Is a nuclear-free world possible? ICAN says ‘yes’

JESSICA RUF

jnruf15@ole.augie.edu

Four minutes, or 240 seconds. That’s the amount of time it would take for the United States President to launch a nuclear weapon attack on his own accord, regardless of whether his top security advisors aprove.

Considering the rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea and President Trump’s plans to abandon the Iranian nuclear deal, the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision last Friday to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign for the Abolishment of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is well-timed.

What exactly is ICAN and why does it deserve a Nobel prize? ICAN is a coalition dedicated to creating a world free of nuclear weapons (an extremely hefty goal some critics say is nearly impossible).

 Inspired by the Campaign to Abolish Landmines (the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize winner), ICAN launched its own campaign in 2007. The coalition is currently comprised of 468 non-governmental organizations throughout 101 countries. 

While awarding the Peace Prize, the Nobel committee recognized the Geneva-based ICAN for its creation of a treaty meant to prohibit the use of nuclear weapons. During a United Nations meeting in July, 122 countries agreed to the treaty, and so far, 53 countries have signed the treaty. 

50 more signatures would make the treaty binding under international law, which in effect, would put nuclear powers in an uncomfortable position of being outliers of a global norm—or at least, that’s what ICAN hopes will happen.

During a press conference at ICAN’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, a journalist asked the organization’s Executive Director Beatrice Fihn whether she felt the current nuclear arms states (Russia, the United States, France, China, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea) would change their minds and join the treaty.

She responded, “Because of this prize? It doesn’t work like that. It’s long term work. Getting rid of nuclear weapons isn’t going to happen overnight.” 

“The treaty is meant to make it harder to justify nuclear weapons, to make it uncomfortable for nuclear states to continue with the status-quo, to put more pressure on them.”

Owning roughly 6,800 of the 15,000 nuclear warheads in the world (all more powerful than the one that destroyed Hiroshima), the U.S. government responded to ICAN’s treaty with a stern ‘no.’ 

The U.S. State Department said in a statement, “This treaty will not make the world more peaceful, will not result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon and will not enhance any state’s security.”

The U.S. says it would rather strengthen the 1970 Nonproliferation Treaty, an international agreement to prevent the spreading of nuclear weapons. Fihn, however, says the nonproliferation treaty is outdated.

“If you want to make sure that no new states get nuclear weapons, you need to be ready to reject nuclear weapons themselves,” Fihn said. “This treaty really demands that they walk the walk.”

The first nuclear detonation over Hiroshima killed an estimated 140,000 people while the second nuclear detonation over Nagasaki killed 74,000 people. 70 percent of all buildings were destroyed. 

Today, all of the 15,000 nuclear warheads on earth are stronger than the ones used over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

There is absolutely no reason the U.S. or any other nation should own nuclear weapons. They serve no other purpose than to indiscriminately slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians. 

As Fihn said, ICAN’s treaty won’t solve the problem overnight, but it’s a place to start. It’s a treaty which would potentially make nuclear-free states the international norm. 

This past Monday, my friend Clare shared an email her school, the University of Hawaii, recently sent to its student body. The subject line: “In the event of a nuclear attack…” 

The beginning of the email stated, “In light of concerns about North Korea missile tests, state and federal agencies are providing information about nuclear threats and what to do in the unlikely event of a nuclear attack and radiation emergency.”

In a group message, Clare wrote, “…reading the advice on how to react if such an attack were to occur filled me with a sense of hopelessness…” 

“I started to feel very disheartened, but was immediately reminded of the most recent Nobel Peace Prize winner: the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Thinking of its efforts, and the efforts of similar organizations, gives me hope.”

In its acceptance statement, ICAN wrote, “If ever there were a moment for nations to declare their unequivocal opposition to nuclear weapons, that moment is now.”

To not heed their advice would not only be foolish, but disgraceful. 

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