what was envisaged then. “ICAN has always put the human story first,” he said. “It has a clear aim—to ban nuclear weapons. It has a fine name – I can, We can. It’s based at the grassroots.” Prayer, protest, performance and much more are in the ICAN toolkit, he added.

“ICAN is a story of hope. We love this planet, we love its peoples. We’ll give it our best to be sure that it survives and thrives. ICAN’s Nobel Prize is well-earned,” Sweeney said.

The Nobel Committee cited ICAN for its role in achieving the new nuclear ban treaty with its solid humanitarian foundations. ICAN’s work is inspired by disarmament work grounded in international humanitarian law which helped secure bans on landmines and cluster munitions, and treaties prohibiting the other weapons of mass destruction.

Terumi Tanaka, a survivor of Nagasaki and leader of a major survivors’ association in Japan, told the campaigners, “We have to challenge those who continue to hang on to nuclear weapons in the name of security, but really do so just to serve their own purposes. We are getting old. The time we have to tell the story is limited. We pass the baton to all of you to achieve this goal.”

The nuclear ban treaty references the suffering of indigenous peoples and other groups. Sue Coleman-Haseldine lives near the nuclear test site in Australia used by the United Kingdom in the 1950s. “Sixty-three years on, my little home town is called the cancer capital of Australia. Ask a young person what they will die from and they answer: ‘Cancer. Everyone else is.’”, she said. “ICAN’s work has been so important for me. On one hand, I am no longer alone or isolated. On the other, I understand how bad and widespread is the nuclear legacy around the world.”

Ray Acheson, an ICAN leader from Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, said, “Survivors, indigenous people, women and girls – the most vulnerable groups – are written into the DNA” of the new Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The treaty needs to come into force as soon as possible, she and others noted.

The meeting switched to workshop mode to pursue that task. One dealt with “Getting​ ​to​ ​50”, how to secure the number of ratifications needed for the treaty to enter into force.  ​Fifty-six states have now signed – three more this week – and three of those have already ratified.

Other workshops took up how to strengthen support for the treaty, both​ ​in​ states that have ​nuclear​ ​weapons and in ​states​ that don’t have them but rely on them. The latter topic attracted participants from 13 nuclear-alliance states—Japan, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Romania, Greece, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Canada, Japan, Australia and USA, plus campaigners from nuclear-weapon-free Austria, Switzerland, Indonesia and Malaysia. A fourth workshop focused on media​ ​work including ICAN’s main message going forward from the Nobel Peace Prize. Hashtags in active use around the Nobel award include #NobelPeacePrize, #EndofNukes and #nuclearban.

Francis Kuria of the African Council of Religious Leaders, an active ICAN member, credited ICAN’s founders for giving the campaign clear goals, a focused process and local-global partnerships. He said the atomic bomb survivors inspire ICAN with tenacity, passion and wisdom.

“We are the new normal on nuclear weapons,” Kuria said with the Nobel Peace Prize award one day away. He said those who are still willing to use them and keep them will no longer be seen as normal.

“You are the light of the world,” Kuria told fellow campaigners. “Shine your light on the world and transform it so that the treaty becomes universal and we bequeath on our children a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Jonathan Frerichs is the UN Representative in Geneva for Pax Christi International and the World Council of Churches. He prepared this report for both organisations.