Every Monday morning for the past 30 years, members of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker community in Washington, D.C. have been making their way across the Potomac River to pray and nonviolently witness for peace in front of the most symbolic war planning, war-making headquarters on earth: the Pentagon.
Just days ago on August 6 – the 73rd anniversary of the U.S. nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, Japan – I joined them, along with 19 members of several other mostly Catholic faith-based organizations.
Facing the Pentagon, we held signs calling for an end to all nuclear weapons. And we prayed to the God of peace (see: 1 Thess 5:23) for the full conversion of all hearts and minds from war-making to peace-making (see: https://dccatholicworker.wordpress.com).
Together with the Holy Spirit, we were hoping to awaken the consciences of military and civilian workers walking toward the Pentagon. But nearly everyone tried to ignore our Christ-centered message of peaceful nonviolence.
One member of our group was arrested for bravely moving outside of the Pentagon police designated protest zone, and onto the sidewalk used by workers entering the Pentagon. Her purpose was to make it harder for Pentagon employees to ignore her sign saying “Hiroshima and Nagasaki: A butchery of untold magnitude.”
That statement was taken from soon to be canonized Pope Paul VI’s World Day of Peace Message in 1976, in which he clearly condemned the nuclear bombing of Japan. He wrote, “If the consciousness of universal brotherhood truly penetrates into the hearts of men, will they still need to arm themselves to the point of becoming blind and fanatic killers of their brethren who in themselves are innocent, and of perpetrating, as a contribution to peace, butchery of untold magnitude, as at Hiroshima on 6 August 1945?”
On that day over 70,000 people – mostly civilians – were killed when a United States Boeing B-29 bomber dropped an atomic bomb on that Japanese city.
Then on August 9, 1945 the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb, this time on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, killing at least 60,000 people – again mostly civilians. Nagasaki was the center of Japanese Catholicism. An added tragic irony here is that the U.S. crew that dropped this atomic bomb was “blessed” by a Catholic chaplain – the late Father George Zabelka, who later had a total conversion, spending the remainder of his life as a nonviolent Catholic peace activist (see: https://vimeo.com/48820359).
Today, nine nations possess approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons. And especially dangerous is the fact that the U.S. and Russia have hundreds of nuclear weapons aimed at each other on high-alert status ready to be launched within minutes.
On July 7, 2017 the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted by an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations. But unfortunately, the U.S. and the other eight nuclear weapon countries refuse to sign and ratify it. However, Catholics should prayerfully consider that the Holy See was equally the first nation to sign and ratified it.
To learn more about this immensely important treaty, and how you can help abolish nuclear weapons, visit the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize (see: http://www.nuclearban.org/). And please visit the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (https://nonviolencejustpeace.net/) and Nonviolent Peaceforce (https://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org/).
As followers of the nonviolent Jesus, let us form our lives by the words of the famous Trappist monk Thomas Merton: “The God of peace is never glorified by human violence.”
Challenging world oil executives to recognize the urgent environmental need to quickly transition from fossil fuel extraction and burning, to clean energy production, Pope Francis called them to take to heart that “Civilization requires energy, but energy must not destroy civilization.”
Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at email@example.com.
by Jonathan Frerichs
Pax Christi International Representative, UN in Geneva
Note: The 2018 Preparatory Committee of the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference took place in Geneva from 23/4 through 4/5/18.
The NPT is the main legal instrument for exercising some controls over nuclear weapons and the civilian use of nuclear energy. About two-thirds of its 190 states parties showed up for part of this 2018 “PrepCom”, as did 65 civil society and international organisations.
Two themes provide a snap-shot of this first NPT meeting since the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
I. Persistent warnings that “today’s security environment” is bad and likely to get worse. Factors mentioned include complex regional conflicts, renewed big-power rivalries, proliferation of improved nuclear weapons, and asymmetric dangers posed by nuclear terrorism and cyber threats.
Some of the warnings even spoke of a “new” Cold War. A series of “hot” exchanges took place between the U.S. delegation and the delegations of Russia, Iran and Syria regarding the various crises in the Middle East.
While the U.S. and USSR made massive cuts in their nuclear arsenals at the end of the Cold War, honouring and extending existing commitments (the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and New START) are in doubt today. It could happen that no major nuclear arms limitation treaties will be in force between the U.S. and Russia shortly after the Review Conference and the NPT’s 50th anniversary in 2020.
Instead of examining the linkages between current dangers and the big-power reliance on nuclear weapons which the NPT legitimises, much of the meeting was a peculiar mixture of crisis talk and business-as-usual.
II. Steps to reduce nuclear threats remain pending, while the stigma surrounding nuclear weapons continues to grow. The steps listed again and again at this PrepCom have been on the NPT agenda for more than 20 years. There are few if any indications of the political will to pursue or implement them at present.
Meanwhile, the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) by 122 states last July is a demonstration of political will. One focus of that will is the NPT’s very own disarmament clause, Article VI. Brazil called the TPNW “the wind of change” because this new legal instrument makes the humanitarian and environmental impact of nuclear weapons the basis for multilateral action.
During the PrepCom, news came that the Pacific island nation of Palau is the 8th state to ratify the TPNW. Shortly after the meeting, Austria ratified it as well. Indeed, forthcoming ratifications and signatures were a frequent topic in conversations with governments during the meeting.
PrepComs do not make decisions; they prepare for the five-year NPT Review Conferences. It is not clear at this point whether the RevCon in 2020 will be able to decide anything of importance.
The most important step for us is to help bring the TPNW into force. Building support for the TPNW serves as a reality check for the NPT. The goal across the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapon’s membership is to secure the necessary 50 ratifications in 2020, or before. Actions speak louder than words, perhaps especially where nuclear weapons are concerned.
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.
Can war and violent conflict be eliminated forever? In this article, I reflect about war, which is de facto about peace. War should be abolished forever. In the past 75 years, we have seen at least three transformations related to armed conflicts: the Cold War (1946-1991); the post-Cold War (1991-2011); and this last period of time (post-post) in which we see events happening – a bewildering present – Arab Spring, theo-terrorism, globalisation of migration, in many cases culminating in civil wars or at least feeding fragile states.
Events determine politics
We live in exciting times. Events often determine the outcome of elections. It happens that certain world leaders create events and express themselves with tactless statements. The commotion on the status of Jerusalem is a recent example. Consequences of these statements are not always calculated.
Officials are expected to cover more than ever the “events policies”. Urgent events happening create pressing responses to act. Examples are the refugee or migration crisis; terrorist acts related to the Islamic State (Daesh); and the rising trend of extremist and exclusive political nationalism related to a populist mentality and/or authoritarian nationalism. Citizens expect their political leaders to act consequently and urge them to immediately deal with these challenges: result-oriented.
Some of the powerful still believe in war making
In my opinion, war has no future. Wars are no longer declared, they simply begin. Wars happen because the ones who start them think they can win them. Wars usually start with at least one side confident about the outcome. Campaigning to go to war always presents a glorious victory within reach!
You cannot abolish war by continuing to wage war. War does not solve conflicts. Enough is known to get on with the business of outlawing war and finding better means to resolve disputes. War should be abolished just as slavery was eradicated centuries ago.
The contradiction we live in today is that states continue to prepare for war while professing to wish to legislate it out of existence. A recent example is the fact that political leaders want to get rid of nuclear weapons and, at the same time, decide to modernise their nuclear arsenals to be significant for the next two generations or so. Nuclear weapons states decided to modernise their arsenals. At the most recent count, the Russian Federation has 1,796 nuclear warheads and 508 missiles; the USA has 1,367 warheads and 681 missiles. Both are upgrading relatively old systems. The financial costs of such a modernisation are huge.
War is inherently immoral
We need more focus on the conviction that war is inherently immoral because of its costs to human well-being. Over the last century around 0.7 % of the world’s population died in armed conflicts. There are over 65 million refugees forced to flee their homes and their livelihood. Perhaps 600,000 people have died since 2011 by civil wars in Syria (including more than half a million), in Yemen, in Libya and Iraq, and 17 million people from that region have been displaced from their homes. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan (and partly Iraq) are hosting most of the Syrian refugees.
The laws defining the conditions whether to go to war – ius ad bellum – and the laws defining how to deal within a war – ius in bello – (proportionality and distinct combatancy/non-combatancy or military/civilian for instance), did not seek to make war illegal. They did try instead to make it less miserable. With the phenomenon of “collateral damage”, we see that there is such a thing as “non-combatants immunity” — that means that civilians should be spared but also that even weapons directed at purely military targets could affect people with no combat role.
Rapid evolution in technology and communication
Efficiency in transport, speed and communications make war more likely. From 1850, weaponry techniques and the speed of projectiles began to transform military confrontation into a truly inhumane event. The then industrial principles of mass production were converted to martial arts and put at the service of mass destruction. The German victory over France in 1871 for instance was made possible by impressive mobilisation of its forces, appreciating the role of railroads in getting men to the front. The railway infrastructure made the movements of troops during the First World War practical. During the Second World War, highways, especially in Germany, made the fast mobility of tanks and troops possible.
The Second World War resulted in unprecedented levels of killings, with conflicts in Asia and Europe merging, the murder of millions of civilians on an industrial scale, and every type of warfare — naval encounters, massive air raids, lightning offensives, dogged defending, and partisan resistance, concluding with atomic bombs. This was total warfare!
Militarism meant allowing military figures, arms manufacturers, and patriotic themes to dominate public life. Manufacturers want to make money, profits. Arms dealers view every new type of weapon, from machine guns to torpedoes, from heavy artillery to the Kalashnikovs, from drones to killer robots, as a business opportunity.
Weapons kill, even if they are not used!
Disarmament is urgently needed. Vast sums are spent on preparing for war. The total military expenditures for 2016 according to SIPRI are 1.69 trillion dollars. That is 0.4 % higher compared with 2015. Weapons kill, even if they are not used! Saudi Arabia spends 10.4 % of its GDP on defence; Iran has 3 % and Israel spends 5.8 % on defence. The Middle East has a high security risk with Israel having nuclear weapons and having the Saudis (Sunnis) and Iranians (Shiites) as the two major opponents in the region.
Military expenditure is wasteful. Weaponry absorbs tax revenues, and contributes to scarce resources. Armament firms encourage conflict to increase demands for their products, frequently based on feelings of distrust, fear, exclusive nationalism or patriotism. Extreme nationalism is a driver of conflict and war. Some political and public opinion makers see their national sovereignty as a god — and nationalism as a religion. That can result in the rejection of international cooperation. The main motive is “Si vis pacem, para bellum” – “if you want peace, prepare for war”.
Research in warfare is main driver of change
Technology and the development of research and new findings in modern warfare are the main drivers of change in warfare. New types of weapons make war more possible. Atomic bombs were used for the first time in August 1945 when they were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, obliterating both and most of their residents. This is seen as a steep change in warfare. The then driving argument of using the atomic bomb was to stop the war. Over the next decade, with tests of new and even more powerful weapons, the likely character of a nuclear war became clear. The humanitarian impact of the use of atomic bombs and of nuclear tests in all their dimensions is immense. The possibility of accidental war has becoming prominent.
Our history has seen the possible intentional use of nuclear weapons, as for instance during the Korean War in early 50’s, the Berlin Crisis in 1961, the Cuba Missile Crisis in 1962, the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the latest in Ukraine in 2014. The distinction between rhetoric and bluff and the way sometimes-foolish politicians are dealing with or thinking about nuclear weapons make it all very dangerous.
Further possible proliferation of atomic bombs, human errors, miscalculations or mechanical malfunction of these weapons of mass destruction became also a main driver for diplomats to come to a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in July 2017. The strategy of nuclear deterrence became unbelievable because of the real risks were out of control. Nuclear deterrence can no longer be tolerated. The use of, the threat with and the possession of nuclear weapons are illegal and immoral.
The world is much safer when treaties for global disarmament are reached. But that is not enough. We have seen treaties on anti-personnel mines, the so-called Ottawa Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The main challenges remain to have key players signing and ratifying these treaties and at the same time have them implemented in a constructive way. Treaties do not guarantee the outlawing of war making in general.
Who are the masters of modern warfare? Drones for instance brought together many critical technologies: highly efficient regimes, advanced sensors, global positioning systems, and instantaneous communications. Their operators could identify, monitor, and then strike a target thousands of miles away, without putting lives in direct danger. War making takes place from a distance — such as drone pilots. These pilots could live a normal life. A pilot can visit his wife who just gave birth to a child in the maternity ward after just killing someone on the other side of the planet. Unmanned systems kill without seeing the other. Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams talks about “it” as doing the killing. It is not me or you who kills; it is a neutral body, an “it”. Almost everything is delegated to machines.
Duration of civil wars has extended
The days of armed conflict between nation-states are ending – although it still happens and is still possible. The number of civil wars or intrastate conflicts has increased. The duration of civil wars has extended. Civilians are part of the struggle and many of them are the victims of it. Some of these civil wars are rather “regional war zones” where certain groups and their actions moved without regard for national boundaries. Borders have become progressively less relevant.
About 4 % of civil wars were internationalised in 1991; 40 % had become so in 2015. This is certainly true of the Middle Eastern civil wars, all of which began as local conflicts, but have become internationalised which made possible solutions of these conflicts even more complicated! Wars in Iraq and Syria are examples. In its 17th year, the campaign in Afghanistan is the longest in U.S. military history and the Taliban are resurgent.
Peacekeeping and policing
The only reason for nations to have a military capacity is for the capacity of peace missions and in cases of self-defence under strict criteria. For two decades, France has headed the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. China is bidding to take over the lead of this. There is a good reason for China doing so. It is the second largest funder of peacekeeping operations, paying 10 % of the 8 billion dollars budget, and it deploys more blue helmets (2,639 at present) than the other four permanent Security Council members combined.
Although here we can make an argument that some military capacity can be required for purposes of both national and international policing. Policing is not the same as war making. Some nations have no armies, and have a good functioning police system instead.
I believe that war, all war, can be abolished. Bombing cannot win wars! War is a terrible way to settle disputes: there are far better forms of settlement and they now need to be applied. States should be encouraged more than ever to seek for arbitration, mediation, negotiations, dialogue and diplomacy instead of war to solve disputes. Political problems should only be solved by political means.
Need for quality governance
Part of the problem is the quality of those states that are malfunctioning. Disturbing phenomena are so-called failed states. They are also called collapsed states, troubled states, fragile states, states-at-risk or weak states. Sometimes these countries have fragmented populations, weak political institutions and a propensity for rule by violence. A fragile state mostly lacks representation and accountability, stable legal standards, and checks to coercive action by the state, combined with an inability to control territory and borders. Fragility is concentrated especially in cities. Failed states cannot end violence. A degree of political stability is needed. Success means strengthening institutions, ensuring that no minority is excluded and all enjoy opportunities for political and cultural expression, competent economic management, an absence of corruption, and responsive administration.
Some states (of the total of 193) are a danger to themselves and their neighbours and need to be put into an international equivalent of intensive care. Several of these states in crisis are the breeding ground for more violence, chaos and anarchy. The United Nations or intergovernmental bodies such as the Organisation of American States or the African Union have, in my opinion, a role to play in policing those states. Development of peacekeeping forces (composed partly of civilians, police and military) for both inter-state as well as civil wars is a mechanism that can work effectively, if there is enough ground to keep the peace! Some 47 UN peacekeeping missions were initiated between 1991 and 2011, nearly three times as many as during the previous four decades.
Ethnic cleansing, mass killings or genocides remain a serious challenge in our world. A few examples are the killing fields in Cambodia in the 70’s, Rwanda in 1994, Srebrenica in 1995 and Rohingya in 2017. How to prevent these? The international community has the responsibility to prevent crisis and armed conflict and to protect civilians. The General Assembly of the UN agreed to take the responsibility to protect (RtoP) populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Efforts should be made to resolve the underlying root causes of armed conflict that includes fundamental security, well-being, and justice for all its citizens. Needless to say, this is an unfinished agenda!
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 Peace Laureate Group Urges Nuclear Powers to Adopt Ban-The-Bomb Treaty: https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2017/12/10/world/10reuters-nobel-prize.html. Story includes a fairly typical example of a nuclear-dependent government’s response. “In a statement late on Sunday, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono expressed respect for the efforts of atomic bombings survivors toward a nuclear-weapons free world. … But he added: “It is essential to steadily seek ways to advance nuclear disarmament realistically, while responding appropriately to real threats, including North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programmes.”
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.