A timely decision! The Nobel Peace Prize for 2017 has been awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). ICAN has been a strong promoter of the global treaty on nuclear weapons that was negotiated in the UN General Assembly on July 7, 2017. The Nobel Committee rewards ICAN for its work to “draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.” The treaty has been supported by Pope Francis and European states such as Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, and Ireland, along with most of the countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
The chair of the Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, specifically mentioned North Korea in her statement, pointing to the urgency of nuclear weapons disarmament. Biological, chemical, and land mine weapons have already been banned, and ICAN’s work has focused on doing the same for nuclear weapons. Thus, this is a call for the nuclear weapons states to start serious negotiations of disarmament. It follows the Norwegian Nobel Committee's tradition of encouraging broad-based organizations that rely on rational arguments and deep insights to promote nuclear weapons disarmament. For example, past laureates include the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs and Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Nuclear disarmament is a universally agreed upon goal, and the idea of an international treaty banning nuclear weapons is an innovation that has global support. As the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee said: Law matters!
With this, the Nobel Committee encourages all countries to join the treaty and it lends support to those working for such goals in countries that have not yet signed the treaty. In particular, it singles out the main nuclear weapons states.
It should also be noted that the executive director of ICAN is a woman, Beatrice Fihn, the only only woman to receive a Nobel Prize insignia this year.
The Kroc Institute was inspired by the vision of Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., and philanthropist Joan B. Kroc of a world free from the threat of nuclear holocaust. During his 35 years as president of Notre Dame, Father Ted was a leading national voice for civil and human rights and the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Peter Wallensteen is the Richard G. Starmann Sr. Research Professor of Peace Studies and Senior Professor in the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Sweden’s Uppsala University.