The Norwegian Nobel Committee announced on Friday it will honor the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a little-known organization that seeks to make nuclear weapons illegal, with the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.
The choice to grant the organization the Nobel Peace Prize comes in a time when tensions between North Korea and other countries are spurring the talk of nuclear war. The award was also unexpected, as some thought the prize would go to the architects of the 2015 nuclear deal between several countries and Iran.
However, ICAN was honored by the Norwegian Nobel Committee due to its efforts to establish a global ban on nuclear weapons.
ICAN director to nuclear powers leaders: ‘Nuclear weapons are illegal’
The campaign organization received the news with excitement. The Swedish Executive Director of ICAN Beatrice Fihn told Reuters everyone was “elated.” When she was asked to deliver a message to North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, both who have threatened to use their country’s nuclear arsenal, she said both needed to understand nuclear weapons are illegal.
“Nuclear weapons are illegal. Threatening to use nuclear weapons is illegal. Having nuclear weapons, possessing nuclear weapons, developing nuclear weapons, is illegal, and they need to stop,” said Fihn, according to Reuters.
ICAN, for years, has been trying to ban nuclear weapons, as they pose a threat to humanity. In a telephone interview with The Washington Post, Fihn explained the risk of nuclear war has grown “exceptionally” in recent years and noted that’s why the new UN treaty and the award are so important.
“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,” she told The Washington Post. “We should not base our security on whether or not his finger is on the trigger.”
Fihn, as well as her group, acknowledges that nuclear weapons will not disappear soon. However, she noted that it’s still a realistic long-term goal, much like the way the international community has condemned the use of chemical weapons in recent years.
Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons lacks support from nuclear powers
On July, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was approved by 122 members of the United Nations and opened for signatures in September. Unfortunately, the treaty has yet to attract support from any of the world’s nine nuclear powers. In fact, the United States and other nuclear powers boycotted the UN discussion that led to the creation of the treaty.
UN ambassador for the United States Nikki Haley said at the time they had to be “realistic” about the nuclear threat of nations like North Korea, and she cautioned a ban could increase the risk of nuclear war, not reduce it.
Meanwhile, the White House and leaders of several nuclear powers have instead backed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which does not ban nuclear weapons but does limit them. Russia and the U.S. are the biggest nuclear powers in the world.
In that tense climate, the Nobel Prize was awarded to ICAN, a Geneva-based group that was modeled on international efforts to ban landmines. ICAN began in Australia and was officially launched in Vienna ten years ago. The organization has branches in over 100 countries. The Nobel committee explained it chose to award ICAN the prize due to the group’s concrete success in pushing the treaty forward.
‘There are no right hands for the wrong weapons’
Two days before ICAN was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, Fihn had tweeted that Trump was “a moron.” She said she wrote that in jest, in the context of news reports that claimed that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson used the same word to describe the president of the U.S.
However, she warned that Trump’s character illustrated the importance of banning nuclear weapons in every country.
“A man you can bait with a tweet seems to be taking irrational decisions very quickly and not listening to expertise, it just puts a spotlight on what do nuclear weapons really mean,” Fihn told Reuters. “There are no right hands for the wrong weapons.”
Although the Nobel Peace Prize is usually awarded to individual leaders, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has honored organizations before, too. In 2015, the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was awarded the prize, while the 2013 one was given to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Also, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and its founding coordinator, Jody Williams, were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997.